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What Do You Do When You Don’t Have Data Unicorns?

It’s exceedingly rare to come across people who possess all the data skills for digital transformation. In the human resources world, they call that a skill gap. At the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Branch Chief of Advanced Analytics Scott Beliveau calls that a data unicorn.

A data unicorn is a mathematician, data scientist and storyteller — someone who is mathematically strong, technically learned and narratively inclined to draw data insights for the business or mission value.

“There are very few folks like that,” Beliveau said at GovLoop’s virtual summit Wednesday. And that’s in both the public and private spheres. “We’re not looking to hire our way out of this. We can’t hire our way into digital transformation nirvana, per se,” Beliveau added.

In that case, how can agencies reach digital transformation nirvana — or at least some success?

According to experts, digital transformation is the process of using new technologies to change business processes, culture and customer experience to meet market demands. Data analytics is critical to this because it provides clarity on how to best change a particular process or enable people to make the most valuable impact for their organization, Beliveau said.

For many organizations however, digital transformation efforts have not been as successful as anticipated. Andy MacIsaac, Director of Solutions Marketing for Public Sector at Alteryx, cited a McKinsey survey that said 8 out of 10 respondents embarked on a digital transformation journey, but only a third succeeded.

According to MacIsaac, the organizations that succeeded did so because they addressed the three digital transformation pillars together: people, process and data. But MacIsaac added another point to the challenge that unsuccessful organizations faced.

“You can have all these great processes and the access to data, but are you leveraging the key resources — people? Are you enabling people to leverage data and insights?” MacIsaac said.

Solution: Data Democratization and Borderless Collaboration

The solution to drive a successful digital transformation without data unicorns is two-pronged: data democratization and borderless collaboration.

“The idea of democratization is making data as available as possible for the right analysis,” MacIsaac said. It’s being able to provide a tool or platform that a data user at any level can leverage to answer the questions they have. These questions don’t have to be big — in fact, MacIsaac and Beliveau both argued that data-driven digital transformation efforts need to be small and, ideally, passion-driven. In the absence of data unicorns, organizations can empower the people they already have to take on bite-sized analytics projects around issues they’re passionate about through providing the right platform.

Additionally, agencies can engage in what Beliveau called “borderless collaboration.” It reaches across human silos to bring the best ideas to a problem, no matter what position the person has.

“It’s not necessarily looking at this problem as belonging to this particular business unit or space. But it’s bringing in lots of people who are passionate about lots of ideas, regardless of their position in the organization or where they work in,” Beliveau said.

Though agencies may not have many data unicorns, they may be able to create some by leveraging the passions their people already have.

Don’t miss out on other virtual learning opportunities. Pre-register for GovLoop’s remaining 2020 virtual summits today.

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