Growing Your Business with a Data Culture Maturity Model: Alation's Approach

By Cleo Haynal

Published on October 3, 2023

A unique perspective of three towering buildings is captured from a lower angle, as if gazing upward.

Every organization has the opportunity to use data more effectively. But improving your data culture can’t begin in a vacuum. Instead, it’s best to assess how your organization uses data, with an eye to four key pillars: data search & discovery, data literacy, data leadership, and data culture.

But how? And why? And where do we begin?

Don’t fret; it’s easy if you have a data culture maturity model. Luckily, we just published ours in a new white paper, “The Alation Data Culture Maturity Model.” Here’s how it works and why you’ll want to get started today.

A more mature maturity model

Maturity models have long been a way to benchmark an organization’s progress along a spectrum. A good maturity model offers a relatively fast and easy way to identify areas of improvement and investment to advance a capability or process. A great maturity model further incorporates a broad and deep understanding of the subject area to ensure a thorough evaluation, which any organization in any industry can apply. 

With Alation’s new Data Culture Maturity Model, we’ve aimed for greatness by offering organizations a way to quickly assess and just as quickly advance their data culture maturity. But our model also differs from others in that it’s clear, complete, and straightforward enough for a fast evaluation you can complete in about 3 hours.

  • Clear - The Alation model breaks down data maturity into 4 key areas so you can stay focused on what’s most important without getting bogged down in the weeds. The model’s template also provides detailed examples for each area, using plain language to help you evaluate your current performance.

  • Complete - The Alation Data Culture Maturity Model’s 4 areas cover a broad range of data capabilities, each of which is required to develop a mature data program and culture. The model then gives you specific points in each of the 4 areas where you can drill down when necessary.

  • Fast - Using the Alation model is an effective way to evaluate your data program in less than half a day. Our data culture maturity workshops are scheduled for just 3 hours yet you still walk away with clear, actionable steps to enhance your organization’s data culture maturity.

Other maturity models do exist, and we encourage you to compare Alation’s with those from DAMA, DCAM, and elsewhere. We have the utmost respect for those working to improve organizational data culture maturity because it's an important topic. But some models are very involved and complex, containing dozens of capabilities and over one hundred sub-capabilities, while others are too simplistic and leave you with more questions than answers.

We speak with hundreds of organizations monthly and many have requested an in-between data culture maturity model that offers a fast and practical assessment and links directly with the behaviors, tools, and processes of their data program. They also want to avoid a herd of consultants and a weeks-long engagement to arrive at a clear and thorough evaluation. We think we’ve hit this Goldilocks zone with the Alation Data Culture Maturity Model.

Data maturity leads to a mature data culture

For decades, leaders have pushed their teams to be more data-driven, which usually resulted in workers simply using more data without necessarily using the best data in the best ways. Today, we all know it takes more than just access to data to improve outcomes. Being data mature means data is easily accessible but also understood, trustworthy, and relied upon. This requires a comprehensive understanding of the people (leaders and workers!), processes, and technologies in place that facilitate a data culture.

That’s the path of data culture maturity, covering your organization's many different capabilities and processes. Those with dedicated and targeted people, processes, and technologies will quickly progress along the maturity path to make data accessible, understood, trustworthy, and relied upon.

The 4 pillars of data culture maturity

Having worked with hundreds of customers, including 40% of the Fortune 100, we’ve identified four core pillars of data culture maturity, including data literacy, data search & discovery, data governance, and leadership.

1. Leadership

Leadership is required to push the above and related initiatives, but a data leader must clearly understand the value of data.

2. Data Search & Discovery

Data search & discovery and related data stewardship ensure workers can find the right data, which is fundamental to extracting value from data.

3. Data Literacy 

Data literacy gives data consumers the confidence and understanding needed to use data effectively but typically requires a dedicated change management effort.

4. Data Governance

Data governance defines how data should be gathered and used and requires a surrounding structure and support.

These four pillars provide a comprehensive framework for becoming a mature data organization. More importantly, they are broad enough to allow flexibility for your organization’s structure and needs as you dive deeper into each pillar. As new gaps become apparent and new capabilities fill open gaps, you can use these pillars and their accompanying levels of maturity as lights to illuminate your path forward.

How to get started in the near term

First, read our new white paper, “The Alation Data Culture Maturity Model.”

Second, dive into the model to familiarize yourself with each pillar and assess your current maturity level. Share the model with others to gain different perspectives and spark conversations about where the model can take your organization. You’ll quickly move from generalizations to granular and specific data pain points teams and individuals struggle to overcome. 

Diagram showcasing the four pillars of the data maturity model

Third, take copious notes. As you move these maturity concerns up to higher levels of authority and decision-making, you’ll need to be armed with specifics that leaders can understand and see the potential value in a solution. Those pain points can also be used to create a ballpark assessment of your current data culture maturity level, a rough estimate of the value gained from increasing your maturity, and a high-level action plan of where you’ll focus once you get started.

As momentum builds, continue sharing the model with more stakeholders to get their thoughts, identify gaps, and capture the value in time or money of potential improvements. And consider partnering with a firm familiar with data culture maturity to guide your efforts.

Watch your step along the way

Advancing your data culture maturity is a change management initiative, and it comes with related challenges. It takes time to find executive support, build momentum, convince people of the need, justify investments, and more. As with any significant initiative, remember to place particular emphasis on the following:

  • Find a great champion who believes in data culture maturity.

  • Keep data consumers, owners, stewards, and others involved.

  • Over-communicate.

  • Be sure to educate everyone on the value of data culture maturity and the related processes and technologies required.

  • Track and measure everything, and report on it frequently.

Data culture maturity will improve your organization’s outcomes with more informed decisions, increased efficiency, and better financial performance. But only some know that, and fewer still know how it can be accomplished. The most important part is determining your current data culture maturity level. From there, it’s all about the possibilities.

Your data culture maturity journey starts today

No matter your goals, size, or industry, using a data culture maturity model can put you on the right path to success. It’s a great way to assess where you are, identify what you want to improve, and plot your course.

It all begins when you read our new white paper, “The Alation Data Culture Maturity Model.”

Also, be sure to join our upcoming revAlation industry conferences in London (Oct 10-12), Sydney, and Chicago, to hear how real customers are leveraging the model to both assess where they stand and proactively grow their data culture maturity!

  • A more mature maturity model
  • Data maturity leads to a mature data culture
  • The 4 pillars of data culture maturity
  • How to get started in the near term
  • Watch your step along the way
  • Your data culture maturity journey starts today
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