What Is Intelligence Elevated? Unraveling the Concept

By Myles Suer

Published on October 25, 2022

Three business colleagues gathered around discussing the concept of intelligence elevated with their opened laptops and data spreadsheets on top of a wooden table in a well-lit office room.

Data without action is worthless. It’s how you choose to interpret and act on it that creates worth. “BI itself has minimal value,” echoes CIO Martin Davis. “Doing something with it that impacts the business is where the value is. By the same argument, data cycle time has no value. Therefore, the value comes from better business decisions and reducing business cost.”

But how can data support smarter, faster business decision-making? Today, any platform that helps non-technical users discover data and make business decisions faster is valuable. Such a platform can effectively increase the collective IQ of what some have called the sentient enterprise. Many businesses today are working to achieve this state, where people with questions can quickly find the right answers.

I like to call this aim “Intelligence Elevated.” It speaks to the heart of what leaders, from CIOs to CFOs, find important. That being said, elevating intelligence in the business decision-making process takes considerable effort and commitment.

To deliver this vision, “you need to both empower people and help break down technology silos so employees can actually access the data,” points out CIO Deb Gildersleeve. This requires organizations to “foster a data-driven culture.” But how do you make this vision a reality?

Without question, Intelligence Elevated hints at higher levels of human understanding. Let’s explore the concept of Intelligence Elevated from the bottom up. After all, while intelligence is mined from data, insights are derived from the people working with that data.

What Is Intelligence Elevated?

Intelligence Elevated describes an ideal organizational state, where a culture of data-driven decision-making thrives. That means more people, at every level, have more access to trusted data and the training and tools to use it wisely. It also means embracing discomfort, according to author Randy Bean.

“People ask me what are the characteristics that I see of data-driven organizations,” shares Randy Bean, author of Fail Fast, Learn Faster: Lessons in Data-Driven Leadership in an Age of Big Data, Disruption, and AI. “I point to organizations like, for example, Capital One. In every conversation that I ever have with Capital One, they say, ‘What are others doing? What’s coming along? What should we be doing that we’re not?’

“In other words, their relentless drive to be data-driven means that they never rest. They’re never comfortable. They’re always looking for better ways. They’re always looking to see what others are doing because they know that unless they continue to do things to stay data-driven, that they won’t be the most data-driven going forward. And when I go into organizations and they sit back with our arms folded and they say, ‘Yeah, we have it all figured out,’ those are the organizations that I truly worry about.”

Today, effective leaders develop and promote a data culture, embracing new opportunities to learn and improve. But what technology do you need to support this? “As a user, a highly usable data portal or access tool — including data discovery and contextualization — is critical for more casual, non-power users,” CIO David Seidl suggests. “I think that’s the real destination of self-service BI in the long term, with a stop at power users along the way. Also, sometimes discovering that you don’t have the data (or that it’s not complete, bad, or un-governed) and figuring out why, and if it’s worth gathering and maintaining too, right?”

Those working with data “in the trenches” every day are the ones with the most influence to elevate intelligence. Sure, the tools are important, but the people are even more so. But only when strategies around building a data culture are adopted and embraced by everyone in the organization can the vision be fully realized.

Caroline Carruthers, an award-winning Chief Data Officer and the co-author of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, seems to agree: “You have to choose the tools that fit your team’s abilities and skill sets.” In other words, you have to always think about how you are using your team to the best of their abilities. Because even though we deal with numbers, it’s people who transform numbers into insights, actions, and, ultimately, business victories.

I would argue that the democratization of data and the idea of Intelligence Elevated go hand in hand. How is that possible? Data democratization makes data accessible to everyone, but some may ask if intelligence being elevated only applies to those with the highly specialized skills and tools. But, in fact, the two coexist quite nicely. By harnessing the wisdom of crowds, data leaders can make the entire organization smarter.

Intelligence as a Core Business Value

For years, organizations have promoted their values: honesty, fairness, and so on. While important, they are usually fairly predictable. But what happens when an organization includes intelligence as one of its values? This means that data becomes a part of the fabric of that organization. It’s woven into every decision. Data becomes a crucial actor in the business story. Talk about lofty stuff!

So, what happens to an organization that does not elevate intelligence — those that continue to rely on gut instinct to make decisions? Setting aside the decisions that affect the bottom line, there are cultural implications. CIO Jason James summarizes the impacts: “The speed of business and competition now requires that stakeholders have quick access to meaningful data to make decisions. Data needs to be up-to-date, relevant, and relatively easy to access.”

Neglecting this tenet can also harm your culture. Talented people want to work for organizations that elevate intelligence. According to a survey by Tableau and Forrester Research, “83% of employees surveyed believe they make better decisions and 82% make faster decisions when they use data. Also, nearly 80% of employees surveyed say they’re more likely to stay at a company that sufficiently trains them with the data skills they need.”

Organizations that invest in elevating individual intelligence build employee loyalty. They believe the organization will be successful and they want to be active and empowered participants in that success. Organizations that fail to prioritize data literacy also fail to embrace the concept of intelligence elevated; these businesses will fail to attract the best talent, at any level of data literacy.

Curious to learn more about the power of data literacy in action? Join us for an interactive webinar featuring Stephanie Woerner, Director of MIT CISR, Paige Francis, Chief Information Officer of AWE, and Linda Yates, President of Mach49: Digital Leaders in Conversation.

  • What Is Intelligence Elevated?
  • Intelligence as a Core Business Value
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