In this installment of our Expert Insights Series, Jon Thompson hosts technology and operations leader, Andy Scott, to discuss the role of data in business. Andy has 35 years of experience across multiple industries and organizations holding positions that include Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Product and Technology Officer (CPTO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), VP of Digital Product Management, and Board Director. He is known for his track record of delivering growth and empowering leadership through digital transformation. 

Prior to starting Cognitival Consulting, Andy served as Chief Technology Officer of Hydromax USA, a private equity backed company providing field services and solutions for gas, water, and wastewater infrastructure. Blue Margin worked with Hydromax to help improve operations and productivity through data visibility, and through that partnership, Andy’s high level of expertise became apparent. Blue Margin realized other technology leaders would appreciate his insights, so Jon hosted Andy to explore the topics of data, digital transformation, and technology leadership. Key takeaways include: 

Watch the full interview,  listen to the podcast episode, or read the highlights below:

 

 

 

Data-Driven vs. Non-Data Driven Companies  

Over the course of his 35 years in tech leadership, Andy has observed a difference between data-driven and non-data- driven companies.   

“The Non-Data-Driven Company is Running Around in Firefighting Mode.” –Andy Scott 

Companies without BI tend to be buried in Excel, often after failed BI initiatives. While it’s possible to get some data insights through Excel, leaders without dashboard reporting are largely flying blind. This lack of visibility creates uncertainty, tension, and angst, and leaders find themselves stuck in "firefighter mode." 

As an aside, we've observed that clients who use an agile approach in their data projects experience greater success than those who attempt the ERP-style waterfall approach. Our recent podcast discusses this strategy in more detail. 

“The Data-Driven Company Can Focus on Growth and Performance.” – Andy Scott 

In contrast to uncertainty and tension, data-driven companies have clarity into leading performance indicators (Jon discusses the crucial role of data visibility in this webinar). Clear visibility into leading indicators allows leaders to be proactive and step out of reactionary mode. Decision-making based on real-time data hits two of the seven key characteristics of the data-driven organization (McKinsey, 2022).

HubSpot Video

 

AI Requires a Strong Data Foundation

When embarking on a data strategy, it’s not uncommon for companies to want to jump to advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Andy offered a simple explanation of both technologies, as well as the use case for AI and ML within business intelligence. 

Although AI/ML are powerful technologies, they both require quality data. Andy says, “If your data is no good, the conclusion that your brilliant piece of software is going to come to is fundamentally flawed.” If you do not have the core data to power AI/ML, start lower down on the value chain. If you have access to good data, it can make sense deploy value creating solutions, as they did at Hydromax

HubSpot Video

 

Hydromax’s Recipe for Dashboarding Success 

While Andy was CTO at Hydromax, he worked with Blue Margin to increase data visibility with the goal of improving productivity. Andy indicates there were several elements that contributed to the success of the project, including a willingness to seek outside help, the intuitive interface of the dashboards, and cultural accountability. 

Get Outside Perspective

Before working with Blue Margin, Hydromax had attempted internal BI initiatives without success due to scope creep and conflicting priorities. Hydromax leadership found value in objective consultants who challenged them at key points in the process to focus on the highest value issues. (This Dashboard Effect podcast explores internal vs. external BI teams).

Keep Dashboards Simple, Intuitive

Data must be easy to use to have an impact, and thoughtfully planning how the data would be accessed by different users (and on a variety of devices) helped drive adoption and data collection.  Andy reflects on the impact, and how he became an evangelist by the end. 

“It was an eye opener. [It] showed me how quickly dashboard technology, and working with an external partner, could actually help you achieve that.” - Andy Scott 

Create a Culture of Accountability 

In previous BI efforts, dashboards were initially adopted, but waned with time.  Blue Margin’s dashboard design was easy to understand, useful, and accessible by all, so adoption levels were high (and stayed that way). As an added benefit, Hydromax was able to develop incentive programs for it's employees thanks to precise performance metrics. 

HubSpot Video

 

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Why Data Initiatives Fail and How to Succeed 

Change Management 

Andy recommends leaders think about the culture, understand how the change will impact individuals, and focus on communication throughout the process. Employees must be involved throughout the change process to experience best organizational outcomes (Pihlak and Alas, 2012).  

Keep it Simple 

Andy is a promoter of Dr. John Gall’s theory “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work.” – John Gall, The Systems Bible, 1977 

Andy advises, “Build a strategy that defines the destination, and then define the journey by building a roadmap that gets you there. The destination will move, and the journey will be a windy road, but you’ve got a vision of where you want to go.” 

Use External Resources 

Andy recommends that CTOs spearheading such projects ask for help when needed (we explore pros and cons of in-house data initiatives here). 

Define Success in Measurable Outcomes 

It’s critical to align on goals and define the measure of project success. How are you going to manage the investment? What is the impact? What is the end goal? How will these be measured? These goals will vary, from a specific IRR, to employee retention rates, to improved safety. A recent Dashboard Effect podcast discusses the importance of defining the impact up front.  

Go for Quick Wins 

Andy says, “Don’t go for the behemoth of a project that will deliver something in a year.” He emphasizes the value of smaller projects (another topic we recently explored). 

HubSpot Video

 

Andy's firm, Cognitival Consulting, caters to small businesses, PE firms, and startups, helping leaders navigate the digital transformation and technology landscape. If you'd like to connect, he's shared his cell phone and welcomes your call at 281-684-7673. You can also reach him via email at ascott13611@gmail.com.

If you'd like to explore how Blue Margin's team can help you use data visibility to drive growth and team accountability, contact us below!

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Resources 

Gall, John. (1975). Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail. General Systemantics Press. 

McKinsey. (2022, January 28). The data-driven enterprise of 2025. QuantumBlack AI by McKinsey. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/quantumblack/our-insights/the-data-driven-enterprise-of-2025 

NewVantage Partners. (2017). Bid data business impact: Achieving business results through innovation and disruption.  

Pihlak, Ü., & Alas, R. (2012). Leadership style and employee involvement during organizational change (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. Journal of Management & Change, 29(1), 46-66

Jon Thompson and Suzanne Rains

Written by Jon Thompson and Suzanne Rains

Jon Thompson is co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Blue Margin Inc. An author and speaker, Jon sheds light on how businesses can take advantage of a revolution in business intelligence to become data-driven and accelerate their success. Suzanne Rains is a communications specialist at Blue Margin Inc. With a MA in Human Resources and BAs in Marketing and Management, Suzanne unites an understanding of human nature and a keen interest in industry research to author thought leadership articles for today’s business leaders.