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Case Skanska: Data Journey Towards an Information-Driven Organization

An information-driven organization is being built, step by step.

Skanska is one of the world's leading companies offering construction and project development services. Skanska builds homes and residential areas, functional infrastructure, and modern spaces for businesses and communities.

In Finland, IT Manager Artturi Kantanen has been advancing Skanska's journey towards becoming an information-driven organization. The initial push came from a casual community he maintained, an analytics network that met quarterly to explore the potential benefits – and also the prerequisites – of leveraging data capital.

Since then, the work of developing a data-driven organization has been approached systematically. Now, being data-driven is one of the key cornerstones of the entire organization, and it's a goal towards which they are moving with determination. On Skanska's data journey, many significant milestones have already been passed.

Data-Drivenness Arises from the Courage to Dream

How do organizations best get started on their own data journey?

- Often, the biggest obstacle to starting the journey is that organizations don't dare to dream, Kantanen states. Imagination is limited, and there’s no room for envisioning when the realities of the current situation consume all focus. However, future visions don't have to be prisoners of the prevailing situation.

Lead Architect Harri Puupponen from Cloud1 agrees with Kantanen's thought. At least from a technological standpoint, companies have no reason to limit their imagination, as technology already enables anything. In addition to dreams, courage comes into the picture: it’s advisable to boldly seize opportunities and set goals high enough.

So, how is data-drivenness turned into reality? Alongside a big goal, numerous small steps and successes are needed. Inspired by these successes, change agents within the organization also play a central role.

Artturi Kantanen shares that at Skanska, the journey towards data-drivenness was accelerated precisely by small, practical examples of what can be done with data. These examples gave rise to internal champions who drove the issue forward using implemented business examples. Without these small successes, advocates for the beneficial use of data would not emerge, and the data journey slows down.

- Through examples, it’s natural to open a discussion about what could be further produced for the business in the future, provided that the uniform quality of data is taken care of, it is centrally managed, and has an owner, Kantanen explains. This way, the possibilities for the beneficial use of data gradually open up more widely within the organization.

Business Process-Oriented Data is not yet Sufficient

In many organizations, it is felt that things are already being done on a data basis, and that data supports decision-making. Kantanen agrees that this is probably the case. Every organization uses data in some form.

However, data-drivenness cannot be based solely on siloed and process-specific data. Siloed and business process-oriented data is often more of an individual or unit virtue, rather than a capital-generating value for the entire organization.

From the IT organization's perspective, an absolute prerequisite for the beneficial use of data is that the organization has a centralized data platform where data can be collected, managed, developed, and distributed to the business. Development and maintenance of data quality also occur centrally. The goal is to provide well-managed data capital that can be distributed for various business needs, such as implementing new digital services or reporting.

The role of technology is to enable data that transcends organizational boundaries and silos. A centralized data platform acts as an enabler so that data is available across the entire organization.

The Maturity Pyramid is Climbed one step at a Time

Before data-drivenness becomes a reality, the foundation needs to be in place. The first step is to take control of the data. Business must establish ownership for data entities. Data can already be used to produce information through reporting at the stage when the foundation is built. This foundation enables targeted reporting and looking back in the rearview mirror within limited business areas or projects.

In the next phase, islands of information are formed. Bridges can be built between these islands, which leads to the next level of maturity. These information islands can be combined to produce comprehensive analytics, and the understanding generated by the data becomes possible.

At the top of the pyramid, data extensively utilizes artificial intelligence or machine learning. However, the most mature stage requires disciplined maintenance of data quality and defining relationships between things.

Each step of the maturity pyramid should be climbed carefully. The stages need to be mastered systematically for the entire data journey to be realized. Successes must be achieved at each stage, and these successes also need to be communicated. The role of technology is greatest at the base of the pyramid but diminishes towards the top. The stronger the foundation, the larger or better pyramid can be built. The greatest gains are reaped at the top of the pyramid.

Fundamentally, it's about a Change in Organizational Culture

In addition to the maturity pyramid, Kantanen outlines the enablement of data-drivenness through four different development areas:

  1. Adoption of technology that fits into your own architecture
  2. Management of business expectations and generation of business benefits
  3. Building a governance model
  4. Leading and changing organizational culture

The last phase is the most challenging, but also the most important. Without it, the true realization of value does not occur.

The birth of a data-driven organization is about a change in organizational culture. The goal is to foster a data culture throughout the organization, where high-quality data that is available across the organization is taken seriously.

The most challenging question in the data journey is how to change the operational practices of the organization. It's crucial to see the value of the journey itself. Things like technology, analytics, and reporting ultimately play a small role in this change.

What does a data-driven organization look like in practice? Kantanen envisions that at Skanska, it might look like this:

  • The business itself takes responsibility and ownership of the data within its area of operation.
  • The business independently drives forward development ideas and needs and enhances data capabilities.
  • The business spontaneously deems it important to maintain the quality of data generated from its processes and understands the impact of data changes elsewhere in the processes.
  • At the individual level, there is an understanding of the responsibility and obligation to maintain data quality.
  • Every employee receives high-quality data or data services in a timely manner to support their specific job tasks.

Technology in an Enabling Role

The role of technology is to enable the extensive utilization of data. It's important to be familiar with the modern possibilities of the latest technology, as it also helps organizations to focus more on their core activities.

Cloud1's Data Hub concept includes services from Azure that can ensure a strong technological foundation for the maturity pyramid. The technological solutions needed to build this foundation include Synapse, Databricks, Data Factory, Terraform, API Management, various analytics services like Power BI, and Azure ML services.

The Data Journey is Traveled Together

At Skanska and Cloud1, many things are thought of in the same way. Cloud1's solution-oriented and down-to-earth approach has felt natural on the customer side. Cloud1 understands well, for example, that large organizations often operate in a multi-vendor environment. The customer is encouraged to choose contributors from where the best capabilities for implementations are found. The customer is not wanted to be locked into just one option.

“I have always appreciated that Cloud1 has strong technological expertise, but at the same time, they also understand how to think about business,” outlines Kantanen.

Another commonality in the thinking of the companies is that things are moved forward in a controlled and systematic way. The strong process orientation of the organization facilitates the implementation of change at Skanska. When processes have a defined role, it's easy to find responsible persons for data.

”It's always fruitful for a service provider to offer solutions when the customer organization operates systematically, has strong internal expertise, and a clear will to achieve the goal,” emphasizes Harri Puupponen. At Skanska, the right things are being done in the right order.

The customer organization's own expertise is crucial, as organizations cannot outsource their own change journey. The development of internal culture can’t be bought with money – change starts from within: from people, shifts in attitudes, understanding, and expertise, as well as breaking routines.

However, the right partner can support a company on its journey towards data-drivenness, and this is where Cloud1 wants to be involved: climbing towards the top of the pyramid step by step, together with the customer.