On January 21, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to build a data-informed approach to management of the pandemic and future high-consequence public health threats. The White House’s executive order was issued to create a data-driven response model to transform the effectiveness of the federal government and improve evidence-based, measurable and informed decisions. 

President Biden signs Executive Order on ensuring a data-driven response to COVID-19 and future high-consequence public health threats 

Evidence-based? Measurable and informed decisions? Are those goals you are trying to achieve within your company? To better understand the executive order from President Biden, and how it relates to building a data-informed approach to management of a company, I asked one of the top data and analytics expert to help translate the executive order into language that business leaders can use to guide their data-management practice. 


Andy Cotgreave, co-author of The Big Book of Dashboards, and Technical Evangelist at Tableau.

Andy Cotgreave is co-author of The Big Book of Dashboards, and Technical Evangelist at Tableau. He is the host of If Data Could Talk, co-host of Chart Chat and columnist for Information Age. He is also on the 2021 dataIQ Top 100 most influential people in data. With over 15 years’ experience in the industry, he has inspired thousands of people with technical advice and ideas on how to identify trends in visual analytics and develop their own data-discovery skills.

 “President Biden’s executive order contains principles and policies you can enable in your organization,” said Cotgreave. Here is how Cotgreave analyzed the executive order into five guiding principles for business leaders working on building a data-informed culture and approach to management. 

1. Data-driven transformation requires leadership from the top

Executive Order: By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows,”

Business Lesson: Data transformation must be an organizational strategic goal. As a company leader, are you sponsoring transformation in the same way an executive order does?

2. Your decisions are better when informed by data

Executive Order: “Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of my Administration to respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic through effective approaches guided by the best available science and data, including by building back a better public health infrastructure.  This stronger public health infrastructure must help the Nation effectively prevent, detect, and respond to future biological threats, both domestically and internationally.”

Business Lesson:  Whether you are in a time of crisis or business-as-usual the “best available” data increases business resilience. 80% of leaders in the UK and EMEA say data has given them a critical edge during the pandemic. Data is never perfect, and should not impede progress, as recognized here. By specifying the need to build back a better infrastructure, the executive order recognizes that any change must be ongoing. Many businesses start a data project and consider it finished once the technology is installed and some dashboards are built. This is untrue: solving problems with data is an ongoing process

Research from Salesforce shows that users are concerned about poor connectivity between systems, apps, and data. In fact, only 29% of business leaders admit that their organization is very effective at connecting and using data from multiple sources to drive business value.  Over half (54%) of business users are either “very” or “somewhat” frustrated by how challenging it can be to stitch together disparate IT systems, applications, and data to drive new business value.  A majority (59%) of the same users also agree that an inability to connect systems, applications and data will negatively impact the customer experience — a fundamental prerequisite for business success.

3. Assign accountability for use of data across your organization

Executive Order: “Consistent with this policy, the heads of all executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall facilitate the gathering, sharing, and publication of COVID-19-related data, in coordination with the Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President (COVID-19 Response Coordinator), to the extent permitted by law, and with appropriate protections for confidentiality, privacy, law enforcement, and national security.” 

Business Lesson: The executive order assigns a leader responsible for the change, and mandates a data leadership committee. The equivalent in your organization  to the Covid-19 Response Coordinator in the executive order would be a Chief Data Officer. A data leadership committee works to create a key set of metrics for your organization. The committee then works with the right people—typically an analyst team—to locate, create, and align data sources to support these metrics. 

Research from MuleSoft notes that business users need to be empowered to unlock data. Most line-of-business (LoB) users are frustrated by how difficult it is to connect different IT systems and data — hindering business growth and customer experience. They agree that easy-to-use, self-service tools that allow LoBs to unlock data and build customer experiences would be beneficial. The majority (80%) agree employees need easy access to data and IT capabilities to deliver projects faster.

4. Enable anyone in your organization to discover insights with data

Executive Order: “(c) The Director of OMB, in consultation with the Director of OSTP, the United States Chief Technology Officer, and the COVID-19 Response Coordinator, shall promptly review the Federal Government’s existing approaches to open data, and shall issue supplemental guidance, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, concerning how to de-identify COVID-19-related data; how to make data open to the public in human- and machine-readable formats as rapidly as possible; and any other topic the Director of OMB concludes would appropriately advance the policy of this order.  Any guidance shall include appropriate protections for the information described in section 5 of this order.”

Business Lesson: While private organizations do not need to make their data open to the public, it is important to make data accessible to all people in your organization. High level KPIs help leaders, but others in your organization need access to disaggregated data to manage day-to-day business operations. In a similar way to the executive order, do you need to call for a company-wide audit of your data sources? 

Some compare the value of data to oil, meaning data-rich companies are also the most valuable companies in the world. But Data is more like water, according to Crawford Del Prete, president of IDC. “Data is not like oil. Data is like water. It is essential for life and it needs to be clean and accessible to all,” said Del Prete. Key performance indicators and business metrics should also be accessible to all employees. When companies use visualization of data, they democratize not only access, but also understandability of data, therefore improving decision velocity and ability to co-create value at the speed of stakeholder need. 

5. Promote and encourage data-driven innovation

Executive Order: “Section 4. Advancing Innovation in Public Health Data and Analytics.  The Director of OSTP, in coordination with the National Science and Technology Council, as appropriate, shall develop a plan for advancing innovation in public health data and analytics in the United States.”

Business Lesson: As a leader, does your data policy enable innovation? People at all levels should have the confidence and the knowledge to follow a data discovery cycle on their own with as little intermediation as possible and then use data insights to drive business decisions. 

Companies need to have access to a single source of truth about stakeholder – employee, customer, partner and community – data and a shared 360-degree view in order to proactively identify moments of truth to convert informed decisions to actions that deliver personalized value, at scale. Salesforce research shows that companies that are able to innovate are capable of sharing insights from various lines-of-business (sales, marketing, services, commerce and IT) in near-real time across the organization. Research also shows that chief customer officers are developing new playbooks for customer experience and growth based on measuring outcomes and ability to innovate based on their customer’s growing expectations. 

Research shows that businesses are faced with a data divide, which has widened since the pandemic. To keep pace with evolving customer expectations, organizations are looking for faster ways to unlock data and gain insights. 2021 will be the year that data separates organizations from their competitors and customers — the ability to unlock, analyze, and act on data will become foundational to growth. Organizations are investing in data analytics to transform customer experiences. The value of data analytics will be dependent on the data they are fed. 

More than ever, companies are looking towards innovation in order to maximize efficiencies and reduce costs through automation. The quality of automation is directly related to the quality and accessibility of data across organizations.  The ability for businesses to create value at the speed of stakeholder — employee, customer, partner, community — need is highly dependent on their ability to automate what can be automated. The ability to consistently deliver value on time will lead to relevance and trust. Research shows that automation is top of mind to enable innovation and digital transformation.

After a year of global transformation caused by a pandemic, companies who put data in the center of their daily operations have an advantage. For leaders seeking guidance on improving their own data cultures, this executive order forms an excellent template as a starting point. 

This article was co-authored by Andy Cotgreave. Cotgreave is co-author of The Big Book of Dashboards, and Technical Evangelist at Tableau. He is the host of If Data Could Talk, co-host of Chart Chat and columnist for Information Age. He is also on the 2021 dataIQ Top 100 most influential people in data. With over 15 years’ experience in the industry, he has inspired thousands of people with technical advice and ideas on how to identify trends in visual analytics and develop their own data-discovery skills. Keep in touch with Andy by subscribing to his Sweet Spot newsletter: curated stories of how data intersects with the world. Or follow Andy on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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