In early May, I was invited to host a series of presentations for Bio-IT World at the Hynes Convention Center. Over two decades, Bio-IT World has met annually in Boston and showcases the latest technology in drug discovery and development.

When I reviewed the program, the lineup included more Ph.D.s than lunch hour at the Harvard faculty dining room. Finding myself in the company of internationally renowned experts in genetics and bioinformatics was frankly intimidating. I haven’t been in a lab since 10th-grade chemistry class, and my own university education is liberal arts all the way down.

That morning’s agenda was to consider the challenges for “building a data-driven organization.” I thought of opening with an audience poll and asking first whether attendees believed they were data driven. Until, of course, I realized, “Is anyone at Bio-IT World going to admit they don’t use data?”

Indeed, a recent New Vantage Partners survey of blue-chip U.S. firms in finance, pharma and healthcare found 99% of organizations aspire to be data-driven in practice and in their cultures. Leading organizations no longer think of data and data analysis as separate from the core business.

As I gathered my thoughts for my remarks, I recalled what I had learned a month earlier when hosting “Data Directions,” a CCC Town Hall on LinkedIn Live. Even for data use cases that are carefully curated and implemented with principle, success will depend on the extent to which stakeholders trust data, said Sonia Shaikh, the George Gerbner Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among different stakeholders involved in developing and using data-driven solutions, trust is a variable, Shaikh explained. To keep confidence levels as high as possible requires a commitment across an organization to build trust in data for all affected constituencies, she emphasized.

This is no easy assignment. In business, as in all other aspects of our lives, there are technology idealists and tech skeptics, with plenty of gray area in between.

At Bio-IT World, I urged the data devotees in the audience to take seriously the concerns of their data doubters, whether internal or external. Just as with the so-called “vaccine hesitant,” the questions they raise deserve to be addressed if data-driven decision making is ever to earn their trust. 

A Nobel prize-winning economist once said, “If you torture your data, it will tell you anything you want to hear.”

Treat your data well, and the data-driven decisions you make will return the favor.

This article originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal


Author: Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally hosts CCC's Velocity of Content podcast series, which debuted in 2006 and is the longest continuously running podcast covering the publishing industry. As CCC's Senior Director, Marketing, he is responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of all stakeholders in publishing and research. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), WBUR-FM, NPR, and WGBH-TV.
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