“The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Ozymandius, Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a nineteenth-century English romantic poet best known for his poem Ozymandius: “‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. The lone and level sands stretch far away.” Shelley's sonnet is a metaphor for change, impermanence, and time. It is an apt coda for this story of data-driven transformation and data-driven leadership.

When I advise major companies and speak to business groups, I always urge executives to view data as a journey that unfolds over time. Doug Cutting is the former Apple Computer senior technologist who extolled the benefits of Big Data at the May 2012 Accel Partners conference I attended at Stanford University. Cutting noted at a 2018 conference in London, “Organizations and individuals are on a data journey. It is a slow revolution, a revolution over time.”1 The paradox of data-driven transformation efforts is that while these efforts promise speed in decision-making and an accelerated path to business outcomes, they are undertakings that require time, patience, persistence, and relentless execution. Success ultimately depends upon organizational alignment, process change, and people.

Companies must begin their data transformation efforts by developing a long-term plan that has a destination and many checkpoints along the way. They need to lay out a path that ...

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