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Data Literacy at Danone: Investing in the Basics

A data-driven organization begins with employees working in a data-driven way. To increase data literacy across its entire operations, multi-national food company Danone invested in a worldwide data-literacy program for all employees.

“If people don't know how to use or interpret data, any data-driven change is doomed to fail.” - Camilla Björkqvist, transformation director of global data & analytics at Danone

Established in 1919, the world-leading food products company Danone (known as Danoontje in the Netherlands) focuses on four distinct areas: essential dairy and plant-based products, early life nutrition, medical nutrition, and bottled waters. Like many other competitive and successful companies today, Danone wanted to work in a more data-driven way — that is, to use data to forecast the future more accurately, optimize processes, and make better, more well-founded decisions.

Its data-driven ambitions extended across the company’s entire operations: from an optimal pricing strategy and smart stock management to waste reduction and a shorter time-to-market. But to exploit all the benefits that data could offer, Danone needed to ensure its employees understood how to work with it.

Walking the Talk: Why Embedding is Crucial

To make a data-driven way of working a success, embedding it across the entire organization would be crucial. “Without data literacy, our transformation into a data-driven organization would be difficult,” said Camilla Björkqvist, transformation director of global data & analytics at Danone. “Data literacy across our global business varies enormously, from teams who are already very adept at data and analytics, to employees who are new to data,” she explained.

To familiarize all of its employees with the possibilities (and impossibilities) of data, Danone set up a company-wide awareness campaign and, in collaboration with Xebia, an associated training program. The goal was to increase data literacy across the board. “If people don't know how to use or interpret data, any data-driven change is doomed to fail,” said Björkqvist.

Awareness is Key: Producing a Podcast

So, what exactly is data and what can you do with it? What does a data scientist do? What are the latest trends and developments in the field of data-driven working? These and many other questions and themes are reviewed in Danone’s new data podcast series. Its sole purpose is to inform and educate people about the opportunities that a data-driven way of working brings.

Björkqvist’s team also regularly organizes workshops with business teams to brainstorm answers to questions like, “What concrete ideas are there for data projects? What are possible use cases? And what support does a team need to set up a concrete data-driven initiative?”

The Value of Identifying Data Champions

To help drive the transformation to a more data-driven way of working, Björkqvist’s team also identifies relevant stakeholders within the organization to act as ambassadors or data champions during team meetings and masterclasses.

Skeptics are especially given the space to remain skeptical for a while, emphasizes Björkqvist. “There is no coercion behind our working method. We prefer to convince employees by showing them the added value of data-driven working with inspiring use cases and by extensively celebrating data-driven successes,” she said.

Extended Learning: Establishing a Data Academy

In collaboration with Xebia, Danone set up its own Data Acadamy — an internal training program aimed at increasing data literacy even further. Employees who become convinced of the full potential of data and who want more in-depth knowledge can complete courses and workshops taught by Danone’s own internal specialists as well as Xebia's experts. There, they learn how to use data, and receive more in-depth information about what possible use cases might look like. They can also develop their own initial ideas into concrete use cases with support. 

Danone’s Data Academy also covers other, critical topics in addition to tools and technology. For example, employees learn about Data Management (how do you make data available to those who work with it, safely and compliantly), Embedding Data Science Within the Organization (what are the best practices for integrating a data-driven working method), Impact Measurements (what does a data-driven initiative actually deliver?), and Partnerships (which partners can help you accelerate your data-driven development?). Want to hear more about the Data Academy at Danone and more? Watch the talk on Data Literacy at Club Cloud 2021:



Cultural Differences

As a global company with nearly 100,000 employees worldwide, culture is a critical concern at Danone. Customs vary greatly between countries, and some employees feel less comfortable than others with putting their own ideas and use cases “out there.”

To help everyone succeed with a data-driven way of working, Danone’s Data Academy champions everyone to come up with interesting use cases by asking questions, such as, “How can we make your country, and your unit successful?”

“Ideas and suggestions from every employee are valuable, so all of the trainers deliberately create space — be it a workshop, course, or masterclass — for any participants to contribute his or her own ideas, ” explained Giovanni Lanzani, an MD at Xebia. “This inclusive approach works well, and many interesting initiatives have already emerged from the Data Academy,” he added.


“Empowerment is the keyword in all of this,” emphasized Björkqvist. “We want our employees to implement a data-driven way of working for themselves as soon as possible. If a large organization only has one data analytics team charged with leading the way, it won’t work.  Eventually, the entire business needs to be data-driven, from the bottom-up. This approach has already led to several great initiatives within different departments, positively impacting our supply chain, operations, sales, and growth,” she added.

Björkqvist summarized the benefit of working with a partner for their data-literacy initiative: “Technology is one thing. Transforming and creating a data-driven culture is another.  Xebia has helped us enormously in raising awareness and establishing the crucial connection between technology and business.”

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