Many common business problems are symptoms of an organization that lacks a data strategy. We discuss what that is, why you need one and how you can get started with creating one for your company.
No matter how big or small your company is, data matters. Along with your people and products (or services), data is one of your biggest business assets. So why is it that many organizations are armed with a well-thought-out and resourced business strategy but can’t seem to get their data to work for them?
Many companies attempt to solve their data issues by attacking individual components, only to be confronted with the same or similar symptoms a year later. If you don’t have a well-integrated data strategy, those symptoms can turn into several prevalent business problems. Do any of these scenarios resonate with you?
- If your company is trying to modernize how you interact with customers, but your data infrastructure isn’t modern enough to enable change … you might need a data strategy.
- If you want to improve your employee workflow and internal processes, but you can’t see what the issues are, what improvements to make or if the changes are even working … you might need a data strategy.
- If you reach out to three different departments or people for a specific data point and get three different answers … you might need a data strategy.
- If your company is growing rapidly through acquisitions, but every added company has a different source of truth … you might need a data strategy.
- If your leadership has competing ideas about what is important and where to focus … you might need a data strategy
- If you strive to be on the leading edge of your industry and have great ideas but lack the infrastructure or resources to execute your vision … you might need a data strategy.
- If you spend more time in arguments about how you calculated different numbers than actually talking about the problems you’re trying to solve … you might need a data strategy.
- If you can’t easily identify your top customers, products or producers … you might need a data strategy.
- If your leadership team aims to be data-driven in their decision-making but is constantly waiting for reports to run or changes to happen … you might need a data strategy.
If you found yourself smiling (or grimacing) as you read through that list, welcome to the club. Having an enterprise data strategy is just as important as having a company vision or a solid and executable business strategy. But it’s something companies perennially overlook or de-prioritize. A data strategy isn’t a silver bullet. It is, however, a steppingstone and enabler to solve all these problems and more. It is also something all organizations need.
What Exactly is a Data Strategy, and How Can It Help Your Company?
A data strategy is expansive, and that can make it seem daunting. But because it covers multiple facets of data and information and applies to an entire enterprise, it addresses many business problems. It’s the foundation of a company’s overall strategy. It greases the inner workings of a business in a similar way oil greases a car. A company’s inability to develop, implement and enforce a data strategy is like dirty oil in a car – it chokes it – and stops it from running. A data strategy, at the core, enables you to ask better questions and get better answers faster. It surfaces new information that inspires you to get more curious and dig deeper to uncover new discoveries.
A data strategy provides business value for the data architecture, security monitoring and enablement. It unifies business and IT leaders in a common goal and gives employees a common language to rally around. It takes all of the talent and good intentions already used by employees and points them in the same direction to accomplish more together. There are some very clear benefits to implementing a data strategy. It can help you:
Set a Clear Vision
A clear vision determines how and where data will impact and empower the rest of your organization’s long-term plan. It is the north star that people and initiatives all work toward. It answers questions like:
- What role does data play in our long-term vision?
- How should our employees use data today and in the future?
Accelerate Data-driven Decision Making
A data strategy helps you prepare for emergencies and key decisions in advance and have tools and processes in place to handle immediate needs. A data strategy accelerates the process of getting answers to important questions faster, questions like:
- What will our cash flow look like if a health crisis continues indefinitely?
- Is there an inventory from another facility that can support an unexpected influx of orders?
Protect Vulnerable Information
An effective data strategy considers data security. It follows a principle of least access, governs access methodically and is easy to communicate to others. It considers access to internal users, as well as prohibits outsiders from breaching privacy walls. It answers questions like:
- How are we protecting our clients’ and employees’ data?
- Who is accessing what data, and how often?
People interpret data. And people all have different perspectives on what specific numbers mean. In an enterprise, however, it is problematic when no one can agree on what numbers mean and how they got there. A data strategy creates a shared vocabulary for an organization, unifying everyone with a common language. It answers questions like:
- What is our definition of a customer or client?
- Do we care about fiscal year or calendar year in reporting annual sales?
Creative and innovative solutions don’t typically happen in boardrooms or at a data analyst’s desk. They happen on the front lines where someone recognizes a problem and tries to solve it. A data strategy enables those problem-solvers by getting data in their hands in real-time to help them realize opportunities for improvement and then track the impact when they make changes. It answers questions like:
- How can I prevent this issue from happening again?
- How could I make this experience more efficient?
It doesn’t matter if you get data to the right people at the right time if they don’t trust what you’re handing to them. A data strategy involves understandable data governance that puts responsibility and accountability for data cleanliness in the hands of the people who use and generate it. It builds foundational trust in a system that produces and maintains trustworthy information. It answers questions like:
- Is this the same number that <insert a name here> has?
- Who verified and approved this data point?
So how do you see those benefits within your business? Let’s look at the steps to take.
How Do I Implement a Data Strategy in my Organization?
Organizations with successful data strategy implementations all have four things in common. To replicate their success:
- Start with a full and clear understanding of the current state as your first step. And if you don’t have that understanding, or the ability to create one internally, engage a trusted partner to help guide you through the process.
- Develop a vision for an ideal future state. Employ an actionable roadmap to get you from here to there – with specific steps to take on Day 1 and direction for the next few months or even years.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Have a big picture plan, but set reasonable and agile goals supported by specific initiatives designed to move the needle incrementally.
- Realize and embrace the notion that problem solving is largely about people and processes. You can’t silo a data strategy in the data or even the IT part of your organization. Technology choices are part of a data strategy, but so are governance processes and information people consume and use. The broader your initial perspective in building the strategy – whether internal, external, or a combination of the two – the better the result will be.
A data strategy is an important predictor of an enterprise’s future. The absence of a thoughtful approach could deter any meaningful forward progression on its goals. By engaging the numerous stakeholders, considering the breadth that data encompasses, and executing methodically, an enterprise can learn not only to wrangle their data but use it as a springboard toward meaningful impact and innovation.