Data has become a key component for every business in the third industrial revolution. Therefore, having a data strategy is now a necessity for businesses of all sizes. However, the definition of what a data strategy is, has become confusing which is impacting business performance and the bottom line.
So, what is a data strategy? It should be a top-down approach, starting off with a business vision and a business strategy in place. The data strategy should align with the business strategy and deliver the vision. Technology becomes a key component since it provides valuable data to the business and serves its customers. In turn it becomes a data and technology strategy.
What easily gets confused is the issue of strategy versus tactics. The best way to understand the differences is to note that strategy is long-term planning whereas tactics relates more to the present, and the short-to-medium term.
San Tzu’s quote sums it up brilliantly:
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Or if you read Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, which provides some great insights, the chapter about the Desert Storm campaign features this useful opinion about strategy:
“Strategy is at least as much about what an organization does not do as it is about what it does.”
For data strategy to truly be successful it requires 3 key areas that need to be aligned:
1. The tie back to the business strategy
The value and importance of a data strategy is there to be seen, but it easily gets dismissed as we get bogged down in implementation, which becomes a long drawn out process. The biggest challenge is that people within the business do not necessarily understand technology and the value they are getting out of it, or that data-oriented people get too excited about playing with big data. For data strategy to be truly accepted within the business it needs to be aligned to the overall business strategy.
The business objectives and strategies need to focus on what is the end goal for the customer. The challenge for all is when clearly describing what the objective is, not to get into the details of technology or data. It needs to be kept extremely high level, focusing on the business question that needs to be answered and what the business results need to look like.
2. Data governance process
The data available to any business should become a key component when building a data strategy and how the data can be used to help deliver the business strategy and vision. Data governance becomes about managing all the different data sets available from multiple angles: compliance, ownership, quality, integrations, and accessibility. Without full control and governance, the data strategy becomes muddled, truly hurting the business performance and brand value.
Data governance becomes a key pillar in having a successful data strategy which cannot be delivered without people and processes. This should help provide consistency, transparency and efficiency helping delivering business results which is the only way to measure success. Without data governance it becomes a minefield to overcome.
Data governance needs to be constantly evolving with the changing data landscape. As the business evolves the role of data becomes more critical to every business decision that is made.
3. The long term view
For the data strategy to be successful, it requires a long-term vision that comes from the business strategy. The data strategy should help drive business growth but also be an enabler to drive the business strategy for the future. To build the foundation for the long-term the business requires the people, culture, infrastructure, and data ecosystem all becoming key properties in driving the business forward.
Building a solid foundation around the people, culture and infrastructure will allow the business to grow and handle any challenges that may occur. With the changing data landscape, a successful refined data strategy will help navigate any curveballs and embrace any changes.
As the former French President, Charles de Gaulle once said:
“You have to be fast on your feet and adaptive or else a strategy is useless.”
As much as technology plays a key role in the data strategy, it is all about the people and the data. Technology are just tools that provide a way to extract and understand the value of data.
For a data strategy to hugely successful and impactful it needs to be aligned to the business strategy and vision. Allowing the data strategy to drive the long-term business growth and help define what the business strategy should be. Technology will play a key role but to make the data strategy truly ‘kick-ass’, never forget that a focus on people and culture is vital for business growth.