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19 May 2020 / Opinion

How to build a strong data strategy

Inderjit Mund / Data Management Director

Organisations are dealing with a torrent of new data from increased online shopping, social media and other unstructured data. These data sources are key to unlocking the potential of data-driven marketing. But without an appropriate data strategy, organisations may be held back from expanding their databases and keeping up with growth. So where do you start?

Data strategies are not loners

A data strategy is often hidden within the other strategies of an organisation. Elements of it can be seen within all aspects of an organisation, but very rarely does it take centre stage. Yet we are in the age of data. Look at the ‘unicorn’ companies. They are all built on data, and they have a clear data strategy. From personalised product recommendations to data-driven marketing strategies, it underpins everything.

  • The purpose of a data strategy is to explain what you use data for. In other words, why you are collecting data and how you are going to use it to the best advantage of your business.
  • Data is an incredibly valuable asset and a data strategy needs to be very closely aligned to other organisational strategies. Yet exist in its own right.
  • Its primary objective is to create focus and clarity around the collection and compliant use of data
  • A data strategy must start by considering the world from a data perspective. Although obvious, this can be a difficult thing to do.

Clarity of vision and purpose

A data strategy should add value to the business by providing clear direction, and I would humbly suggest, prevents confusion. It pulls together all the separate data threads running through an organisation and provides a framework that ensures the use of data within your organisation is clear, comprehensive, consistent and compliant.

The lack of an appropriate data strategy means that decisions on the use of data are made to serve tactical operational requirements with little regard for future consequences. Collecting the same data multiple times and using it to arrive at different answers to the same question is a common issue.

The specific danger here is that in this siloed way of working it is often difficult to spot inconsistent answers. Such issues are sometimes never identified, resulting in the wrong business decisions being made, or only identified much further down the line. This then leads to significant time being spent on unravelling the data threads. Time that would be much better spent investing in a data strategy that is appropriate for how an organisation does business now, and how it plans to do business in the future.

Addressing the challenges of today and tomorrow

As well as providing cohesion across the various strategies, a data strategy needs to link the past, the present and the future. Many strategies only deal with the future and for that reason are fatally flawed.

An appropriate data strategy is remiss if it does not discuss leveraging advantage of the cloud whilst also explaining how to deal with the legacy data systems which no longer fit and possibly have high maintenance costs.

Unless you are a start-up, starting with a blank piece of paper, you are always going to have some legacy issues to deal with. Ignoring legacy systems or hoping that the future will just make them disappear, never works. Your data strategy needs to cater for them, even if the answer is explicitly “Do nothing”.

What does a data strategy comprise and why is it essential to have one?

  • It is simple. (Just like your strategy should be)
  • It needs to explain what you are using your data for and why you need it.
  • It needs to be clear on its alignment with your business strategy.
  • It must show how the data is organised and how it relates to your specific business activities and the regulatory regime in which you operate.
  • It must show the journey from the past through to the future.

Do this and you have a template for ensuring that you are using your data in the best way for your business. It also provides a sense of purpose and confidence in the way that you compliantly handle data.

The benefits from a clear data strategy

Developing a clear and coherent data strategy will enable you to unlock transformational opportunities for your business, such as:

  • Access to data. When you develop your data strategy you will clearly understand what data exists within your business.
  • Joining the dots. By collecting and connecting customer data, both online and offline, you can unlock data-driven attribution and personalisation at scale.
  • Customer focused culture. A good data strategy will enable you to understand more about your customers.
  • Personalisation. If you know your customers, you can humanise your marketing and bring your customers to life through every touchpoint.

As data further underpins analytics, AI and machine learning, we are quickly reaching a point where humans can’t keep up with the volume and complexity of it. Yet this is where the opportunity lies. The right specialists and the latest technology can rapidly collect and connect data across channels and devices and bring all data into one place.

When the right data is captured, enhanced and analysed, both the effectiveness and efficiency of marketing activity is improved. And only by considering your data strategy carefully and ensuring infrastructure and IT processes are ready for it, can you meet the data deluge head on.

If you'd like help putting a data strategy together

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