The stats show that while many businesses have access to vast streams of customer and business data, most aren’t putting it to use effectively. The Harvard Business Review reports that, on average, most businesses only use about 50% of their structured data to inform decision-making and only about 1% of unstructured data. This means most are missing powerful potential insights and business growth, without any clear path to change.
Understanding data strategies
So, how does a business use data in a smart, thoughtful and effective way? As with almost anything in business, you get the best results if you have a plan — so it starts with a data strategy. This lays out not just how you’ll collect and manage your data, but how you’ll organise, analyse and make use of it.
Developing a strategy also helps you define the ‘why’. What’s the goal of gathering and analysing all this data? Is it about protecting your business from compliance issues, internal leaks and exposure?
Traditional approaches around data governance and data strategy are all about what we do 'TO' data and how it is protected, whereas the modern approach do a data strategy is "what do we do 'WITH' data?".
This approach, sometimes called defensive data management, is often used by financial institutions.
An offence strategy, on the other hand, focuses on leveraging data to improve customer communication, boost sales and raise revenue.
There’s no one right way to tap into your data — it’s about defining your goals and laying out the steps to help you get there.
Linking your strategy with your data initiatives
The next step? Ensure that your strategy and your data initiatives align. That means any project or ongoing task that affects the way you process, manage or analyse data should have clear links to your strategic plan and help push you toward your goals. The strategy is your roadmap, and your initiatives are the journey.
Here’s how to make sure your strategic plan and actions are in sync:
1. Broadcast your strategy
It’s not enough to create a strategy — you need to shout it from the rooftops. Everyone in your business, from management down, should know and understand at least the broad strokes of your data plan. Forbes recently found that a huge 71%* of employees couldn’t correctly identify their corporate strategy, so this step may be more difficult than it seems. But it’s worth the effort — the better your employees and management teams understand your data strategy, the more they can help you work toward your overarching goals.
2. Prioritise and focus
No business can do everything, so setting clear priorities is essential. Rather than trying to optimise every piece of data that crosses your path, prioritise the gathering, management and analytics tasks that further your goals. If your main goals are based around improving sales, KPIs should be set to reflect that. For example, it’s a waste of time to gather and analyse data about likes and shares on social media if these metrics don’t have an impact on sales.
3. Pick the right platform
The tech platform or system you use to manage data can be a major factor in the success of your strategy. With the wrong platform, it’s difficult to gather and manage data effectively, before you even reach the analytics stage. A cloud platform that gives everyone in your business a ‘single source of truth’ is often the best choice, offering remote access and real-time updates and reducing the risk of errors or delays, but remember that technology won’t solve underlying problems if you don’t understand your data and what you want to do with the data.
4. Be flexible
The roadmap stays the same but you may need to take a detour here and there. Flexibility means that if a particular initiative or step isn’t delivering results or lining up with your strategy, you shouldn’t be afraid to change it. One example: if you set up a daily dashboard with a range of KPIs, and find that you’re only regularly referring to one or two, tweak it. Save time by focusing on data that drives strategy.
5. Automate where you can
Automation is another buzzword — but it can deliver real value in terms of time savings and accuracy. Many data management platforms offer some level of automation in data collection, collation and analytics, helping you access key information without investing so much time. When things are automated, you’ll have far fewer major errors or discrepancies, more time for your big-picture strategy and less time bogged down in the numbers.