As the world becomes smarter and smarter, data becomes the key to competitive advantage, meaning a company’s ability to compete will increasingly be driven by how well it can leverage data, apply analytics and implement new technologies. In fact, according to the International Institute for Analytics, by 2020, businesses using data will see $430 billion in productivity benefits over competitors who are not using data.
So, it’s clear that data is now a key business asset, and it’s revolutionising the way companies operate, across most sectors and industries. In effect, every business, regardless of size, now needs to be a data business. And if every business is a data business, every business therefore needs a robust data strategy.
It all starts with strategy
Having a clear data strategy is absolutely vital when you consider the sheer volume of data that is available these days. I see too many businesses get so caught up in the Big Data buzz that they collect as much data as possible, without really considering what they want to do with all that data. While others are so overwhelmed by options that they bury their head in the sand. Neither represent a smart way to run a business.
Instead of starting with the data itself, every business should start with strategy. At this stage, it doesn’t matter what data is out there, what data you’re already collecting, what data your competitors are collecting, or what new forms of data are becoming available. Neither does it matter whether your business has mountains of analysis-ready data at your disposal, or next to none. A good data strategy is not about what data is readily or potentially available – it’s about what your business wants to achieve, and how data can help you get there.
Therefore, if companies want to avoid drowning in data, they need to develop a smart strategy that focuses on the data they really need to achieve their goals. To be truly useful in a business sense, data must address a specific business need, help the organisation reach its strategic goals, and generate real value. This means you need to define the key challenges and business-critical questions that need answering, and then collect and analyse the data that will help you address them.
I see a lot of companies with data strategies nestled within different areas of the business, such as marketing and sales. That’s not enough. Every business needs a company-wide data plan. Unfortunately, there is also still a widespread perception among business executives that data and analytics is purely an IT matter. And as with all IT matters, this means they don’t really need to understand how it works. They simply need to know what it does – drive growth – and throw money at it. In my experience, data strategies that are driven by the IT team tend to focus on data storage, ownership and integrity rather than the business’s long-term strategic goals and how data can help reach those goals. That’s why the data strategy should be owned by the leadership team.
It is also important to remember that no one type of data is inherently better than any other kind. Using data strategically is about finding the best data for your company, and that may be very different to what’s best for another company. With so much data available these days, the trick is to focus on finding the exact, specific pieces of data that will best benefit your organisation.
The key elements of a good data and analytics strategy
To create a robust data and analytics strategy, business leaders need to consider many factors. Here are the critical points I would expect to see in a strong data strategy:
In business, information is power, and Big Data is providing information we couldn’t have dreamed of collecting or analysing just a few short years ago. With the massive growth in Big Data, plus the rapidly evolving methods for analysing data, the importance of data across every aspect of business will only increase. Those companies that view data as a strategic asset and develop robust data and analytics strategies are the ones that will succeed in this new data-driven world.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.