Do You Need A Data Strategy?

20200608 ThinkingDataStrategy

During my time teaching Data Strategy in the class room, I’m frequently asked the question, “how do I know if I need a data strategy?”  For those of you that are deep thinkers, business strategists, or even data architects, I suspect your answer is either “yes!” or “why not?”.

When I’m asked that question, I actually think there’s a different question at hand, “Should I invest the time in developing a data strategy instead of something else?”

In today’s business world, there’s not a shortage of “to do list” items.  So, prioritizing the development of a Data Strategy means deprioritizing some other item.   In order to understand the relative priority and benefit of a Data Strategy initiative, take a look at the need, pain, or problem you’re addressing along with the quantity of people affected.  Your focus should be understanding how a Data Strategy initiative will benefit the team members’ ability to do their job.

To get started, I usually spend time up front interviewing folks to understand the strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities that exist with data within a company (or organization).  Let me share 5 questions that I always ask.

  1. Is the number of users (or organizations) building queries/reports to analyze data growing?
  2. Are there multiple reports containing conflicting information?
  3. Can a new staff member find and use data on their own, or does it require weeks or months of staff mentoring?
  4. Is data systematically inspected for accuracy (and corrected)? Is anyone responsible for fixing “broken data”?
  5. Is anyone responsible for data sharing?

While you might think these questions are a bit esoteric, each one has a specific purpose.  I’m a big fan of positioning any new strategy initiative to clearly identify the problems that are going to be solved.  If you’re going to undertake the development of a Data Strategy, you want to make certain that you will improve staff members’ ability to make decisions and be more effective at their jobs.  These questions will help you identify where people struggle getting the job done, or where there’s an unquantified risk with using data to make decisions.

So, let me offer an explanation of each question.

  1. “Is the number of users (or organizations) building queries/reports to analyze data growing”

The value of a strategy is directly proportional to the number of people that are going to be affected. In the instance of a data strategy, it’s valuable to understand the number of people that use data (hands-on) to make decisions or do their jobs. If the number is small or decreasing, a strategy initiative may not be worth the investment in time and effort.  The larger the number, the greater the impact to the effectiveness (and productivity) to the various staff members.

  1. “Are there multiple reports containing conflicting information? “

If you have conflicting details within your company that means decisions are made with inaccurate data.  That also means that there’s mistrust of information and team members are spending time confirming details.  That’s business risk and a tremendous waste of time.

  1. “Can a new staff member find and use data…”

If a new staff member can’t be self-sufficient after a week or two on the job (when it comes to data access and usage), you have a problem.  That’s like someone joining the company and not having access to office supplies, a parking space, and email.  And, if the only way to learn is to beg for time for other team members – your spending time with two people not doing their job. It’s a problem that’s being ignored.

  1. “Is data systematically inspected for accuracy (and corrected)? …”

This item is screaming for attention.  If you’re in a company that uses data to make decisions, and no one is responsible for inspecting the content, you have a problem.  Think about this issue another way:   would you purchase hamburger at the grocery store if there was a sign that stated “Never inspected.  May be spoiled.  Not our responsibility”?

  1. Is anyone responsible for data sharing?

This item gets little attention in most companies and is likely the most important of all the questions.  If data is a necessary ingredient in decision making and there isn’t anyone actively responsible for ensuring that new data assets are captured, stored, tracked, managed, and shared, you’re saying that data isn’t a business asset.  (How many assets in the company aren’t tied to someone’s responsibilities?)

If the answer to all of the questions is “no” – great.  You’re in an environment where data is likely managed in a manner that supports a multitude of team members’ needs across different organizations.  If you answered “yes” to a single question, it’s likely that an incremental investment in a tactical data management effort would be helpful.  If more than 1 question is answered “yes”, your company (and the team) will benefit from a Data Strategy initiative.

 

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About Evan Levy

Evan Levy is management consultant and partner at IntegralData. In addition to his day-to-day job responsibilities, Evan speaks, writes, and blogs about the challenges of managing and using data to support business decision making.

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