Aug 30, 2023

Building a data strategy

Lauren Stone

Lauren Stone

Building a data strategy

In Nicholas Cage’s famous role as Benjamin Franklin Gates in the movie National Treasure, he showed there are hidden riches to find if you have the curiosity and guts to decode a treasure map. Although not quite as cryptic, a data strategy is the treasure map that helps a business discover valuable insights and unlock the hidden treasures of data to drive success.

A data strategy is a manifesto for how an organisation plans to drive value from data. At its core, it’s a marketing document that establishes a set of principles the organisation can use to guide data investments and needs to be shared with data consumers, the delivery department, management, and any other stakeholders that touch data. This treasure map should not be kept a secret!

But not all data strategies are created equal. Some drive real change and transformation, while others gather dust on a shelf or worse cause confusion and conflict.

In a recent episode of the Technology Tangents podcast “Building a data strategy,” Credera’s technology leaders discuss the guiding principles to building and implementing a data strategy. A summary of their podcast conversation is below.

In this article, we share how an organisation should build a data strategy, the necessary components to executing your strategy, and how a chief data officer should refine their strategy over time.

How do you map a data strategy?

It is critical for the data strategy to be built around business objectives, avoid convolution, and meet the current needs of the organisation. The following items are necessary for building and executing an effective data strategy:

1. A compelling story

The phrase "data-driven decision-making" has become a buzzword, often used without a clear understanding of what it entails or consideration for the limitations and potential drawbacks of relying solely on data. The data strategy should put a new twist on an old story. Enthusiastically explain how the data strategy will transform the organisation, such as through data monetisation, data mining, and self-service analytics. The chief data officer (CDO) is responsible for the why behind proposed changes in the data strategy and leading stakeholders to understand the importance of the data strategy for achieving business objectives. This storyline is critical for conveying the data strategy with stakeholders.

2. Stakeholder involvement

The reliance on data alone, without considering other factors such as context, expertise, and intuition, can lead to flawed decisions and missed opportunities. The data strategy needs to connect those who know the business with those who own the data.

Include details on the data stakeholders and communication plans for connecting those parties. The data strategy will involve people changing the way they work, so it’s essential to be cognisant of the operating model and organisational design. The collaboration of business and data-minded people removes any guesswork in the process of turning data into valuable insights. Separate departments can utilise data initiatives to unify around common goals and objectives. Data is king, but without business context the insights become meaningless numbers or fabricated key progress indicators (KPI)s.

3. An understanding of the current data landscape

By thoroughly documenting and analysing the current state of the data landscape, organisations can gain valuable insights into their data practices, enabling them to make informed decisions and take proactive steps to address any gaps or issues that may exist. Performing a data audit, data maturity and gap analysis, and data architecture mapping are all great ways to determine existing conditions and areas of opportunity. This provides a baseline for the data environment and KPIs. We can discover new ways of using the existing data and where the organisation needs to mature through analysing the current landscape.

4. An understanding of outstanding data needs:

By understanding the data needs and the organisational design to support it, the business can more accurately invest in enhancing the data environment. Catalogue data needs, develop a framework to ingest new data sources, and determine the appropriate organisational structure to support future data products. The data strategy should not include overly detailed plans, but general ways of working. How the data will be encrypted, for example, should live in a more comprehensive technical document.

Additionally, the data strategy may call for changes in the blueprint of how the business operates, with data threaded into every fabric of the organisation. Harnessing the power of data is directly tied to employee responsibilities and business processes.

5. Strong management of data

Adopting modern data management strategies will empower the business to leverage the latest technologies to gain valuable insights on their operations, make informed decisions, and gain a competitive advantage in their industry. Determine a decision-making framework for how to store, organise, and analyse data in an efficient, accurate, and secure manner. This is not inclusive of prescriptive policies; those would live in implementation documentation.

Several key elements of master data management are cloud-based storage, big data technologies (i.e., Hadoop, Spark, NoSQL, etc.), artificial intelligence and machine learningdata governance, and data visualisation. Relevant tools and technologies, along with their high-level details and uses, should be included in this section.

6. Clear service delivery parameters

By defining and meeting service delivery parameters, the CDO can ensure they are delivering high-quality services that meet the needs and expectations of their stakeholders. The definition of success, along with objectives and key results (OKRs), will guide the priorities of the data organisation. Specify service personnel and delivery methods used to facilitate data strategy execution. Parameters such as data quality, availability, privacy, and security should be measured against outlined goals in the data strategy. Data governance processes can also be defined at a high level to manage the data being delivered.

The journey from strategy to execution

The story crafted in the data strategy will be received by stakeholders with a range of responses, some with open arms and others with sharp skepticism. To implement it effectively, the CDO must assume the role of cheerleader and chief of “creative data use” to achieve business outcomes.

Due to the transformative nature of a data strategy, there may be a need to update the organisational structures and operating models. This requires cross-functional teams and significant buy-in. By maintaining focus on driving business value and clear communication to stakeholders, the resistance to the disruption caused by implementing the data strategy can be mitigated.

A data strategy’s level of success is significantly tied to how familiar stakeholders are with its goals and objectives. With defined service delivery parameters, stakeholders will understand what changes to expect and how the data organisation will measure success.

Refining the treasure map

An effective data strategy is a living but mildly stubborn document that has a two-to-three-year time horizon. It should not change on a mere whim; however, the more dynamic a business is, the more frequent the updates. Generally, it is appropriate to make minor version updates every year or so as the business climate changes.

Environmental factors can disrupt the organisation as well, which may require additional strategy refinement. For example, when the iPhone was released, many companies had to quickly spin up apps to stay relevant and meet consumer expectations. Typically, mild disruptions occur every six months, but large-scale changes may mean the data strategy becomes stale more quickly. Bumps along the way and dead ends are inevitable but, by relying on cross-functional teams and collaboration, new and creative ways of utilising data can emerge.

Getting started with your data strategy

Building a data strategy requires patience; it’s the start of a journey to discover rich insights. Here at Credera, we have seasoned professionals who can partner with a business to improve their data practices.

If you want to learn more or need help improving your own data strategy, explore our data insights or get in touch with a member of our team.


    Conversation Icon

    Contact Us

    Ready to achieve your vision? We're here to help.

    We'd love to start a conversation. Fill out the form and we'll connect you with the right person.

    Searching for a new career?

    View job openings