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Why a data strategy matters

Why a data strategy matters?

In the world of Chief Data Officers there are three groups of people; those that have a data strategy, those that talk about having one, and those that are oblivious to the idea of having one. Of the data strategies I have seen many are sadly lacking and not much better than not having one. Here’s why ...

 A data strategy needs to do four things: 

  1. To provide the business context for why data matters. It should explain how the data activities align to, and support, the business strategy and goals. 
  2. It should explain the scope of the data activities, how they will be delivered, and the dependencies between them. 
  3. It needs to be shared with all stakeholders - the business, data teams and technology as the communication vehicle for the data team.
  4. It should to be specific and relevant and as such will form the basis of the business case and budgets for data and most importantly must be capable of being turned into a plan and implemented. 

As soon as you describe what a data strategy is it’s then pretty clear you also have to call out what it isn’t. This is the category of things that when I read a data strategy I exclaim “they just don’t get it” a bit like people wearing sandals in winter. Not that it’s wrong, it just doesn’t make sense. 

 So, a data strategy isn’t:

  1. All about technology. That follows on afterwards. 
  2. A narrow focus of what a data team will do. It has to cover the activities of the whole organisation including the roles of Executive management and those who consume data. 
  3. It isn’t an opportunity to dazzle people with a dictionary of data terms. The simpler the language the more people will understand it and the greater the chance it will be capable of being implemented.
  4. A plan. The strategy should be independent of dates it needs to be the rationale for the plan. 
  5. A static document. As soon as the organisation starts moving through the strategy it needs to change. The strategy needs to be a living, breathing, document that changes at least every year.

 This naturally leads me to the point where you can test whether your data strategy was successful.

  1. It should have been read by the Chief Executive and the Executive committee of your business.
  2. They should endorse it as the data strategy for the business. 
  3. It should be welcomed by your Finance teams, Technology teams, Data Privacy Officer, Regulatory, Risk, Marketing and Business Divisions alike. 
  4. It should be used as a reference every time decisions need to be made involving changes to the way data is used. Do those activities align to the strategy? Should the data strategy be updated? If it’s written and never referred to again, then you don’t have the buy in required to make data successful. It’s surprising how powerful it is when there is a debate over a choice of technology or a decision over changes to the organisation to see how those decisions align to the data strategy. 


So, in summary, an organisation will struggle to maximise the value of its data without a data strategy. That data strategy needs to be written by someone who has written one before and had to deliver it too!

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