Magdalena Jackiewicz
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Magdalena Jackiewicz
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How to build an actionable data strategy?

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In today's data-driven world, the ability to harness the power of information has become a critical differentiator for businesses of all sizes. Data has the potential to unlock unprecedented insights, drive strategic decision-making, and propel organizations towards sustainable growth. However, the path to becoming truly data-driven is marred with a number of challenges – from siloed data sources and data quality issues to the overwhelming task of modernizing aging data infrastructure.

A well-crafted, actionable data strategy is the answer to these challenges. If you amass torrents of data (like many businesses do these days - there’s about 120 zettabytes of data globally) and wonder how to leverage it to achieve concrete business objectives, you need a data strategy. It’s precisely what can help you unlock the true potential of your data and accelerate your journey towards becoming a data-driven organization.

In this blog post, I’m tackling everything you need to know as you prepare for the data-driven journey. Let’s dive straight in.

What is a data strategy?

A data strategy is a comprehensive plan for leveraging your data assets to achieve specific business objectives. It’s a company’s roadmap for data-related initiatives, investments, and governance to ensure that data is treated as a strategic asset and utilized effectively across the organization.

A data strategy is a robust plan that takes into account the following components:

Data vision

Data vision is about aligning your data assets and initiatives with the business objectives. This is what ultimately generates value from it. Failing to do so can lead to misallocated resources, missed insights, and simply a loss of faith in data-driven processes among your employees. If a company is at the early stage of its data-driven transformation, it may also have to establish a shared understanding of the role data plays in achieving success.

Data governance

Closely tied to the data vision is the implementation of a robust data governance framework. This includes defining data ownership and accountability, establishing data quality standards, and implementing processes for data acquisition, storage, and security. By putting these foundational elements in place, your company will be able to ensure the integrity, reliability, and accessibility of their data assets. These are indispensable for enabling more informed decision-making and improved operational efficiency.

Data architecture

When choosing technology for your data stack, it's crucial to focus on modern tools and how they will empower your team to be more data-driven, rather than simply adopting the latest trends (we do, however, encourage you to grasp the strategic tech trends that will shape our industry in the coming years). Things you should take into consideration are the relevance, accessibility, and performance of the technology, ensuring that it meets the needs of your users, enables organization-wide decision-making, and efficiently transforms data. A data cloud will be the most versatile option in the current business landscape, able to accommodate the needs of businesses of pretty much all sizes.

Remember that you have to address technology for every stage of the data lifecycle to maintain data integrity and maximize value. A modern data platform takes care of all of these aspects for you, so definitely consider investing in one, especially if you plan to scale your data operations. Don’t forget about maintaining the overall site reliability for the continuity of your business.

Data integration

Seamlessly integrating and centralizing data sources is also a key aspect of a comprehensive data strategy. This is about breaking down the data silos most businesses have to deal with and consolidating disparate data repositories and employing the right data ingestion practices.. This is where modern data platforms come into place. They constitute the foundation for creating a unified, comprehensive view of a business’ data landscape. This not only enhances data transparency but also enables advanced analytics and business intelligence capabilities, allowing for deeper insights and more informed strategic decisions.

Data analytics and insights

To support the data-driven transformation, a data strategy must also address the organization's analytical and insights capabilities. This includes implementing advanced analytics and business intelligence tools to empower business users to explore data insights.

Data-driven culture

Data strategy goes beyond creating a roadmap and moving onto implementing the data initiatives. It's crucial to address change management, as your teams will face significant changes and potentially new responsibilities and expectations. Without a culture change, your data strategy efforts may not reach their full potential.

A data-driven culture is in fact essential to increasing adoption and improving decision-making. You will have to equip your staff not just with the technology, but also with the knowledge they need to be successful and productive. Part of this process is developing a communication plan that details who should be informed, when, and by what methods. Communicate changes to processes or technology, metrics that need to be discussed, upcoming initiatives, and educational content like data literacy.

Advantages of a data strategy

A comprehensive data strategy serves as the foundation for data-driven transformation. A well-defined data strategy – one that focuses on delivering concrete business outcomes, will offer the following advantages: 

  • Improved data quality: a data strategy helps ensure that the organization's data assets are accurate, consistent, and trustworthy. It establishes clear data ownership, defining data quality standards, and implementing robust data management processes.
  • Enhanced data-driven decision-making: a successful data strategy can extract meaningful insights from data and leverage them to drive strategic, tactical, and operational decision-making. It involves implementing advanced analytics and business intelligence capabilities to uncover valuable patterns, trends, and predictions that can inform critical business decisions.
  • Increased operational efficiency: streamlining data-related processes, optimizing the use of data assets, and automating repetitive tasks helps companies enhance their overall productivity and responsiveness to changing market conditions. This can result in cost savings, improved resource allocation, and ultimately, better financial performance
  • Competitive advantage: a comprehensive data strategy helps companies to position themselves as industry leaders, gaining a competitive edge through superior insights, faster decision-making, and more innovative product or service offerings.
  • Scalability and adaptability: crucial aspects in today's business environment. Designing an efficient data architecture can accommodate increasing data volumes and new data sources, which, coupled with agile management practices, can ensure that your data capabilities can adapt to changing business requirements over time.
  • Reduced costs and risks: lastly, a well-executed data strategy can help organizations mitigate data-related costs and risks. By addressing data quality issues, enhancing data security and privacy protocols, and improving compliance with regulatory requirements, companies can reduce the financial and reputational impact of data-related challenges. This, in turn, can lead to cost savings and a more resilient data ecosystem.

These advantages not only help you unlock the true potential of your data, but also position your business for long-term success in the data-driven economy.

Common data challenges 

While harnessing the power of your data can indeed be truly transformative for your business, realizing its full potential isn't an easy task. In the end, creating a data strategy is a heavy task in itself, but implementing it is yet another story. There are significant challenges that businesses must be prepared to face when trying to leverage their data.

Data overload

One of the most pressing issues is the sheer volume of data being generated from various sources, such as IoT devices, social media, and e-commerce platforms. This data overload has overwhelmed many businesses, making it increasingly difficult to manage, store, and extract meaningful insights from the vast troves of information at their disposal. As a consequence, many businesses are simply unable to make informed, data-driven decisions.

Data silos

As organizations adopt new systems and tools, data often becomes trapped in these silos, hindering the ability to obtain a comprehensive, enterprise-wide view of the organization's data assets. This lack of data integration can result in inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and a lack of data transparency, ultimately undermining the credibility of data-driven initiatives and the effectiveness of strategic decision-making.

Data quality 

Maintaining the integrity, accuracy, and reliability of data is another significant challenge. Poor data quality, stemming from factors such as human error, outdated systems, or inconsistent data management practices, can undermine the credibility of data-driven decisions and hinder the effectiveness of data-based initiatives. Inaccurate or incomplete data can lead to flawed analytics, ultimately impacting the business' overall performance and competitiveness.

Data integration

Connecting and consolidating data from diverse sources, including legacy systems, cloud-based applications, and external data providers is yet another data challenge. The inability to effectively integrate data can result in inconsistencies, duplications, and a lack of a unified, comprehensive view of the organization's data landscape. This, once again, leads to the inability to derive meaningful insights and make truly informed decisions.

Data governance

Establishing a robust data governance framework is another pressing concern for businesses as they have to navigate the increasing regulatory requirements, data privacy concerns, and the need to ensure data security and compliance. Inadequate data governance can lead to data breaches, compliance issues, and the inefficient utilization of data assets, potentially resulting in financial penalties, reputational damage, and missed opportunities.

Finding data specialists

Furthermore, the growing demand for data-related skills, such as data analysis, data engineering, and data science, has outpaced the supply of qualified professionals, making it challenging for organizations to build and maintain a skilled data workforce. The shortage of data specialists can hinder an organization's ability to effectively leverage data, implement data-driven initiatives, and derive meaningful insights from their data assets, ultimately impacting their competitiveness and growth.

Translating data to insights 

Even when organizations have access to vast amounts of data, the ability to transform raw data into actionable insights that drive business decisions is a significant challenge, often requiring specialized skills and advanced analytics capabilities. The failure to effectively translate data into insights can result in missed opportunities, suboptimal decision-making, and a lack of data-driven strategic planning, limiting the organization's ability to adapt to market changes and stay ahead of the competition.

Ensuring data privacy and security

Ensuring data privacy and security has also become a critical concern, amid the increasing focus on data privacy regulations and the growing threat of cyberattacks. Failure to address these data privacy and security challenges can lead to data breaches, regulatory fines, and reputational damage, which can erode customer trust and have far-reaching implications for the business' long-term success.

Resource challenges

Different resource challenges including financial, technological, and human resources, can also hinder their ability to implement a comprehensive data strategy. Lack of adequate resources can limit an organization's capacity to modernize its data infrastructure, adopt advanced analytics tools, and build a skilled data workforce. Ultimately, these limit your data-driven capabilities and competitive edge.

Lack of a data-driven culture

Finally, the lack of a data-driven culture within the organization can be a significant obstacle to becoming a data-driven enterprise. If employees lack the necessary data literacy skills, are resistant to data-driven decision-making, or if there is a lack of executive-level support for data initiatives, the organization's ability to leverage data effectively can be severely compromised.

Legacy systems

Adding to the complexity of data management, many organizations are saddled with legacy systems that were not designed to handle the demands of modern data processing and analytics. These outdated systems can severely limit an organization's ability to integrate, process, and analyze data in a timely and efficient manner, hindering their responsiveness to changing business needs and market conditions.

Real-time data processing

Another pressing challenge is the need for real-time data processing, as businesses increasingly require immediate access to up-to-date information to make critical decisions and respond to rapidly evolving market dynamics. Failing to address the requirements for real-time data processing can result in missed opportunities, suboptimal decision-making, and the inability to stay ahead of the competition.

These are merely the key challenges businesses will have to face on their data-driven transformation. Do I have any good news? Indeed: there are also plenty of tools, technologies, and best practices to help companies overcome these hurdles. With the right strategy and the right team in place, you can absolutely unlock the transformative power of your data. It just takes consistent work to get there.

The role of data strategy consulting in addressing data challenges

To address this issue, businesses need to invest in robust data management strategies, including advanced data processing and analytics tools, clear data governance policies, and the development of data literacy and data-driven decision-making skills across the organization.

Data strategy consulting can play a crucial role in helping businesses address the key challenges they face when trying to leverage their data. Here's how:

  • Data strategy consultants can help map out all of a company's data sources and develop a plan to integrate them into a centralized, accessible data platform. They have the technical expertise to navigate the complexities of data integration.
  • Consultants can assess the quality of a company's data and implement data governance frameworks to ensure consistency, accuracy, and reliability moving forward. They bring best practices for data cleansing and normalization.
  • Since data strategy consultants have deep data analytics and data science capabilities, they can either provide that expertise directly or help a company build out the right in-house team. They know how to translate technical insights into business value.
  • Data strategy consultants stay up-to-date on the latest data privacy regulations. They can help companies implement the right data security and access controls to ensure compliance and protect sensitive information.
  • Ultimately, data strategy consultants can provide an end-to-end plan to help companies overcome these challenges. They map out the technology, processes, and organizational changes needed, and then guide the implementation to ensure successful data transformation.

The key is finding a data strategy partner who understands both the technical and business sides of the equation. With the right guidance, companies can start unlocking the true power of their data.

Creating a comprehensive data strategy – a step-by-step process

Developing a comprehensive data strategy is a process that requires a deep understanding of a company’s data landscape, business objectives, and long-term aspirations. By taking a methodical approach, you can create a tailored data strategy that aligns with the unique needs of your business and empowers it to overcome common data challenges.

Step 1: Assess your current data landscape

The first step in crafting a data strategy is to assess the current state of data and data capabilities within the organization. This involves conducting a thorough audit of existing data sources, data management practices, analytics capabilities, and the overall data maturity of the organization. By understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in their data ecosystem, companies can then identify the areas that require the most attention and prioritize their data strategy initiatives accordingly.

Step 2: Define your data objectives

To ensure success, tie your data strategy to your business strategy. Start by identifying relevant business drivers that could benefit from data and analytics. Engage with departments to understand their activities and how they align with company goals. Conduct interviews with executives and department leaders to uncover their objectives, daily workflows, and potential areas for improvement.

With a clear understanding of the current state, the next step is to define the data-driven business objectives and KPIs you'll aim to achieve. Establishing measurable goals is fundamental to developing a roadmap to guide their data-driven transformation and track their progress along the way.

Step 3: Designing a data architecture that supports the business goals

At the heart of the data strategy is the design of a robust data architecture that supports the organization's data-driven objectives. This starts with identifying the sources and relevant storage options: would you need data lakes to store, or can any of your data be put into data warehouses to facilitate analytical processes? If these concepts are new, we’ve written a comparison of data lake vs data warehouse vs data mart to help you navigate those concepts in the data world.

This includes identifying the data sources, data processing and storage requirements and analytical tools to create a scalable, flexible, and secure data ecosystem. Here is where a modern data platform, powered by a data cloud like Snowflake, will come into place.

Data clouds and modern are versatile solutions that bring unprecedented scalability and minimize management requirements, which perfectly support the creation of a robust and efficient data infrastructure. Snowflake isn’t the only viable option, however – we’ve dedicated a separate article to explain how Snowflakes compares with Redshift and that could be a good starting point for researching the options.

Step 4: Implementing data governance and data management frameworks

Implementing effective data governance and data management frameworks is another crucial component of a comprehensive data strategy. This involves defining data ownership, establishing data quality standards, and implementing data security and privacy protocols. Putting these foundational elements in place can help organizations ensure the integrity, reliability, and accessibility of their data assets, enabling more informed decision-making and improved operational efficiency.

Step 5: Develop a roadmap for data platform modernization

To support the successful execution of the data strategy, organizations must also develop a roadmap for data platform modernization. This may involve upgrading legacy systems, adopting cloud-based technologies, and implementing advanced data processing and analytics capabilities. By modernizing their data infrastructure, companies can enhance the speed, agility, and performance of their data-driven initiatives, ultimately driving better business outcomes.

Step 6: Foster a data-driven culture and upskilling the workforce

Finally, fostering a data-driven culture and upskilling the workforce are critical components of a comprehensive data strategy. This is, of course, a long-term process that requires an ongoing effort. Small steps you can take towards implementing it can include data literacy training, encouraging data-driven decision-making, and empowering employees to leverage data insights in their day-to-day activities.

By following this structured approach to data strategy development and employing effective change management practices, businesses can create a tailored, comprehensive plan that addresses their unique data challenges, aligns with their business objectives, and positions them for long-term success in the data-driven economy.

Take the next step on your data transformation journey

Implementing a comprehensive data strategy isn’t a straightforward task, especially if you don’t have the in-house expertise or resources to tackle it effectively. This is where partnering with a data strategy consulting company can prove to be a game-changer, unlocking a wealth of benefits that can propel the organization towards its data-driven goals.

RST Data Cloud is part of RST Software, a software development company with over 2 decades of experience on the global market. The Data Cloud unit was created specifically to address the growing needs of our existing customers as well as the market tendencies to focus on data-driven operations and implementing sustainable data infrastructures. We are oriented at building sustainable, easy to use and highly flexible modern data platforms. We are official partners of AWS and Snowflake and therefore can offer a comprehensive suite of services, from data architecture design to data platform implementation and integration.

Whether you're a growing startup looking to build a robust data foundation or an established enterprise seeking to modernize your data capabilities, a tailored data strategy can be the key to unlocking your organization's data-driven potential. If you’re ready to take the next step on your data-driven journey, reach out to us via this contact form and we’ll put you in touch with our team of data strategy experts who can help you craft a roadmap that will transform your data into a strategic asset and propel your business forward.

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