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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

How to Develop a Data Strategy for Cooperation, Not Conflict

A comprehensive, flexible data strategy is the key to taking on every challenge. Are you having the right conversations about your data?

These days, many organizations have decidedly mixed feelings about becoming data driven. They know they must make the change if they're to remain competitive, but the exponential growth and near-constant evolution of data can make new data initiatives feel like battles they can't hope to win. This combination of factors can often lead to conflicts, both between business users and IT and between data users and their data.

At the root of these conflicts, though, you will often find a single, fundamental oversight -- the absence of a comprehensive vision for how the organization acquires, integrates, protects, analyzes, and exploits its data. In short, these organizations lack a data strategy.

Developing a Data Strategy

Most IT organizations are prepared to discuss technology strategies covering platforms, tools, and methodologies, but few are equipped to discuss their overall data strategy. However, as IT costs continue to grow, this is exactly the kind of discussion that needs to happen. Companies need to talk about how they are ensuring data is being managed and used effectively -- and to develop a strategy for how resources will be allocated to the effort.

"A successful data strategy isn't just about data management, naming standards, or governance methods," says Evan Levy, vice president of business consulting for SAS. "Rather, it's about supporting the goals and the execution details for the effective adoption and use of your company's data assets."

According to Mark Madsen of consulting firm Third Nature, it's just as important to ensure your data strategy is an ongoing process, not a static plan.

"You don't create a plan once and execute it," Madsen warns. "The nature of strategy is planning your way through ambiguity and positioning for the best long-term outcomes." Despite this, many enterprises gather requirements and create multiyear plans based solely on current needs. This leads to resource shortfalls, technical gaps, and missed opportunities -- ironically, problems that having a strategy is specifically intended to address.

The Importance of Self-Service in Your Data Strategy

Of course, it can be challenging to take that long-range view of how data will be used in the future. For example, it wouldn't have taken much imagination to predict that IT would continue to be a main player in data and analytics initiatives. Who would have predicted, though, that data would now be essentially a basic office supply for the business akin to Scotch tape and copier paper?

Today, any effective data strategy will need to take into account self-service data practices, including how to enable and support them. Much technology investment has been focused only on supporting programmers building applications and reports, and even though self-service is now a popular topic, most data infrastructure isn't ready to deliver data that's ready for use by the average staff member.

"Our methods for managing data need to expand to support data outside the company's four walls," Levy says. Business decisions now involve syndicated data, cloud applications, media feeds, third-party data providers, and partner systems.

Success with self-service initiatives requires trusted data sources, modern tools, and appropriate training -- all subjects that can, and should, be covered in your strategy.

Data Privacy and Protection for Analytics

As the value of data grows, issues of protection, privacy, and liability also become more important. Yet many businesspeople still don't think much about their company's responsibility to protect customer data until after a problem occurs.

Unfortunately, thanks to frequent data misuse and theft, such problems occur on a regular basis. Today's companies need to reexamine their approach to data security and to place a high priority on repair and prevention. In addition, new regulations regarding data protection, privacy, and responsibility are creating additional challenges for data usage and business analytics.

Your data strategy needs to cover creating and updating policies for the responsible collection, retention, and use of personal information. A solid data security strategy not only prepares you for any potential breach but also provides a basis for increased cooperation with customers and other data consumers.

Learn More

At two upcoming TDWI seminars, Evan Levy will explain the activities that go into building a comprehensive data strategy and how to put such a strategy into action. You can join him in Costa Mesa in March or Boston in May. The Boston session also features a virtual classroom option.

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