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The Data Strategy is the Puzzle

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In the history of IT, the number of times that IT departments proposed to top management to invest in a new technology, a new data quality program, or a new design technique, but were not able to convince them must be countless. Evidently there’s not just one reason why IT did not always succeed, but the lack of a data strategy is definitely a dominant one. It has always been an indispensable concept, but now that data is increasingly becoming a critical asset for many lines of business, a data strategy is crucial.

A data strategy describes a single, unified, organization-wide plan for the use of corporate data as a vital asset for every form of decision-making. It describes, for example, why an organization wants to store data, which data to store, what the plans are with respect to data usage, what the vision is with respect to data, and what the plan is to implement the data strategy. A data strategy has to be aligned with the business goals and other business strategies.

If there is no data strategy, many new IT proposals have no context. For example, if IT proposes to invest in a new analytical SQL database server, they need to explain why. The reason is probably to improve reporting performance. The question for top management is then why the performance should be improved? How does that fit in the larger context of things? Or, how can they see the value of improving data quality if there is no overall plan and when it’s not clear to them what the impact is on the business? It’s as if IT proposes management to invest in a puzzle piece while there is no puzzle. The lack of such a puzzle makes it hard for top management to justify the investment.

The data strategy is the puzzle. Proposing new ideas, new technologies, and new programs makes more sense when such a puzzle exists and when it has been accepted by management. In this case, every proposal includes a description of how it forms a new puzzle piece and how it fits in the overall puzzle. For example, if a data strategy states that within four years the correctness of data visible to the company’s suppliers must be higher than 99,5%, it makes sense to top management to introduce the concept of a data steward within some parts of the organization. As indicated, the data strategy makes it easier to justify the investment. Without the data strategy, there is no business context.

If an organization doesn’t have a data strategy, one must be developed as soon as possible. Move aside all the new proposals for new products, new projects, new techniques, and so on, and invest first in a data strategy and make sure it’s accepted by top management. Because the data strategy describes the rules for storing, processing, and using data, and the data vision. It is the puzzle, and selling new ideas that fit the puzzle will be so much easier.