A strategy for your data

We hear an awful lot about data these days: big, nominal, master or otherwise, as well as much confusion over whether it’s actually “information”.  Let’s clear that one up first.  For me, data is what you have (and probably mountains of it), but in its purest form, it’s really just zeroes and ones.  Although it may well be your single most valuable asset as a business, it doesn’t really tell you a great deal in isolation.

Information, however, is data in context.  So the numbers 150901 and 150922 don’t mean a great deal in isolation – maybe sort codes and invoice numbers?  If instead, we classify them as dates, one my date of birth and the other today’s date, we can calculate my age, i.e. 21 – yes, I know, it’s the face cream that works for me!

We work with many of our clients, helping them transform from a typical mix of old ERP solutions, spreadsheets and databases to a new, single ERP solution with a single data source.  Typically, the focus is primarily on extracting the existing data; mapping to the new system and then loading and verifying it successfully.   A key phase of our ERP selection projects is to run a workshop with clients to discuss the different classes of data and begin early planning of how to help them migrate from old new.

That’s all important, but what about data strategy?  Without a well-formed strategy, there is a real danger of failing to capitalise on all the opportunities afforded by good data management and its conversion to useful information that drives a business forward.  So what do we mean by data strategy?  For me, like any strategy, it can be broken down into some key areas as follows.

Use cases – so how is your data going to be used and by whom.  It’s important here to distinguish between the mix of data and information users – so operational reports e.g. Aged Debt Report, Purchase Orders; as opposed to strategic management information e.g. Monthly Budget vs. Actuals Analysis, Sales by Product/Region/Category.

Requirements – what information does the business need to make decisions?  This then points back to the data that needs capturing to act as the source.

Management and governance – a clear approach to robust governance are required to ensure data quality is high, data privacy and security are strong, and so on.  Put simply; information quality demands quality data.

Skills and resources – do you have the necessary in-house resources with the latest skills to affect the new strategy?  Is all the source data you need in a single database, or more likely, do you need to consider other both internal and external sources?

Change management – new systems demand far higher data integrity up front.  This can lead to change management issues, which require careful attention and planning.

To build your data strategy, there are many templates and frameworks that you could download and follow, some good and some not so.  Instead, we would strongly recommend talking to partners who understand your business sector, have experience in defining such a strategy and can support the need for change management.

A good data strategy will ensure your data is well managed and meets the business needs for information, both now and in the future.  In this way, data becomes a true asset that can be utilised more fully – generating growth and value.  In today’s complex and ever-changing world, where an agile approach based on meeting customer expectations is critical for survival, a robust data strategy isn’t a nice to have – it’s essential.  This isn’t something to defer, muddle through or do half-heartedly – do it right & do it now!

Get in touch with us to find out how we can support you get your strategy right!