What do the world’s most successful digital organizations — companies like Amazon and Alphabet — have in common?
The answer: A strong focus on data. Donna Burbank, Managing Director at Global Data Strategy, Ltd., says that the connection between excellent data utilization and business success is not a coincidence. The World Economic Forum, she reminds us, has stated that in the current and future market environment, data is more valuable than physical assets.
“In the past, organizations had a stronger focus on goods and materials. Now the leading organizations have placed their focus on data and technology,” she says.
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Any business that wants to reap the benefits from the change in priorities, she notes, “needs a strong Data Strategy to understand how to leverage their organization’s data as a strategic asset now and in the future to stay competitive in the data-driven digital economy.”
Leaders and many “fast-follower” businesses in the Data Management space are well on their way, having embraced and mastered next-generation Data Platforms and NoSQL databases that support data at scale and unstructured information, says Doug Henschen, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Constellation Research. And they’ve learned how to take advantage of the agility of Cloud-based services and platforms, too. But the research firm also notes that about 40 to 50 percent of organizations remain cautious adopters that are still learning the ropes and 20 to 30 percent are struggling laggards.
Data Strategy Need to Align with the Business
An issue that well may be keeping many organizations from getting more out of their data is that they still aren’t focusing on the link between data and business strategies. In fact, says Anthony Algmin,Principal at Algmin Data Leadership, thinking of a Data Strategy as something independent of Business Strategy “is a recipe for disaster.”
Data Strategy no longer make much sense if they are not aligned to business initiatives, agrees Andy Hayler, CEO of analyst firm The Information Difference. Increasingly, digital data is the force behind more business ventures — even in “formerly sleepy industries like utilities that now have smart meters generating stacks of data,” he says. “Data Management strategies need to align, and be driven by, Business Strategy.”
There are different points of view about whether or not these dots will connect in 2019. “My fingers are crossed that we will see more alignment of business strategy to Data Strategy,” says John Ladley, Chief Delivery Officer at Information Management consulting firm First San Francisco Partners. A good start is that Ladley is seeing a few more client requests related to Data Strategy than he had expected — and their focus is on business aligned roadmaps, he says. Kelle O’Neal, Founder and CEO of the company, also sees that companies already are and will continue to pursue marrying Business Strategy and Data Strategy given that digitization and competitive advantage are on parallel tracks.
On the other hand, author and president of Data Quality Solutions, Dr. Thomas C. Redman, says he has no reason to think that the pace of integrating Business Strategy and Data Strategy will increase significantly in 2019.
The Value Equation
For Algmin’s part, he hopes that in 2019, the Data Management community will get better at quantifying its impact on organizations. “Creating detailed plans, with appropriate expectations around adjusting them as new information is introduced, is an invaluable exercise,” he says.
“Whether we call it a Data Strategy manifest, or a values statement, or a data planning document, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we take more initiative to identify opportunities to use data to improve business processes and outcomes.”
Once a Data Strategy is identified, people must be given the balance of empowerment and accountability necessary to effect real change. “We measure the results, and then adjust and improve further. I hope that in 2019 we get better at it than we were in 2018,” he says.
What Might that Real Change Look Like?
What will be differentiating strategies for leaders and fast followers is how broadly, how quickly, and how creatively they make use of their managed data at scale, says Henschen, with consideration for Data Governance and compliance. They can look to bringing Advanced Analytics, including Machine Learning and Deep Learning, into production at scale, for instance.
“On using data broadly, true leaders are bringing predictive capabilities and even prescriptive recommended actions into production at scale,” he says, with a team-based approach that knits together data scientists, data analysts, data engineers, developers and business leaders in order to embed advanced Machine Learning and Deep Learning models into business applications at scale with ongoing monitoring and optimization. They can meet low-latency requirements for customers and employees by embracing stream processing and streaming analytics to trigger next-best actions and recommendations within seconds if not milliseconds. They can get creative with embedded analytics, delivering concise charts, visualizations, metrics or key performance indicators in the context of key decisions points within applications, he says.
“A holistic Data Strategy that considers the desired customer experience, regulatory compliance needs, and operational alignment is a must,” comments Manish Sood, CEO of Data Management vendor Reltio:
“In 2019, reliable data foundations that deliver to this need by bringing together Master Data, Big Data, Graph, and Machine Learning technologies will let companies design and execute on innovative Data Strategies.”
Think of it this way: “For most, the focus should not be on getting more data,” says Redman, “but learning to use what they have.”
And this way: “Businesses will be more likely to sink if they fail to capitalize on data insights to improve what they do,” says Algmin. “Hard stop.”
Who Will Take Charge?
In 2019, businesses may see a shift in the way Data Strategy responsibilities play out. “The CDO’s primary deliverable is a business-driven Data Strategy,” says Danny Sandwell, Director of Product Marketing at Data Governance vendor erwin.
“We will see the CDO elevate from being a lieutenant of the CIO to taking a proper seat at the table beside the CIO, CMO, and CFO. This will give them the juice needed to create a sustainable vision and roadmap for data.”
All organizations need some sort of top-data job person, concurs Ladley. That said, he sees that CDO responsibilities will level off for a bit:
“Partially due to the trough of disillusionment and partially the economy. So, I don’t see an increase there. Any Data Strategies done will tend to be with a CIO or business leader.”
Another perspective comes from Redman: “There is an old saying to the effect that ‘all change is bottom up. All change is top-down,’” he says.
“Lots of companies are experiencing solid successes at the team and department level. So, the bottom-up portion is well-on. To advance, we need to see more top-down. And this doesn’t just mean CDOs. It means entire executive teams and boards.”
Collaboration in one form or another to affect Data Strategy is expected to be on track for 2019.
“With the increased focus on the value of data and the need to become a data-driven organization, a more varied set of roles is involved in building a Data Strategy — which increasingly includes tech-savvy business stakeholders as well as more traditional IT and/or Data Management staff,” Burbank says. “This is a positive trend since in order for a Data Strategy to be successful, data must be embedded into the corporate culture across all roles and levels of responsibility.”
Teams are coming together to develop an end-to-end Data Strategy, Sood adds. “CDOs and CIOs that are taking side duties of a CDO are bringing groups together to facilitate the discussion,” he says. But it’s not just about bringing more people on board. “It’s more about thinking about the Data Strategy that fits today’s digital economy and a retooling of skills and technology to meet those needs.”
The Intersection of Data Strategy and Data Governance
Having a CDO on-board creates accountability for the creation and delivery of a Data Strategy that will enable a company to keep its competitive edge, O’Neal says. But that’s not the end-all and be-all. She sees the need for data optimization — that is, Data Governance — to be more embedded into all company processes and operations — and for all employees to be aware that data has value from the point of creation. “Data is too important to a modern company to consider it a byproduct that doesn’t need to be managed, governed, used, or optimized.”
Ladley expands on that point, noting that there is an increasing level of understanding that Data Governance and Data Management are two sides of the same Data Strategy coin:
“Savvy Data Governance folks will just allow Data Governance to become part of other oversight capabilities rather than make DG stand out as a separate capability,” he says. “Recently I have seen more emphasis on business process improvement as an angle to get Data Governance into organizations, and that should grow.”
Sandwell believes that next year, Data Governance will move from being “nice to have” to “must have.” The result, he says, “will be a Data Strategy with Data Governance infused throughout, versus a Data Strategy with Data Governance as a bullet or place-holder to be bolted on downstream.”
The experts mainly are in agreement that failure looms when Data Strategy slumps. Without a strategy to invest the business in data and to use it most effectively, the gap between those companies that are high-performing or average-performing likely will widen. And closing that gap will become harder. Efforts to maintain a competitive edge probably will falter. It may become nearly impossible to stay in compliance with privacy regulations.
Steering clear of all sounds like a good reason to solidify Data Strategy in 2019, doesn’t it?
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