4 Steps to Turn Your Data into a Competitive Advantage

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The following was published in Forbes.com Oct 4, 2017.

Data has become an asset organizations can no longer ignore.  Why? Because it’s not just an asset, it can be your greatest competitive advantage.  Every day you’re asked to make monumental decisions – major bottom line impacting decisions – but how well do you trust the data you’re basing your decisions on? Are you confident that you have the right data to make the right decisions at the right time? If you answered no or not sure, you’re not alone. According to KPMG, 56 percent of CEOs say they are concerned about the integrity of the data they are using for decision-making. 

How did we get here? Historically organizations focused primarily on collecting data, not necessarily looking at it with an eye for quality or even doing something with it. But they had it. And that made people feel good. Unfortunately today, most of us are now stuck dealing with the data hot mess that’s been created - we can’t tell you where it came from, how trusted the source was, who within the organization uses it and how, or even how much of it we have.  

But there is good news! Technology has gifted us with the ability to automate and leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to start putting a dent in this challenge.  There’s now a huge (and realistic) opportunity to make changes – to not only collect data but really start to analyze it for the perspectives you need to get a leg up on the competition.

So, how then, do we get started turning our data into a competitive advantage?

Step 1: Have good data.
It sounds obvious, but it’s really important. You’re going to want to make sure you’ve got systems and processes in place to ensure the quality of your data. You’re also going to want to have governance in place to ensure accountability.

This is definitely a group activity that will involve other parts of the organization – IT, data professionals, and business users like yourself. If you’re new to data governance, start small.  You can do things such as:

  • Request incremental tool funding so you can utilize your existing team and get your head wrapped around each tool as you adopt it. But you definitely want to move away from manually managing your data.
  • Look closely at what data you’re collecting. Ask yourself am I collecting the right data? Is it useful? Does this data help support the organization’s goals?

Think holistically when making your tool selection, integration will be key. This will allow you to apply and scale your governance program. Look for tools that offer capabilities for profiling, cleansing, gathering and validating data.

To ensure accountability, assign roles and responsibilities; adopt corporate-wide data standards and policies; and check in to make sure you’re following the process.

Step 2: Identify your goals. 
What are you trying to achieve? Whether it’s a desire to bring new products to market faster, master your supply chain processes or ensure GDPR compliance – you need to know what you’re looking to solve for. 

Everyone’s goals are likely to be different, but here are a few tips to consider as you’re determining what those should be:

  • Focus on future goals rather than current or past goals. You want to look ahead not play catch up.
  • Be specific with your goal setting. For instance, a goal could be “GDPR compliance by May 2018” or “Improve marketing contribution to product sales by 10%”.

Step 3: Start connecting the dots!
What data is needed to support your goals?  You’re going to want to link the data to the goal that it supports so you not only have a full picture of what data is crucial, but you’ve got the ability to start measuring progress towards your goal and pinpoint where data fixes might need to happen. 

Once you’ve linked you’re the data points that matter to a goal, having access to dashboards that can show you how you’re progressing against these goals will be extremely helpful.  Dashboards can provide immediate, real-time status and give you the opportunity to catch any issues that may need to be addressed.

Step 4: Make it a team effort.
Everyone in the organization has an obligation to be responsible for the data that they contribute and work with.  From HR to marketing to the business analytics team – we all have a part to play. 

For example, let’s assume one of the goals is GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliance. Numerous groups within the organization will be involved from IT to the C-Suite. Why? Because it’s going to have far reaching organizational implications if you’re non-compliant.  Marketing is a big stakeholder in this initiative because it impacts the data that they collect via forms and other marketing activities. When it comes to the marketing database, you’re going to have to take a hard look at what is being collected and how.  Policy and process will need to be established, as well as having the proper technology to support it. And that, my friend, is data governance!

It can feel like a daunting project.  But don’t let that discourage you! Start small, work through the steps outlined above, identify your goals and the data that matters, and successfully turn that into something meaningful for both you and your customers.

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