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Big Data LDN: Build a data strategy focused on business value

Jason Foster, CEO and founder, Cynozure, argues why a data strategy must be focused on driving business outcomes Big Data LDN: Build a data strategy focused on business value image

Organisations of all sizes are searching for ways to use their data in improving their products, services, and business performance. A data strategy is an important first step to move the agenda forward, giving you a framework to generate business value from data and analytics.

But how do you build and deliver a solid data strategy for your business? Well, according to Jason Foster, CEO and founder, Cynozure, speaking at Big Data LDN, it starts by focusing on business value and driving towards positive outcomes, which is all about aligning your data and your business strategy together.

“That sounds like a bit of a no brainer when you say it out loud, but many organisations totally forget this part,” said Foster. “They forget to align what they’re trying to achieve from a data perspective with what they’re trying to achieve from a business perspective.

“With any new strategy, or new business or change programme, it’s essential to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing; what’s your Northstar that guides you.”

The value of a jargon-free mission statement

According to Foster, this is why it is vital organisations create a mission statement that underpins everything it’s doing.

“Despite all the hype around data, many are still apprehensive to invest their money because the benefits are unclear and are sceptical of the outcomes,” explained Foster. “So having a clear statement that tells you where you’re going is really important.”

The lean CDO: why it’s time to develop a minimum viable data product

CDOs can avoid failure by ditching project-centric operating models and behaving the way a lean startup would; applying the principles of minimum viable product to their data initiatives (minimum viable data product, if you will)

However, according to Foster, a mission statement needs to be more than buzzwords and straplines.

He said: “You don’t need a strategy without meaning. You need a vision that in a short sentence or two explains what this data initiative is all about and how you are going to do it. It needs to be something that highlights key priorities, and therefore, implies also what you are not going to do. Something that highlights the business thing that you’re going to impact.

“Having a vision statement that explains business outcomes, such as creating unbeatable customer experiences, are things that people can really understand and get behind.”

Ensuring buy-in through culture

According to Foster, the next consideration is culture. However, he argued it’s not enough to just say you want to have a data-driven culture in your mission statement because it’s not tangible enough.

He said: “I don’t like the term data-driven because it feels like your being driven to do something. I  prefer to say that it’s about creating a business culture that uses data to help make decisions. It’s a small flip, but a huge shift in mindset.

“The way we see actual cultural change happen, that’s aligned to the overarching business goals, is through a cycle of ongoing change and adjustments. It’s about centring on important outcomes. It’s about picking the use cases that matter. It’s also about analysing and activating data to make some informed and guided decisions.

Data engineer: The ‘real’ sexiest job of the 21st century

As the hype around data scientists fails to meet expectations, perhaps it’s time data engineer took the title as the “sexiest job of the 21st century”

“Seeing how it performs, learning from it, and going again, then communicating and celebrating successes and failures on an ongoing basis on a cycle. It is not a one-hit project.”

However, this cultural shift isn’t going to just happen.

The responsibility for the data strategy in many organisations is often unclear. Even organisations that have CDOs lack a consensus around what they are actually responsible for. According to Harvard Business Review, 39% of leaders surveyed say that their CDO is responsible for data strategy and results, while 37% assign that to other members of the C-suite, and a further 24% don’t have anyone accountable for data use.

According to Foster, this lack of ownership over data strategy is going to lead you to a dead end. There needs to be clearly defined data roles for everyone in the C-suite.

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