If you’re an experienced business leader who is responsible for your business’ information and how it is used then you understand our headline – and may have the battle scars to show from experiences of tackling the data challenges inherent in these projects.  If you’re not sure about “Data Strategy” and what it means to your business’ ability to drive through this current pandemic climate and beyond, you’ll know more in the next 4 minutes.

Our experience includes advising clients as they navigate their digital transformation journeys. During these often risky and challenging transformation project experiences we have seen two areas most critical to successful outcomes – and yet frequently ignored:  deployment of sound Change Management practices – and, the subject of this blog:  ensuring that the business has a Data Strategy.  We’ve blogged about CM plenty of times and offer this as part of our solutions; however, in light of needing to make timely and more meaningful decisions more than ever, Data Strategy can use some attention – now.

Learning 1: Data Strategy – what does that mean?

You need good, sound, reliable, timely, accurate and insightful data to make decisions.  Data Strategy represents the activity you undertake and document to ensure you can achieve and maintain solutions that deliver such data.  Without Data Strategy, you’re grasping at information in an ad-hoc manner, or possibly relying on whatever reports you’ve been given, or developed in different circumstances, or that happen to be dumped into your dashboard by your boiler-plate software solutions.  Data Strategy allows you to define the data you need, where to find it, how and where to aggregate it, store it, manage it, serve/deliver it, analyze it, and make decisions with it.  This isn’t easy stuff. Most businesses have lots of information that lives in many places, including those outside of their business.  Your own ERP, CRM, HCM and other productivity software hold your transactional and some static data – and you can certainly use it to infer and analyze, right?  Well, there’s possibly more:  what other factors impact your business and your forecasting ability? Perhaps weather conditions do. Or traffic patterns. Or flight details. Or illness trends. Or commodity prices. Or…  These latter data elements are likely sourced from outside your business systems. Your Data Strategy should take into account all sources of data that are relevant to your end game: analyzing things in order to make decisions that impact your success.

Learning 2: Execution of Data Strategy

At a high level (read: blog): Data Strategy execution takes time, creativity, cross-departmental personnel insights and executive sponsorship.  Once you undertake the activities underlined and italicized immediately above, you then need to determine the technical manner to aggregate, clean, augment/manipulate and then properly assemble the information you need into useable form. This needs to be led by skilled persons – either in house or with outside advisors (e.g.; us).  Decisions need to be made as to whether you need to architect a data warehouse or data lake (they are different), and who needs what sort of analytics, how often, and in what medium (e.g.; graphical, tabular, complex illustrations, etc.) to best convey the data.  Then, put the pieces together, carefully.

Of key importance: ensure that the information you bring from various sources is relate-able, comparable, and internally consistent – so you know you’re reporting and analyzing data that in fact is what you assumed it would be. Simple example: what does “sales” mean in your systems environment? Your ERP solution likely thinks of “sales” as shipped sales volume.  Is that what you want? Or does “sales” mean the booked sales volume found in your CRM software?  “Sales” means something different to each of your systems, much less to the rest of us.  Get the right data, for the right reasons, from the right places – and be sure that July in one system means July in another (think: accounting cut-off periods).

Learning 3: What not to do (and what to do, instead)

Don’t buy software and expect that’s the answer – even if it’s close to “free” (PowerBI looks tempting, right?).  The type of software that performs analytics and forecasting without question is the current “bluest ocean” of the business software industry.  Every major software publisher is pushing edge/add-on data and analytics software under these names:  FP&A (Financial Planning & Analysis), CPM (Corporate Performance Measurement) or EPM (Enterprise Performance Measurement) – aggressively.  Oracle, Microsoft, SAP and Workday have all made plays to buy and/or integrate successful software products into their own domains.  They have invested big in development, marketing and the sales process and the target is… you.  Software isn’t the first part of your solution here – rather, you need to make sure you have your Data Strategy laid-out. Then, develop data analytics software requirements to match against the capabilities of a software tool or set of tools.  With proper planning and requirements documented you will be clear about the kind of solution you need – one that emphasizes aggregation, analytics, illustrations, budgeting, forecasting, etc., – or any combination of these.

Closing –

We hope this has triggered some prudent thinking for you. Data Strategy is a challenging process and discipline – but worth undertaking because data and analytics are the key factors to decision making in this new normal that we’re operating in.  No doubt that if you’ve been using a forecast model already, you know that your assumptions and drivers have changed.  If they haven’t, you’re in an unusual position. But either way – recognize that developing analytics, forecasts, and other illustrations for decision making can’t occur without a proper and reliable Data Strategy.  If you’re seeking to take these steps and want some outside ears to listen to your ideas, and some brains to provide some feedback – or even help direct this process – let us know.  We don’t sell software of any kind, by the way. We’re just focused on sharing good information, working with great clients, and seeing them succeed.  Reach out at [email protected].  Thank you for reading!

Bob Green, CPA.CITP

Practice Leader, SL Business Informatics – SingerLewak, LLP  ©2020