Solution on the Spot: Pitfalls to Avoid in Data Strategy

If you’re trying to stand out in a crowded market, data can be an important asset to help your business succeed. But data isn’t enough. Without an effective data strategy—which in turn needs to be rooted in an organizational strategy that furthers the mission of your business—the information you’ve collected can’t do you very much good.

We see organizations at all levels of maturity when it comes to data strategy. Whether you’ve got a defined strategy already in place or you’re just in the process of developing one, there are a few common pitfalls you’ll want to make sure you avoid.

Here are some tips on avoiding those traps to craft a data strategy that supports the things your business does best.

How do the experts create a data strategy? Watch our interview with Resultant President John Roach to find out.

1. Data Strategy Shouldn’t Start with Technology

One common mistake organizations make when developing a data strategy is trying to root it in technology. While there’s a certain logic to this approach, it sets the wrong priority. Yes, you need to get your data and technology right, but it’s important that your actual strategy grows out of your organizational mission.

In other words, what is it you’re trying to accomplish? What do you have to offer the market? Your data strategy should be grounded in the answers to those questions so that it’s serving the business. Otherwise, you may find that your data strategy actually ends up working at cross purposes from what your business is trying to accomplish.

When that happens, achieving long-term adoption across the organization becomes a real struggle. The business will resist integrating your digital strategy, and you won’t see the kind of transformation or improvement your organization actually needs.

2. Don’t Expect Perfection Before Iteration

It would be nice if you could present a data strategy plan to your leaders and get their full buy-in right off the bat. In practice, though, that’s rarely the case. Leadership will want to see some evidence that your strategy works before they’re completely on board.

Complicating things further is that even a well-written plan will surprise you in execution. Reality is always going to push back on your assumptions and catch you off guard. You can understand why leaders might be a little hesitant until they see a plan in action. They know from experience that things don’t always go according to plan.

None of this should derail your efforts to develop an effective data strategy. Instead, recognize up front that it’s impossible to get data strategy 100% correct before you start building something. An exceptional data strategy is the result of continual iteration and refinement.

From there, it becomes a reciprocal cycle in which you learn new things from the data, it changes how you think about the business, you shift how you’re looking at data, and you learn even more from the data. Far from being a hindrance, this process of iteration can help your data strategy become more effective over time.

3. Don’t Get Carried Away by Your Dashboards

With any change comes resistance. Once your data strategy is in place, however, and your organization starts seeing quick wins, momentum and energy build—which isn’t without its own pitfalls. Seeing what can be done with just a few effective data dashboards tends to make people want to ramp up and create a few of their own.

This might sound great at first, but in practice it can lead to something called “dashboard sprawl.” A handful of thoughtful visualizations can be useful tools to help the business extract good data, but too many dashboards will start to muddy the waters. You actually can have such an overabundance that you might as well have none. The trick is to empower the business to move toward a self-service model built on trusted, simple data that is detailed and specific enough it can still answer questions.

Your Data Strategy Should Evolve with Your Business

Perhaps the most dangerous pitfall to avoid is the assumption that data strategy has a discrete starting or end point. Instead, remember that your data strategy should be a living thing that changes and grows with your business, your industry, and your technology.

To deploy it successfully will require regular maintenance and monitoring over time, but you don’t have to do it alone. A good partner can help you make the most of your data strategy, all while serving the greater mission of your organization.

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