Big Data is cool. The Internet of Things is cool. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are cool. Predictive and Prescriptive Analytics are cool. Having bad Data Quality so that none of those cool technologies actually work is not cool. A coherent Data Strategy that involves a comprehensive Metadata Management plan, well-defined Data Governance and Data Stewardship, and the ability to leverage all an enterprise’s disparate data assets is something many (if not most) organizations only dream about. “How do I really use data to transform my business? It’s a question I get all the time from clients,” said Donna Burbank, the Managing Director at Global Data Strategy, in a recent DATAVERSITY® interview. “With data today driving so much business transformation, it’s become necessary to look at the business first and seeing how the business can drive the technology rather than the other way around.”
Often when technology people, or data people, go into a business meeting and start discussing terms like Data Governance, or Data Strategy, or Metadata, or MDM, or any number of other traditionally “techy” terms, faces go blank and people start checking their phones. If those same data people start discussing business definitions, or start the conversation around definitions of “customer”, or how Sales calculates total sales by region, faces expectantly light back up. “To them, that’s what it’s about,” she said. “It’s about context. What does it mean when I say ‘customer’, or ‘product’, or ‘account’?” Data Strategy needs to begin with Business Strategy, because once a business sees the value of high quality data (and they already do if they are asked in terms they understand) then the rest is a matter of communication and implementation.
Today’s world is full of new data. Companies can now collect social media data, open data, sensor and geo-spatial data, and more. They can collect surprisingly specific data, such as foot fall data, which is data collected from smart phones that shows travel patterns of people as they move around a town or within a store:
“But what it comes down to,” said Donna Burbank, “is how can I use that data to optimize my business processes? How can I do what I am already doing better? How can I optimize my marketing campaign by getting a 360 degree view of ‘customer’? Not only can I enter the internal data to try and get that cohesive view, but also external data.”
Organizations today have the ability to get a true 360 degree view of their market segments, customers, and product movements. Businesses can transform the way they understand themselves and their place within the market. Energy companies can use smart meters, connected through the Internet of Things, to better understand the energy usage patterns of all their customers – while at the same time a single customer can log in to their smart home via the Internet of Things and shut off their heat while they are at work or on vacation. Brick-and-mortar stores can track the way customers move around their displays and improve their product placements based on those traffic patterns.
None of those examples can work without a comprehensive Business Strategy that aligns itself within a cohesive Data Strategy. “This has all changed from 20 years ago when I first got started in Data Management,” said Burbank. “The business now understands that data is there to help transform the business. The call me asking about how to align both together; they know they can drive innovation through data, but they just don’t know exactly how.”
The starting point is Business Strategy. “We talk business before we talk technology,” she said. “Our clients come to us and say they know that they are stuck. I had one client say they heard that Big Data is cool, but they had no idea how to make sense of all of the information about it.