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Leaders have so many critical priorities, from hiring the right team to adapting to ever-changing business environments, so it’s easy to overlook putting together a sound data strategy. But in this era of relying increasingly on data for everything from making accurate revenue projections to delivering great customer experiences, a data strategy should be one of your first priorities, not one of your last. Do it right, and you can look forward to having ready access to precisely the data and insights required to drive your business forward. Neglect it, and you’ll be drowning in more data than you need before you know it, with not a clue how to make the most of it as a tool for business improvement.

Whether you’re just starting out with a new company or if you’re already established, the time is now to put your data strategy in place — before data starts accumulating and threatening to overwhelm. As one data expert pointed out, even a small store can track a million metrics. A successful data strategy starts with zeroing in on which kinds of data are most important to your business goals. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to look at the best ways to collect, analyze and manage the data that matters to your business. And, finally, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to govern and be a good steward of your data, a particularly important point if you’re collecting data from and about customers.

Let’s look at these three action items one by one. The way to approach them will differ from one company to another in the finer points. But regardless of the specifics for your organization, you’ll want to keep the following general steps in mind as you think through a data strategy.

Step 1: Set clear data goals

Before you can decide what data you really need to focus on, you need to know how you’re going to use it — in other words, what business goals the data is going to serve. The kind of data you find useful for boosting product sales from existing customers in your next quarter, for example, may be completely different than the data that’s useful for improving customers’ shopping experiences to build loyalty over the long term. Or there may be some overlap. As you think this through in the context of the data that’s available to your business, you’ll begin to see which data holds importance for multiple areas of the business and which is less often relevant, which will help you to determine where to focus your attention.

Step 2: Select key data decision makers

For starters, you’re going to team up with IT. In strategizing how to select the right technology platform for collecting, analyzing and managing the data that comes into your business, business and IT working together can do a better job of evaluating choices than either can do alone. For example, as marketing becomes increasingly customer data-driven, the marketing organization benefits from IT’s counsel in choosing marketing technology solutions for collecting data and a centralized platform for data consolidation and control. And as the entire business depends increasingly on data for decision-making, IT’s expertise is invaluable in building a more analytics-driven organization and in ensuring the security of growing amounts of data.

Step 3: Make good governance a priority

Speaking of security, it’s at the heart of another critical aspect of data strategy: governance, in the sense of data stewardship or responsibility. If your company is collecting and analyzing customer data, governance is that aspect of your data strategy that oversees how you protect the data that customers entrust to you. And while areas like healthcare or financial services, which routinely deal with intensely personal and private information, may be the first that come to mind when it comes to governance, this is really a critical concern for any kind of company. It doesn’t matter whether you’re storing someone’s credit card number or shirt size, their age or income: They’re trusting you to be transparent about what you do with it and to guard it as if it were their own. Yes, compliance with privacy laws is important, but you can’t go wrong moving beyond that to make good governance a fundamental part of your culture.

As I mentioned earlier, data strategy is going to be different from one company to another, and yours will ultimately be based on the specifics of your industry and your organization. But while I can’t speak to those details, I can tell you that whatever they may be, the foundation you build them on needs to take into account the three broad points I’ve described here. Keep them in mind as you and your team work together to put a smart data strategy in place for your business.


This article was written by H.O. Maycotte from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.