Data has transformed the business world; it fuels growth, enables transformation, and provides organisations with a pathway to differentiation and competitive edge. As such, data has become the most powerful asset possessed by individuals and businesses alike.

However, the tremendous growth of data has given it a bad name – making it an underutilised and poorly managed asset that is more often than not, a drain on the business’ bottom line. Companies that want to get ahead need to better create and capture their data to drive value from it and support data-driven decision making. But how do they do that?

According to Gartner, the rise of the “chief data officer” (CDO) role demonstrates a shift whereby businesses are committed to both data and digital business transformation. In fact, by 2021, Gartner suggests that the CDO will be seen as a mission-critical function comparable to the likes of IT, HR, and finance in 75 per cent of large enterprises.

Whether on your way to finding and hiring a CDO, looking to transform without one, or even at the very start of a digital business transformation, here are my three focus areas for organisations seeking to leverage their data in the best ways possible.

  1. Implement a data strategy

    Organisations must get the basics right, and this begins with a data strategy. A data strategy is the essential foundation for any company looking to make better data-driven decisions.

    This strategy needs to include processes for data collection, data curation and management, understanding data integrity, and data governance including compliance to global standards like GDPR.

    Without this foundation, companies have no framework or policies to define effective data usage. In addition, they will struggle to leverage data assets without any repeatable and documented process. A lack of process decreases productivity and also increases technology spend, so it’s wise to understand the role data is going to play in the business from day one.

  2. Apply an analytics layer

    Once an organisation has a data strategy in place, it needs to be able to use it. There’s no value in a data strategy if an organisation does not have the tools, or people, to execute the vision, and that means deploying tools to enable success.

    These tools must allow individuals to carry out analytics with access to data wherever it resides, without being limited by its location, size or complexity. Data acquisition and integration are critical to this, as are the tools needed to increase simplicity and agility.

    In addition, having the right employees, with the right skills, is critical to successful analytics. This starts with data literacy – the ability to read, work with, analyse and argue with data – and empowering employees to be data literate.

  3. Encourage data-driven decision making

    Data-driven decision making goes beyond just gathering the data and visualising it; it requires individuals across the business to engage and believe in putting data at the core.

    To conquer this final roadblock, when looking to leverage data more effectively, businesses must look internally, to their own company culture. Organisations can have the best people, supported by the best tools, but if their insights are not taken seriously or used, then it’s ultimately useless.

    Data will only make an impact if it is properly leveraged in the decision-making process, and that requires business leaders to understand the relevance and impact of true data-driven decision making and live by it in their actions.

These three steps will provide the foundations on which to better leverage data for organisations of all shapes and sizes. But it’s not going to happen overnight.

The organisations that put data at the core of their business will be able to deliver competitive advantage and transformation. The time to start taking data seriously is now.