The customer experience has become a critical point of competitive advantage, along with operational excellence and better risk management, including reputational, operational, and financial risk, writes Modeen Malick, Principal Systems Engineer at Commvault SA.

The common factor in improving all three of these elements is big data analytics. However, big data can be an overwhelming problem to solve because there are so many disparate sources, the data changes constantly, and the volume of data is continually growing. Without an effective data strategy, it is impossible to effectively leverage big data analytics, and therefore impossible to harness the many business benefits this could deliver.

The changing value of data

Data used to be viewed as simply a by-product of business processes and activities, and it had little value after these were complete. Today, however, data is immensely valuable, and with appropriate analytics and reporting, it can become the ‘secret’ source of new business opportunity.

Information derived from big data not only provides insight into new opportunities, but more than that, it can lead to smarter business decisions, improved operations, increased revenue, more innovative products, and ultimately, happier customers.

While the value of data lies partially in its abundance and constantly evolving nature, this is also the biggest challenge to effectively analysing it. Corporate data stores have grown not only in size but also in complexity, and data sources vary hugely, from traditional data centres, cloud storage and business applications, to social media and other unstructured sources and a plethora of connected devices. Data analytics must begin with a data strategy to come to grips with this challenge.

The building blocks for comprehensive data strategy

Historically, data strategy was focused on storage, and organisations have built comprehensive plans for sizing and managing platforms, as well as methods for handling data retention. While this remains an essential component, it only addresses the tactical aspects of content storage, without improving the way businesses acquire, store, manage and use data. This is important not only for data analytics purposes, but also for compliance with a growing body of data governance and data privacy legislation.

A comprehensive data strategy requires several building blocks, specifically, the ability to identify, store, process and govern data. Data needs to be integrated to provide a more comprehensive and holistic view, but there is a delicate balance that needs to be achieved, between sharing of and access to information, and the ability to restrict access and protect privacy. This is why a coordinated and aligned data strategy across the organisation has become a critical business tool.

Not a destination

One thing that organisations need to consider is the fact that a data strategy initiative is not a once-off exercise. It is an evolving strategy that needs to have goals for the short, medium and long term, and that can adapt as data shifts and changes. It cannot simply be implemented and forgotten, it needs to be reviewed, measured and monitored to ensure it continues to deliver value.

Big data has unprecedented potential business value, but leveraging it requires a comprehensive strategy. This will position businesses to deliver the best possible solution as the organisation’s needs grow and evolve. Data strategy is a learning curve, and it must adapt and change as new requirements arise, to enable businesses to remain competitive.

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