How Do You Build a Data Strategy?


Don’t rush into building your strategy. Be thoughtful about your approach and keep a few best practices in mind to increase your chances of success. I’ll go into each of these but will give them to you now to make it easier to follow: 

  • Lead with the business strategy and business objectives 
  • Identify and leverage a strong executive sponsor 
  • Build the data strategy as a formal program 
  • Bring key influencers into the process early 
  • Look at your entire organization but prioritize focus areas 
  • Leverage external resources in building your data strategy 

This is the second blog of a three-part series. The previous blog outlines why you need a data strategy, and the third blog will explain how to sell it to the most senior executives of your company. Along the way, I will include practical examples you can leverage in crafting and selling your data strategy.   

Start by understanding the business strategy and assessing where a data strategy can support business objectives. For example, does your organization want to focus on managing costs?  If so, outline how the data strategy can provide greater cost visibility, create efficiencies across organizations, and reduce the overall spend on data storage and processing.  Ultimately, the better job you do outlining a data strategy that supports the business strategy, the more likely it is that you will be successful.   

Once you are clear on how the data strategy will support the business strategy, it is time to start building allies that will help you craft and sell the strategy. The most important person in this network will be your executive sponsor. You are going to want an executive that will 

  1. benefit from the data strategy, 
  2. have influence within the organization, 
  3. be a vocal evangelist of the data strategy, and 
  4. stay engaged and provide you guidance on navigating the organization.   

Before approaching your potential sponsor, talk to someone who was able to get them to sponsor a prior initiative.  Find out what motivates them and how they work, then build your plan to approach them on sponsoring the data strategy – make it about what it will do for the organization, not about the strategy itself.  

When you are launching your data strategy initiative, keep in mind how you will get support, investment, time, and resources. Because of the breadth of the data strategy, a formal operating program is useful to marshal resources and manage a wide range of considerations.  A data strategy program will likely have oversight groups and working teams.     

Another benefit of the program structure is it helps you get dedicated focus from key experts across the organization that will be critical to a sound data strategy. It will also help you gain support for communications, tracking work and managing risks as you develop the data strategy. 

Getting the right sponsor on board goes a long way to getting other key influencers on board with the data strategy. Your key influencers need to be people who can provide good input and guidance and are willing to advocate along the way. Including these people in the data strategy program allows many opportunities for key decision-makers to guide the outcome and help develop a more targeted strategy to create buy-in as the strategy is developed.  

From a scope perspective, it is imperative to look at the entire organization’s needs, not just the parts you know.  Being narrow risks parallel data strategies that may compete, and you risk alienating folks who might have supported the vision. While you need to evaluate the entire organization, you must prioritize those areas that will have the most impact on the business strategy. Looking wide helps you identify opportunities you may have missed, while prioritization ensures focus on the most critical areas related to data strategy.  

You don’t have to go it alone in building a data strategy.  There are many resources and partners you can engage to increase your chances of success.   

If you are looking to get started now, download our data strategy roadmap template.

A data maturity model will provide a framework to help direct what you seek to understand, ask questions, and request documents. Using a tested framework also adds credibility to the program, as others will know you took a thoughtful approach and didn’t just build a strategy to drive at your whim.  Using a framework will determine the current and desired end state of your data. You can assess the gaps across each dimension to help you determine the value of moving between the two states – that will be useful in selling the strategy later. 

Consulting partners can be an accelerator in that they’ve often done many data strategies and can help you avoid spinning your wheels. Their experience can help you navigate potential pitfalls and provide another source of credibility around your data strategy process. They can also offer insights as to how you stand relative to your peers with respect to your data and analytic capabilities. Consultants can also help you more easily navigate difficult questions. 

Lastly, product vendors are also a good source of information and a good resource when executing the strategy.


Additional Resources


About The Author

Reid, SVP of Data and Analytics at UDig, is a long-time data professional with experience at multiple Fortune 500 companies. Most recently, he was the Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Markel. Prior to that he held multiple roles at Capital One including VP of Data Engineering.