Money never sleeps and neither does your data. In Monetizing Your Data, we look at digital transformation: the ways of turning data into new revenue streams and apps that boost income, increase stickiness, and help your company thrive in the world of Big Data. 

The first waves of digital transformation started decades ago and the ripples of this trend continue to be felt to this day. However, what exactly a digital transformation looks like varies widely from company to company. One common theme among many transformations, however, is trying to make better use of data, whether to build analytic apps to unlock new revenue streams or to make smarter decisions internally (or both).  

While these are worthwhile applications, one blind spot that many teams charged with these projects share is that they look at the data they have on-hand before figuring out what kind of problems they wish to solve with it. 

“I recommend starting your data strategy with a right-to-left approach, focusing on the desired business outcomes first, instead of the data, to support those outcomes,” says Charles Holive, Sisense Managing Director of Data Monetization and Strategy Consulting. “And there are primarily three areas that industries across the world look to improve: the top line, the bottom line, and customer satisfaction.”

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Define your desired outcome — before you start building

Every company knows they need to digitally transform in order to survive and excel in the modern era. However, many organizations fail to define their goals for this process before they start, and predictably encounter obstacles or outright failures instead of paving a path for future success.

Business goals should be defined at the very beginning of the digital transformation in the “right-to-left strategy” that starts by answering this question: What is the organization specifically looking to solve or improve? Understanding the details is key, otherwise “digital transformation” will be merely a corporate buzzword that causes headaches, heartbreaks, and lost money instead of producing measurable improvements.

From there, rather than trying to accumulate and house the company’s entire dataset, the digital transformation team should identify the specific actionable insights and associated data needed to solve for (and measure) agreed-upon outcomes.

“Not every dataset is made equal; some are more valuable than the others. So being outcome-focused is a way that can you stack-rank the data sets that are most important. Your team can then begin moving that most-important data into your warehouse.”

Experiment to guide a winning data strategy

Just as the waterfall method of software development—the strategy of gathering all the requirements upfront and then building and releasing a complete application—has fallen out of favor for agile methods, the same thing should happen when creating an outcome-first data strategy: Rather than trying to build a complete data warehouse right from the outset, approach data strategy as an “innovation factory.”

“Identifying the exact data you need to solve a singular problem results in a perfect candidate to go into your warehouse on the first cycle. This is because you know exactly what the business is going to do with that data set,” Charles explains. “It’s powerful because it’s already informing or measuring a specific business outcome.”

And when this data is warehoused and accessible to business partners to make key decisions, you already have a chance to quickly prove this outcome-first data strategy. You’ve immediately created an experiment to win.

Another piece of advice that Charles talks about in his “Hacking the Analytic Apps Economy” video series is where the innovation factory should live. Namely, not in a mature business unit, but in an agile, fast-reacting department that reports to a Chief Innovation Officer or similar highly-placed exec. This team can deliver on new ideas quickly and won’t get bogged down in pre-existing frameworks or goals that don’t work for what the new data experiments are trying to achieve.

Create an innovation factory at your company

“Creating an innovation factory for your company results in faster innovation. You can do these smaller experiments more cost-efficiently, saving money over the traditional data strategy. This also should help your team prioritize projects for the data warehouse that deliver the greatest value, as opposed to the department that screams the loudest.” 

And while any experiment can fail, but here are some solid tips to help improve your likelihood of success and to maximize the impact of triumphant experiments: 

  • Start by listening to the frontline employees who use the data to make decisions—this will improve the odds of success for your experiment out of the gate.
  • If your experiment works, find other departments that can benefit from that same data—this is where it is key to have a good semantic layer on top of your data warehouse (courtesy of your data analytics software) so you can repurpose the same dataset for different ends.
  • If your experiment fails, see if you can tweak the dataset or use case to apply elsewhere in the company.

Regardless, approaching data strategy with a focus on business outcomes will put you on the right course.

“Everything else in the company is business-centered. It just seems counterintuitive not to approach data strategy in the same way.”

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Jack Cieslak is a 10-year veteran of the tech world. He’s written for Amazon, CB Insights, and others, on topics ranging from ecommerce and VC investments to crazy product launches and top-secret startup projects.

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