Two business people in a data strategy meeting. They are wearing facemasks,For organisations, the best strategic asset you have is your data. We’ve seen the proof of this during uncertain times – where data has helped organisations quickly transition to better serve customers and employees. Currently, a lot of businesses have a very siloed approach to data. To truly deliver your business goals, you need to connect these silos together to build a data strategy. At the same time, you need to empower your people to access and use data to inform their work. So how do you build an effective data strategy and culture? Here’s how:

Start your data strategy with a goal

A pyramid showing the size of data bytes

To build an effective data strategy, the first thing to do is think about what you want to achieve. Analyse business functions or goals where data could provide a tangible result. I often suggest to customers to start small, with one project. Use that to learn new skills and explore your data. Use the learning from these projects to iterate and build towards a successful integrated data strategy. This way you will gain first-hand knowledge and skills, while dealing with the practical and operational tasks necessary for success.

Do the groundwork for your data strategy

By 2025, IDC research expects data to reach 175 zettabytes. You may not have this much, but you’ll find you have collected a lot of data. Once you have your business goal, take some time to look at your data. Here’s three data realities you’ll need to be aware of when building your strategy:

diagram showing data realities

Research from Harvard Business Review and Microsoft found that 52 percent of respondents say inaccurate and insufficient data is a key business challenge. To ensure you get the best insights out of your data you need to take stock of what you have and what you want to do with it. In fact, data preparation is about 80 percent of the work in data analysis.

Build innovation excellence with data

This same Microsoft research found that 55 percent of respondents believe data silos and managing data from multiple new systems are an organisation’s biggest challenge. But we know that bringing together these datasets are what can help organisations innovate and build competitive advantage. That being said, we have to ensure we build a data strategy using a best-in-class approach.

A best-in-class approach to data strategy:

Diagram of a data strategy

Data modernisation is key to addressing and fixing data silos. Connect your data together across the business with tools such as Dynamics 365. This will help not only reduce silos but build new insights from the collective data that you wouldn’t get if they were segregated.

Cloud-native apps support high performance at any scale. Take advantage of the power of the cloud capabilities to truly use your data and reduce those tedious tasks for employees – helping them spend more time on value-add work.

Analytics are needed to truly understand customer behaviours, operational processes, and to generate insights. When you have the right data as your base, analytics can help inform decision-making in a powerful way.

Data science then takes those insights and applies machine learning and AI to power experiences. But it isn’t just for the data scientists anymore. Thanks to low/no code solutions like Power Platform, employees without large coding experience can build workflows and solutions using data to improve their day-to-day operations. For example, a customer service team can build a Virtual Agent to answer frequently asked customer questions, so they can spend more time on complicated queries.

Data governance underpins any data strategy. You need to ensure you’re adequately protecting valuable business and customer data. This includes ensuring you have the proper regulatory compliance in place. A cloud platform like Azure has multi-layered, built-in security controls and unique threat intelligence to help you identify and protect against rapidly evolving threats.

It’s also important to think about how you use that data. The responsible and ethical use of data and AI is important for your reputation. It can also reduce bias and risk in your data, ensuring you’re delivering exactly what you need to better serve the community.

Build a data-driven culture

Fundamentally, a strategy won’t work unless you have the right culture. For a journey to be successful, everyone needs to take part in it.

Engage with your stakeholders and the senior leadership team from the start. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have full company meetings about your first project. Look at what problem you’re trying to solve and the teams you will engage along the way. Bring and inform the key stakeholders from those teams early on.

Another way of building culture is encouraging ‘champions’ to share their love and knowledge with their peers. This can be done by giving them the time and ability to set up workshops, employee groups, and even ‘hackathons’ to build a more grassroots approach to culture change. At Microsoft our yearly hackathons have bought product improvements, apps that improve accessibility like Seeing AI, and innovations to help sustainability, like machine learning models to assist in ocean clean ups.

Woman working from home on data strategy with her child working on remote learning next to her

It’s important to ensure every employee has the power to make impact-orientated decisions. After all, they’re the ones who know the business the best. By democratising access to data in a responsible way, you will empower employees to be more innovative, make better decisions, and ultimately, serve exceptional customer experiences.

Finally, build all employees skills to ensure they get the best out of data. According to our recent digital skills report, 63 percent of UK employees don’t think they have the appropriate digital skills. Building these skills is key to ensure they can confidently use data to make decisions, build innovation, and create new solutions. We have shared our learning paths, workshops, and on-demand training to help organisations re- and up-skill their employees on Microsoft technologies.

A people-centric approach to data strategy

Once you build your data foundation and connect it across your organisation, you will have a 360-degree view of your data. Take this further and join up external data to create an expanded view not restricted by your own organisational boundaries. And with a data-driven culture you can empower your organisation to leverage this to gain even more opportunities and insights, creating competitive growth.

One thing I’ve learnt from our journey at Microsoft is the technology is the easy bit. Most data strategy projects are about the people – the cultural change. Ensure this by being transparent along the journey, engaging others, and building their digital skills. Remember a data strategy is not a one-and-done approach. It’s a continuous learning cycle, where everyone can take part.

Find out more

Visit the landing page: Reimagine data and analytics

Download the eBook: Build a data-driven organisation

Download the report: Discover a new model of competitiveness

About the author

Robin Sutara, a woman with dark brown long hair smiles at the cameraAs an advocate of data-driven decisions, Robin has spent over two decades at Microsoft ensuring organisations have the tools to leverage the zettabytes of data available today to achieve their digital transformation vision.

Microsoft has been on its own digital transformation journey for several years and data has been a central part of that journey. Robin focuses on creating a data-driven culture across the business at Microsoft. This includes ensuring that we are considering data across our internal processes, as well as how we are helping our customers and partners succeed with data.

Robin is passionate about learning and collaborating with our customers and partners about how to truly leverage data and AI to create new solutions.

Prior to working at Microsoft, she served in the US Military. She strives to bring her best in all aspects of work and personal life. From obtaining two law degrees and multiple professional certifications – all while working full time, parenting her daughters and balancing personal commitments (including training for an IronMan), she believes anything is possible.