BI Experts: Good Data Strategy is Good Business Strategy

Director of TDWI Research David Stodder looks at three major trends that he sees shaping the development of data strategies.

[Editor's note: TDWI's BI Experts is no longer being published. Instead, our trio of experts will contribute their insight in BI This Week articles, the first of which is presented this week.]

In 2011, "big data" commanded the attention of business and IT executives. The topic was not just a techie obsession; headlines in mainstream media drew in those who had never heard of, much less attempted to untangle, all the data management jargon and acronyms so familiar to professionals in the TDWI community. A report published in 2011 by McKinsey & Co. declared that data had "swept into every industry and business function," and called data "an important factor of production, alongside labor and capital." If data is so important, no business would dare venture into the marketplace without a solid data strategy, right?

Yet, as we turn the calendar to 2012, it's clear that organizations in both public and private sectors have a ways to go before their leaders can say with full confidence that they have a complete and current data strategy that is in sync with strategic objectives.

No one ever said that developing and implementing a data strategy was easy; on the contrary, it has been a difficult and elusive goal. However, if data is truly "alongside labor and capital" in importance to an enterprise's economic success, organizations need to put consistent effort into their data strategy and continuously revise it to keep up with new technology, development methods, business models, and user requirements.

TDWI believes that to gain full value and return on investment from data resources, it is vital to have an enterprise data strategy. The theme of TDWI's first World Conference of 2012 is A Data Strategy for the Enterprise It will offer educational sessions on topics that are important to data strategy. Co-located with the World Conference in Las Vegas is the TDWI BI Executive Summit (February 13-15), which has a complementary theme: Executing a Data Strategy for Your Enterprise. The Executive Summit will offer thought-leadership through an exciting program of case studies, expert sessions, and panels devoted to data strategy, business intelligence, big data analytics, mobile BI, and related topics.

Three Trends Influencing Data Strategies

What top trends are influencing the direction of data strategies? Since 'tis the season for prognostications, here is a quick look at three major trends that I see shaping the development of data strategies -- all of which will be covered in sessions at the TDWI World Conference and BI Executive Summit:

Trend #1: Analytics are on the advance

Along with big data, organizations are in hot pursuit of competitive advantages to be gained by implementing analytics. BI and online analytical processing (OLAP) systems, not to mention spreadsheets, have given users the power to access and analyze data and work with reports, metrics, and dashboards. Now, "advanced" analytics are pushing beyond the limits of BI and OLAP; data mining, predictive modeling, and other methods of statistical, quantitative, or mathematical analysis are growing in adoption.

Many organizations want to develop an "analytics culture," where the intent is to embed advanced data analysis in all decision-making. Data strategies need to shift to support both the deployment and consumption of advanced analytics, which have different requirements than BI.

Trend #2: Users will want access to external data, including social media

Data strategies should not frustrate users by stopping at the borders of the organization. To understand and analyze customer behavior and market trends, users are increasingly interested in external data sources, particularly social media. Internal sources are often limited and historical, whereas social media data is being generated by customers in real time and includes data associations and relationships that are potentially a gold mine of intelligence for marketing as well as product and service development. Organizations need to develop governance, data quality, and metadata capabilities to improve the use of external data.

Trend #3: Organizations will need to trust their data

Governance and regulatory demands are putting pressure on organizations to know where sensitive data elements are stored, who is using them, and how they are being shared. Alongside governance and regulatory imperatives is the need to give users trusted data for BI, analytics, and collaboration using data.

Quicken Loans, co-winner of the 2011 TDWI Best Practices Award in the Enterprise Data Management Strategies category succeeded in developing an architecture that has streamlined the way the company integrates data from any source into its multi-terabyte data warehouse. As a result, the company's range of users, including bankers, directors, and marketing analysts, have a highly trusted data resource. Steve Brennan, director of business intelligence at Quicken Loans, will be speaking at the BI Executive Summit.

Avoiding Data Headaches

Those are just three trends: I am sure you can think of more. The bottom line is that developing, implementing, and maintaining a data strategy has never been more important. User communities are growing and big data volumes, variety, and velocity are on the rise. With a solid data strategy, big data will not lead to big headaches.