Data Strategy Playbook: Insights from CIOs and Industry Analysts

Updated February 5, 2020

CIOEvery CIO knows that data strategy is central to the success of the modern business, and a data-oriented company like Informatica has a front-row seat to the power of data and the challenge of drawing maximum insights and value from it. In fact, we spent much of last year at live events hearing CIOs describe their struggles to create a concrete, actionable data strategy. We knew there had to be a way to help.

So we commissioned journalist John Gallant, whose years at IDG have included working with, Network World, and more, and asked him to work with our own VP of Strategic Services, Kevin Fleet, to produce a guidebook to data strategy.

The result is our “Data Strategy Playbook,” a thorough, no-nonsense exploration of what a data strategy should be—and how to create one.

The book draws on a pool of resources that’s both broad and deep: John’s work with the CIO community, Kevin’s background as a leader at multiple companies, hard-won insights from CIOs at companies like Monsanto and Levi’s (and Informatica—yes, I’m included), and the perspectives of authors and consultants from Deloitte, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and more. The result is a thorough, detailed look at how today’s CIOs are creating and guiding their enterprises’ data strategies.

Getting it off the ground

One of the key points of the book is that data strategy involves getting an end-to-end view of your data, and therefore your business. To create that strategy, you need to start with two questions:

  • What challenges does the business need to solve?
  • And what’s the most significant revenue-affecting question your data could probably answer (if you knew how to ask it properly)?

Your data strategy needs to focus on specific needs. Otherwise, it’s just an IT project that people may understand intellectually but won’t find compelling. An idealized strategy might look too difficult to implement or too abstract to be worth the effort. But tell a business that sells software subscriptions about a specific way to get better insight, in less time, into customer behavior patterns, and suddenly they’ll want to hear more.

The book also looks at strategic and tactical approaches to collaborating with business leaders to drive data strategy and see it through. Obviously, the top stakeholders are the CIO and CFO, but Sales, Products, and Marketing also have goals and opinions—and their input counts. For example, Marketing always wants a better understanding of the customer, and Customer Service knows the customer best. Why not break down those two data silos to give everyone a more complete customer view and generate new upsell/cross-sell opportunities?

In addition to describing various methods of driving data strategy with peers across the business, the playbook also provides a checklist for making sure meetings lead to understanding and action—a great tool for any leader who’s not used to shaping this kind of initiative.

The strategy of selling strategy

Data strategy is about analytics: setting up the capabilities to manage data at scale, extracting new insights quickly, and turning those insights into improvements and opportunities. You’d think that would sell itself, but the phrases “data strategy” and “analytics” are sometimes too abstract to appeal to a CEO. What will always get a CEO’s attention? The prospect of solving a business problem. So talk about your data strategy in those terms.

CIOFor example, instead of bringing the CEO and board of directors “a new system to capture orders and create quotes,” you can frame the discussion as “a way to help ensure that we manage our subscription business profitably and at scale, with room to grow and serve our customers well.” It isn’t so much the what as the why, the valuable outcomes, that earn the cross-functional support needed for true transformation.

I’ve talked to plenty of IT leaders who understand data strategy as a concept, but as we all know, the greater challenge is figuring out how to turn it into action—to turn the CIO’s unique perspective on all the data and all the systems across the entire enterprise into a strategy with significant business impact.

John and Kevin have put together an invaluable guide, including some really meaty CIO Q&As. I invite you to download it and let me know what you think. How are you defining and driving your own data strategy? What’s working? What isn’t working? And what are you doing about it?