The How: Leveraging Your Data as a Competitive Advantage

Competitive AdvantageMost senior business leaders today understand that data is a core business asset. They also understand that they need to leverage it for better business outcomes. What they don’t necessarily understand is how to do it. So when I was at the CIO 100 Symposium in Los Angeles, I sat down for a chat with CIO Magazine editor Charles Pelton to talk about how investing in data becomes a competitive advantage. It was a great discussion and worth sharing with those of you who couldn’t join us in LA.

Spending money on the right solutions is necessary for data-driven digital transformation, but it’s not sufficient. You also have to invest time, effort, and strategic thought. You also must invest in relationships by working with leaders across the enterprise to prioritize the use of data to outperform competitors. But before you can pursue specific initiatives, like turning your data into unparalleled customer experiences or using it to spot new business opportunities, you need to manage your data.

All of it.

How to manage data assets

You have to be deliberate about your data strategy. I’m not talking about individual analytics projects or creating a “digital channel.” Your entire enterprise needs to recognize that the data you have and how you use it is increasingly the key to business differentiation.

Strategic data management starts with thorough discovery: What do you have, where is it created, and how has it been used? Once you know that, you can decide how to use it better and reuse it elsewhere.

Competitive AdvantageIf you choose to reuse data across functions and processes, you need to govern it by making sure everyone is using the same definitions, calculations, units of measure, and so forth. You need a data steward function to ensure the data conforms to those standards so it can be reused. You need to move it securely. You need to understand and manage access to it. And you need to make sure that the way it’s moved, stored, secured, and used complies with all applicable government regulations and industry standards.

And then—and only then!—can you start to leverage your data to answer your pressing business questions.

Getting there is half the fun

Growing market share, streamlining production, increasing customer loyalty, and complying with new privacy regulations may seem like four separate initiatives, but I would argue they’re all actually parts of a single holistic approach to data. When you think about where your business wants to be in three years, consider what data you have, or should have, to help you get there.

Are you monetizing a new asset like weather data or other IoT data? Are you changing how you interact with customers? Are you using data to make the valuable shift in business model from “selling a thing” to “providing an outcome”? Apply that strategic thinking to small business initiatives that solve an immediate problem, like a data catalog project or data lake, but don’t lose sight of the goal of scaling up and out over time.

Charles Pelton and I agreed that the “how” of digital transformation requires companies to think big, start small, and move fast. I learned a lot from our conversation. Now I’m curious what you think, too. What are some of the concrete steps you’ve been taking to turn your data into a business differentiator?