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Developing an effective data strategy

How to build a data strategy: development of an action plan.
The stages of strategy development: 1. Identify the problem, 2. identify available data, 3. Identify if additional data sources are needed, 4. Statistical analysis, 5. Implementation development, 6. Communicate results 7. Maintenance.
© Edinburgh Napier University

What is a data strategy?

A Data Strategy describes the goals you wish to achieve, mapped against a plan of action and selected data choices to utilise. It is typically part of a wider business development strategy, aligning to the wider goals for your business. It also outlines the role and processes surrounding data in a company.

It can be as long-short, formal-informal as you like but it can be useful to write it down in a document format so you have something to share with colleagues and a physical reference point as the action plan starts moving!

How to build an effective data strategy

There is no universally correct path to becoming a data-driven company. However, you do need to know why you are collecting the data you are collecting. More data does not mean better data. Data evolves and should be viewed as a continuous work in progress, and you should be prepared to adopt changes. You need an effective strategy tailored to your needs and aligned with your company’s objectives.

A common mistake is to rush into hiring data specialists – but you need to know the problem to be able to guide them. Not knowing the problem can be devastating as you will waste valuable resources, time and money. Importantly, data needs to be organised so that it can be managed and made sense of efficiently. It should work as an asset, not just for specialists but across the company. Common practices and processes are needed to manage and share data throughout the company. A data strategy ensures that the company’s goals and objectives are met.

Basic steps to build a data-strategy

Web developers such as RS Solutions (2018) suggest these basic steps to build a data-strategy


1 – Determine your objectives.

Your company’s mission should be at the heart of your data strategy. Aligning your vision and values into your strategy will ensure a strong link between your company objectives and your data. Establishing exactly what your goals are will help you decide what types of data you need to be focusing on. For example, if you are a hotel aiming to attract the Chinese market, relevant data points might include time of travel, booking window, length of stay etc.

Clear goals will also help you to create an effective business-driven data strategy and establish a data-driven culture. Again, a company-wide mindset for change and willingness to adopt data-drivenness is vital as even the best data strategy will fail without the right culture.

2 – Identify the right data

With a vast array of data available it is important to find the right ones to allow you to make informed decisions. Consider including external sources, work with your local partners, regional and national DMOs (Destination Marketing/Management Organisation e.g. VisitScotland, VisitBritain), and social media. This will be looked at further in Week 4.

Moving into implementation:

3 – Facilitate team sharing of data

If it is not just yourself working with your data (whether collecting, creating, storing or managing), it is important to foster a culture of sharing and implement a system to prevent ‘data silos’. This will ensure transparency and consistency in processes so crucial to making use of data as an asset. Collaboration in your team is crucial here to design a common way to manage data, but also to create an environment where a data-driven way of thinking and decision-making can evolve and be passed-on even when individuals may leave your organisation.

4 – Integrate & Automatise

To ensure efficiency in the running of your systems, it is important to integrate your data as much as possible. This will allow you to access it much easier but also creates opportunities for automation. These types of tools will enable you to reduce the number of manual tasks to your computer which will free up valuable time for your team to focus on more important jobs.

5 – Encourage a data-driven culture

As mentioned before, establishing a data-driven culture is vital to the success of your data strategy. Ensure your team is fully on-board with your data strategy, sticks to it and is willing to adapt according to your company’s changing needs. Create opportunities for your team to acquire new skills and develop confidence using new systems. Assure data democratisation, so that all employees have instant access to required information as well as data literacy, where your employees can read, analyse and argument with data to ensure common and shared knowledge.

On-going development:

6 – Protect your data

It is of imperative importance that you comply with current data protection legislation such as GDPR. Make sure you have the tools and systems in place to protect your – and your customers’ – data and stay up to date as new regulations are introduced. Remember data protection considerations when creating your data strategy so it will be designed to adapt accordingly.

7 – Keep testing

To ensure that your strategy remains efficient and successful, it is important to monitor and test it continuously to determine what is and what isn’t working. Remember, your aim is to rapidly and productively collect data which will allow you to draw accurate conclusions and make informed business decisions.

Given how vital data has become to businesses, and will continue to be in the future, building an effective data strategy is extremely important. A well-designed plan on how you aim to use data to help you reach your goals will ensure a unified approach to data across your organisation and that you won’t lose sight of your objectives along the way.

© Edinburgh Napier University
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