Aug 25 2017
Data Analytics

Why Every Small Business Needs a Data Strategy

Without a plan for data (beyond storage), even the smallest business will have a disconnect between IT and mission.

Not so long ago, if someone mentioned a data strategy to you, the first thing to pop into your head likely would have been storage, right? It’s true that the data boom continues unabated and storage remains a data management priority, but a data strategy today encompasses far more than how to house your data.

A data strategy should help a business protect business-sensitive data, establish data management tiers, define how the organization can and will mine the data for insights, and provide a roadmap for storage and infrastructure evolution as the business grows.

A key benefit of a sound data strategy is cost-avoidance savings from not investing in the wrong or unneeded technology. The best strategies help a business determine the right IT investment approach for the business’s needs now, tomorrow and into the future.

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Small Businesses Need the 'Why' and 'How' of a Data Strategy

Even a small organization needs to set a plan for how it will manage and protect data as the business grows.

These strategies need not be fancy — in fact, the more straightforward, the better. I like to think about them as essentially having two chief parts from which detailed subcategories follow: the why and the how.

At its base level, your data strategy should be something understood by all employees, not just the IT team. Like security best practices, data management requires an all-hands approach because most everyone in an organization now creates data, and data definitely tends to be at the core of most every business. If you think about it, this is the “why” piece of the data strategy.

Every organization gathers, manipulates, protects and stores data for reasons tied to business or mission. It’s critical to define those reasons and focus your data efforts around them. If there’s no reason for certain data, then why is the business spending money toward managing it?

The “how” piece of the data strategy involves tactics and should be owned by the IT team — even when they must enlist employees throughout the organization to carry these tactics out.

IT leaders, managers and front-line staff need to understand and drive the underpinning infrastructure and application elements that support the reasons the business is tapping certain data. Every technology tactic or project needs a direct correlation back to why the associated data is critical to the business in the first place.

A chief hurdle out of the gate for businesses seeking to establish a data strategy often is that many have no idea what data they have amassed.

So a first step in setting your strategy requires figuring out what data you have and where it’s stored. Technology can help with this part. By adopting a single, unified console, a business can identify its data stores and then manage physical, virtual and cloud-based data together — across different environments, operating systems and applications.

Get a View of Your Data Across the Enterprise

Businesses absolutely need that cross-enterprise visibility to make data management — and data-driven decision-making — possible.

By bringing all systems under a single management console, it’s easier to ensure that the why and how elements of the strategy continue to align. This is a process that must happen repeatedly, not just once.

This approach also will let the organization begin to take advantage of data science — defining the questions the business wants and needs answered by the data it gathers before the data is actually in-house. This is a far more proactive approach to data than just waiting around until data stacks up and planning ways to report out analytics.

It also sets the stage for whether to mine so-called dark data, deciding what data to integrate from Internet of Things devices that make their way into the environment and how to apply machine learning to improve data applications.

Ultimately, a data strategy lets you own your data, rather than it owning you.

Photo-Dave/Getty Images

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