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Understanding the role of data in business strategy and operations is an essential skill, with business leaders increasingly putting data handling, data infrastructure and data skills at the top of their agendas.

Yet not all businesses are in a position to employ a dedicated Chief Data Officer to drive forward their data strategy. This leaves many businesses in need of practical support and advice on how to adopt an effective and ethical approach to gathering, using and sharing data.

In response, the Open Data Institute (ODI) has put together some top tips for business leaders looking to be more data savvy, as part of the ODI's Inside Business series.

Stuart Coleman, ODI Learning and Business Development Director says:

‘Data can create value for businesses, but to unlock it they need to make effective investments in expertise and infrastructure.

‘Not all businesses employ a Chief Data Officer (CDO), and in some cases where a CDO is in place, their role may still be evolving. These five initial steps provide a checklist that businesses can consider and develop to make a real, tangible difference to their resilience and growth in 2022.’

Five smart ways to be data savvy in 2022

1. Put in place a robust data strategy

As a very first step, businesses should have in place a robust data strategy. This should direct how your business develops and resources its data infrastructure and data culture in support of your wider business strategy and decisions. It should look at how data can be used differently in your organisation to create value and improve business performance, in the face of competition.

Consider: How does your data strategy support your business strategy? What are the primary use cases for data in your business? What business models in your business rely on data? Who owns the development of data strategy in your business? How is progress monitored and reported?

2. A strong data infrastructure underpins business innovation

Data infrastructure connects together different parts of your business and includes the datasets, policies, systems, processes and tools required for data to create value. In order to have a strong data infrastructure in place, businesses must first identify the data assets, standards, technologies, policies and the people that steward and contribute to them. You should be prepared to experiment with new technologies and ideas, measure impact and learn from what works and what doesn’t.

Consider: What systems and tools are vital for your data strategy to succeed? Are they fit for purpose? Are they adequately resourced? What data assets does your business need to deliver and support the products and services required by your data and business strategies? Who is responsible for shaping infrastructure policy and decisions about change? How might current policies need to change?

3. Understand your data ecosystem and data flows

Data ecosystems are the internal and external networks that enable data to be accessed, used and shared. A good data ecosystem supports business leaders to identify and plan the technical and organisational relationships which are needed to deliver a service.  Plotting a data ecosystem map can help you to understand how data creates value by identifying the data, data stewards and users, the different roles they play and the relationships between them. This can inform your business strategy, business planning and project delivery.

Consider: How does data flow across your business currently? How could you better exploit existing data flows? What new sources of data do you need to improve internal operations and business performance? Who are the different actors in your data ecosystem?

4. Skills, skills, skills

Scrutinise the data literacy and data skills your team needs to bring strategic plans to life and drive business performance. Research indicates that businesses that focus solely on technology and technical data skills are less likely to unlock the full value of data. Instead, balance technical data skills with other skills, such as service design, data innovation and change leadership.

Think about bringing on board a data champion who acts as an ambassador for data across the business, encouraging training and driving up knowledge of the impact of data literacy and skills on individual roles and business outcomes as a whole. For example, the ODI offers a series of courses and training options exploring the latest data topics.

Consider: What are your strategic needs and strengths when it comes to data skills? Where are your skills gaps and how can these be addressed?

5. The ethics – creating value from data while avoiding harmful impacts

Businesses dealing with data should have in place a clear data ethics programme relating to good practice as to how data is collected, used and shared. Consider using a data ethics framework, such as the ODI’s Data Ethics Canvas, which helps to identify and manage ethical issues, and encourages businesses to ask key questions around the purpose of using data and who could be negatively impacted.

Consider: When it comes to data, which ethical codes apply to your sector or project? Where is data obtained from, and what rights do you have to use it? What are the positive and negative effects on people and how can they be avoided or minimised? How is data ethics being implemented across your organisation?

Get involved

As part of our Inside Business series, we also hosted a webinar about building a brand that is trusted with data on 21 December 2021.

Join Deborah Yates (Programme Lead – Data Assurance) and Dr David Tarrant (Programme Lead – Data Literacy) to discover the tools and techniques needed to build confidence in your organisation’s use of data. Register to watch on demand here.

Businesses are also invited to join the ODI’s membership network – organisations and individuals who are solving similar challenges – to stay up to date with data policy, news, events and innovations. The ODI’s global network includes over 2,000 businesses, startups, data experts and government leaders who are discovering and sharing innovative solutions using data.

Stay up to date with data’s impact on business

ODI Inside Business is a series of podcasts, webinars, blogposts and guides to help business leaders and their teams get to grips with data, with contributions from data leaders from businesses like Microsoft, WPP, Starling Bank and Nationwide.

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