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Author's profile photo Ramon Ray

Data Defined: On the Quest to Unify Data and Analytics

Every business knows that data drives success. They’re accustomed to measuring KPIs and reviewing quantitative trends, and using that data to inform decision-making. I’m no stranger to data evaluation in my own life—it’s been the driving force behind many of the entrepreneurial decisions I’ve made. I even use data when I eat and exercise!

There’s no disputing the importance of facts and figures, but not everyone realizes the true potential of data. Businesses especially need to recognize not only what data they have, but how to create value with it. Often, it’s because they don’t have a unified data and analytics strategy.

The link between data, analytics and strategy is the second topic we’re addressing in the LinkedIn Live series: Data Champion Roundtable, powered by SAP. In the inaugural episode, I chatted with my guests about data warehousing—the concept of porting data into an accessible space. This next conversation is a natural elaboration of that concept and one that asks a simple question: What do we do with all that data?

I’m joined by Maribel Lopez, Founder and Principle Analyst at Lopez Research, and Ronald van Loon, CEO and Principle Analyst at Intelligent World. Both of my guests have real-world experience and powerful insight into exactly how businesses use data-driven analysis to position themselves above the competition. Together, we delve into unified data and analytics, and discuss what it means to not only unlock data, but leverage it into success.

Understand the true potential of data

In my time talking with SAP business partners and professionals, I’ve learned that having data isn’t enough. Businesses need to assess what data is and what it means to them before they can use it. That means seeing data not as a byproduct of business operations, but as a driver of value propositions.

“Businesses can combine fragmented data sources into one central view, which is what a unified data strategy is all about. This offers a complete view of your company, and what we see with the data are all the projects that are running right now,” says Ronald. “There is really a requirement to get data from all the different silos across your organization to run your projects, which is what makes analytics work.”

Data doesn’t only power decision-making; it forms a more complete picture. If I know my daily calorie intake and my exercise calorie burn, I can make better decisions about my health and fitness. For companies, the concept is the same, but on a much more dramatic scale. Companies using warehousing to get data are making analytics more accessible, and those analytics offer the means to broad, actionable insights. It’s a roadmap for how to succeed in everything they do.

Unlock a competitive edge using analytics

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that every business needs a competitive edge to thrive. A moat. Something that differentiates them from the competition. Today, many businesses are finding their competitive edge by unifying their data. More are taking it even further, using unified strategy to create that competitive edge.

My guests underscore this idea that data and analytics are key in unlocking an edge. You understand your business. You understand your customers. You understand your product or services. It all comes together in a complete picture, and it’s all in the data.

“Whether you’re in construction, or retail, or finance, or telecom—every industry has its own specifics, but they all have data, and they all need to deliver a product faster, better and cheaper,” says Ronald. “More, they all need to deliver a journey to their clients from the beginning. If you don’t have this data analytic strategy, you cannot deliver the journey and you cannot start competing against data driven companies.”

Ronald goes on to make an astounding revelation—one that I (and many companies) haven’t considered. Every company is or will be a data analytics company; and in the future, every company will be an AI company. Food for thought as we consider what it means to leverage data in a unified strategy.

What is the right data?

I’ve always operated under the impression that all data is important. I still believe that’s true, but in the context of… well, context! In a given situation, not all data is applicable. So what data is the right data? That is to say, when companies do adopt a unified data strategy, what data is the most important for them to look at?

“If you go into a meeting, you’ll see that people have different versions of the truth, says Maribel. “The joy of a unified data strategy is that this conversation should never happen. Everybody should walk in and say, ‘this is the right data.’ We can act on this data. We can analyze this data and take it to the next level. We can merge it with other data sources that might be outside of our company, to enhance and enrich our data. The challenge that I think unified data management strategies are trying to get at is: what is the right version of the truth?”

I see a unified data strategy as the most direct route from data to insight to action. When there are different versions of the truth and different perspectives at the table, the right data and concrete insights dispel discrepancies.

I need to know my exact heart rate to calculate my calorie burn during a workout—without it, I can’t be sure if my decisions about what to eat or how long to exercise are accurate! Now, consider a multinational company making decisions about its supply chain. What happens if the data they’re using isn’t accurate, relevant or complete? The right data is fundamental.

Obstacles stand between businesses and data

I can’t help but ask, if everyone knows the importance of data, why aren’t they using it more effectively? The answer harkens back to data warehousing. Despite acknowledging the importance of data, only about 8% of businesses have the systems in place to collect and analyze it outside of business segment silos, according to Robert.

Maribel explains why, citing three chief barriers to adoption: people, process and technology. Not coincidentally, these are also three areas rife with opportunity for improvement under a unified data strategy.

“In some organizations, there hasn’t been a culture of data sharing. Do we have data lakes or do we have data oceans? Where does data live? Can we find a way to integrate that data without moving it? [De-siloing] has been one of the technical challenges that organizations have talked about. To make a data driven culture, your applications and services need to be able to leverage that data. Analyzing it and leaving it nowhere—sort of like a tree fell in the woods—your data doesn’t get into any of your applications and it doesn’t make a difference.”

If I’m a company exploring the possibility of a unified data strategy, I need to start asking some very poignant questions. Are we data-minded? Where does our data live? Do our vital apps and services have access to data?

Crawl, walk, run, survive

At the end of the day, it all comes back to the question of how. How can companies embrace data unification and use it to drive powerful analytical decisions?

I see it as a process companies need to grow into. Thankfully, it’s a process we’re all familiar with in our own personal lives. Start with the mindset. Invest in the technologies. Tap into the data. The results are powerful and evident in the customer experiences companies are able to provide today.

“Eliminating different types of silos within organizations is important. If you connect your marketing team’s data with services and with sales, you have an end user journey for each department. Then, you can start following the user not only during marketing, but also during the sale and throughout your services,” says Ronald.

I’m struck by the experiences I have with data-forward companies like Amazon. They’ve removed almost every obstacle to buying I can think of, and it takes no effort to find what I’m looking for, add it to my cart, check out, and receive it. Is there any wonder Amazon is the ubiquitous name for online shopping? How long until other brands become the de-facto choice in their industry because they harnessed ultimate convenience?

Ronald and Maribel both emphasize the importance of embracing data unification not only to tap into its potential, but as a survival tool. Companies need to embrace and use data, and when they do, they’ll discover the path to survival as the world evolves.

“I think everybody realizes that data is the crown jewel of their organization. In that regard, they need to do a better job with their data. Once we all understand that and are excited about it, we can put funding towards it,” says Maribel. “Instead of data at the departmental level, it’s at a broad level that people are trying to figure out how to use their data. Can I make a business out of my data? There’s a lot of creative thinking going on in organizations right now. The future is bright, especially if the future is driven by data.”

A future built on unified data

Ronald and Maribel bring tremendous insight to the idea of data unification and what’s possible when companies embrace it. It’s caused me to think of a data unification strategy as true north: the direction every company needs to travel to find their competitive edge and drive continued success. Even for data-minded companies, the concept of data unification is one that takes ardent dedication.

For even more insights on data unification, watch the latest Data Champion Roundtable here on LinkedIn. Catch this episode in its entirety on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.

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