Jumpstarting Your Data Strategy: What a New Head of Data Should Do in the First Month
Data is a strategic asset, not a one-time investment. Every organisation has different needs, but every strategy should start with the same fundamentals, and as a company's new head of data, your role is critical in driving the organisation's data strategy and ensuring data will be used effectively to support decision-making. With loads of data at your fingertips, you have the potential to provide valuable insights that will improve efficiency, increase revenue, and create better customer experiences for the business. However, to really make the most impact with data, there are a few essential steps to take at the start. At Spark, we've worked with SMEs to enterprise-level businesses and seen the common mistakes and the winning ways new heads of data have made on their journey to success. So, we're here to share some key actions that you should consider as you begin your role as head of data.
The First Week
For your first week, your top priority should be understanding your employer's goals, priorities, and the data needed to support them. To kick things off, scheduling a meeting with every executive in the c-suite to gather their perspectives and learn about their data requirements is essential. During these discussions, it's a good idea to identify a handful of questions that each executive needs answers to and then determine whether there is a manual or automated way to address those questions. It's also crucial to assess whether the company has the data necessary to provide these answers. By taking these initial steps, you can comprehensively understand the company's data needs and develop a data strategy that aligns with its overall business objectives.
The Second Week
Your second week should focus on identifying the various sources of data across the business. To get started, your first step should be to ask the IT team for a complete list of the business applications in use, so you can better understand which systems generate data and who uses them. Working with the engineering team to obtain a list of databases used by the company is also crucial. This information can help you determine which ones are most relevant to your data needs. Additionally, it's worth reaching out to those who maintain spreadsheets or document KPIs and finding out where the data for those KPIs comes from. By gathering this information, you'll get a thorough overview of the company's data landscape and be best positioned to make informed decisions that support the organisation's objectives.
The Third Week
In the third week, as the new Head of Data, you need to focus on understanding the critical initiatives of each executive and determine how data can support those initiatives. A straightforward and practical approach is to create a simple spreadsheet of the top initiatives, with a summary highlighting each initiative's business value. For instance, these initiatives could be a quote or a summary highlighting why the initiative is important for the business or the executive. You should then identify the data sources necessary to answer the questions related to each initiative, such as databases, business applications, or other systems that generate data. This overview will help you understand each initiative's data requirements and identify opportunities to leverage data to support the company's strategic objectives. By doing this, you can better align the data strategy with the organisation's goals, and help to drive growth and success!
The Fourth Week
In your fourth week, it's time to start developing the technology infrastructure necessary to support the company's data strategy. One essential step is to select or build a data visualisation tool(s) that can help executives gain insights into key data sets. Consider implementing a data lake; a centralised repository that allows you to store and manage vast amounts of data in various formats. With a data lake, you can streamline data integration and enable your data analysts to access, explore, and analyse large datasets more efficiently. Additionally, this is an excellent time to implement a Spark data solution! Our bespoke architecture and data and AI solutions will process your data faster and more efficiently, which can help you make more informed decisions and achieve better business outcomes. By taking these steps, you will create a robust infrastructure that supports your data strategy, drives growth, and achieves success.
The Fifth Week
Now that you're in the swing of things and gaining the trust of your colleagues, your fifth week should start answering questions and delivering quick wins that build momentum and show the value of the data strategy. Begin by selecting the easiest questions to answer first, which can help you to gain traction and show progress quickly. As you continue to deliver insights, it's essential that you go back to the executives and ask for feedback on the data you've provided. Determine if they're urgently trying to access specific data sets or have a higher priority. Suppose the executives ask for access to the dashboards. In that case, that's an excellent sign, as it shows that they recognise the value of the insights that you're providing. Additionally, if they give feedback, it can help you refine your approach and ensure that you're providing data most relevant to their needs. By delivering quick wins and seeking feedback, you can build trust with the executives and establish yourself as a valuable asset to the organisation.
The Overarching Goal
In building your data team, the overarching goal should be to establish trust with executives by focusing on solving the highest-value problems the company faces. You can build trust and demonstrate value by addressing critical business issues and delivering actionable insights. But, remember, this requires a deep understanding of the company's objectives and data needs and an ability to identify the most pressing data-related challenges. By establishing trust with executives, data teams can help organisations to make data-driven decisions and achieve better business outcomes, ultimately driving success and growth for the entire organisation.
Being delegated to building reports for lower-level associates and creating dashboards for those who report to people can be a sign that your team's efforts should be valued more at the executive level. We know this can be frustrating, but maybe think about giving up on this approach and focus on creating self-service analytics, empowering employees to access the data they need to make decisions independently. Ultimately, by prioritising the right problems and getting executive buy-in, you can build trust and demonstrate the value of the data team, leading to better business outcomes and long-term success for the organisation.