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As seen on Forbes

The role of data and analytics is rapidly changing from simply acting as a business-supporting function to being a catalyst for digital transformation.

Whether you like it or not, we are all generating and consuming data at an unprecedented pace. For example, Google now aggregates anonymized datasets from willing mobile users based on their device’s location history. It has built community mobility reports based on geolocation data and shared it for public use. In the current Covid-19 climate, this data has proved to be immensely useful for any organization that is looking to reopen and reimagine its operations.

As a leader of a corporation, government agency, university or nonprofit, it is likely that you use data every day to make choices that affect your business. If you were not already using data to drive decisions, the Covid-19 pandemic must have been a wake-up call for your organization. The ensuing economic disruption has forced businesses to adopt or accelerate their digital transformation journey as they adapt to changing market demands, reinventing offerings, optimizing resources and, in some cases, even fighting for survival. Data and analytics have become strategic and central to digital transformation, but Covid-19 has complicated this journey, making it more challenging to collaborate.

Based on our firm’s 16-year history of supporting customers across all industries and recent conversations with customers and our global centers of excellence, I’ve highlighted five success factors that CEOs should consider critical in their quest to derive maximum value from available data assets:

1. Put data and analytics at the heart of business strategy.

To create a sustainable competitive advantage for your business, you should invest in analytics as a core capability within your organization. This means a top-down commitment from executive leadership, investment in people, trustworthy data and insights made accessible to business users. This also means that you focus on ensuring that executives act on what the data tells them.

Do not assume that you must build analytics systems yourself to create a competitive advantage. If IT is not core to your business, find the right partner to help you build the analytics systems, and you focus on consumption and decision-making.

2. Plan for perpetual modernization.

Given the state of evolution of technology and data, IT leadership should reimagine how it designs data and analytics systems. The architecture itself should be evolutionary — including data systems, insight development and delivery systems. Without taking advantage of cloud, modern architectures and automation, you will not be able to fulfill the expectations of different users and their analytic intentions in the organization. Keep in mind that moving to the cloud should not take years of planning and execution. If needed, you can always keep your current systems working on-premise while you build the new systems in the cloud.

One of our customers moved a 2PB complex analytics system from an on-premise data center to the AWS cloud within nine months. You should adopt modular and technology-agnostic architectures with room to evolve and avoid lock-in to specific tools.

3. Revisit the business/IT engagement model.

To ensure that the value of analytics reaches the strategy and operational units, organizations should focus on how the business and IT work together. Various models are available — centralized, decentralized, supportive, consultative — so you can pick the one that works best for your organization. Not being consistent with how your business is organized is likely to create longer-term challenges. The good thing is, you can start with one model and evolve into the next based on your organizational maturity.

When one of our customers implemented self-service analytics capability across their business units, they established clear roles; IT was made responsible for the enterprise platform, and business units were made responsible for building and maintaining the applications.

4. Make insights accessible to users.

Data-informed decision-making is no longer an executive privilege. Data should be accessible to all staff so they can use or create their own insights for their jobs. IT teams do not need to create every single report and insight. They should also move away from trying to standardize the consumption tools. They should consider making insights available in the tools that the users are already comfortable with.

Insights should be understandable and actionable. Consider the use of techniques such as data storytelling to enable users to comprehend information easily and move toward actions. One of our customers uses automated commentary on top of visuals to convey specific actions to front-line staff.

5. Reimagine return on investment.

We all know that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a significant shift in consumer demand and that most organizations have had to reevaluate what is important today and what will be relevant tomorrow. Traditional portfolio rationalization models use metrics that show a connection to the revenue or profit for justification and prioritization. However, return on investment encompasses more than just the financial impact; one must consider other factors, such as the potential of results from empowered employees, better customer experiences and newer capabilities.

Leaders must also find ways to explain the intangibles that come with informed decisions. Not everything can be black and white. For example, how do you quantify the impact of saving lives due to better insights? If Google’s community mobility report helps you keep your employees safe, get health care to those in need or bring a sense of normalcy into our lives, what is the investment that we are willing to make to use it?

Navigating organizations safely and effectively in the coming months will be a big challenge for all leaders. However, in times of uncertainty, making informed actions based on data is better than making decisions simply based on instincts. You do not have to drive into an unknown city without maps; you can invest in a navigation aid that you can afford and that makes sense for your business — it could be a paper-based map, a GPS or maybe even a Tesla. You have to make a choice.