DATA DATA DATA – August 2023

Do you want to grow your business, innovate, drive efficiencies, &/or create new revenue streams? Of course, you do! Well data is the starting point…and this is the only data-focused roundup you’ll ever need!

In this issue, I want to share the types of questions you should be asking yourselves, your stakeholders and your colleagues…to inform the data strategy and implementation plan for your business. As there are a whole load of them…!


To understand an organisation from a business-wide perspective, it’s best to speak to every department in your organisation – from finance to sales to marketing to operations…here are the questions you should ask them:

1.   What are your strategies/goals/KPIs/metrics?

For instance, a department may have specific priorities or focus areas that they’re prioritising, so you need to ensure you understand what’s important to them

2.   How do you help the business to make/save money?

It’s important to understand how each department contributes to the organisation’s bottom line – for instance, are they helping to make money (eg revenue, profit)? Or is their role to help the business to save money (eg cost-reduction, risk reduction)?

3.   How does your business compete or differentiate with competitors?

For instance, is it based on lowest price, best customer service, unique product offering, scale, or something different? Could your data be the differentiator perhaps?

4.   Who are the users/viewers of data?

This could be their internal department, other internal staff, clients, suppliers, distributors, the Board, investors, the general public, and more. It’s important to consider whether the audience are data fans already or data novices so you know what solutions might work for them

5.   What decisions/actions will be taken using the data?

A good way to understand this is to consider the business levers that a team can push/pull when they have the data – for instance, what can they start/stop/change? Usually there are less than 10, sometimes less than 5, decisions that can actually be taken within any department. Think about budget allocation, resource allocation, priority areas and similar

6.   How might data needs change in future? 

You will want to ensure that technology solutions are future-proofed as much as possible, so it’s important to consider what might change in future – for instance, you may start using different software, you could expand into new locations, your organisation could grow, your volumes of clients could grow, there could be regulatory change, and so on

7.   What are the critical success factors for data?

It’s crucial to understand what the MUST HAVE things are versus the MUST NOTs…so you understand what is sacrosanct and what to avoid or be mindful of


For each department, ask them about the dashboards, reports, spreadsheets, trackers, logs or similar data outputs they might use…for some organisations, there could be hundreds of them!

1.   What types of data outputs do you create or use?

They could call them all sorts of names but reports and dashboards are the most common names – they could call them trackers, logs, analytics, models and similar. Explore how many there are, what outputs fall into which data output types, and ask to see some samples so you can see if they’re numbers-focused, graphical, or data science models

2.   How often do you create/use data outputs?

This could be weekly, monthly or similar – getting a feel for the usage of the data outputs will help you to understand the potential for automation

3.   What format are the data outputs in?      

It’s common for reports & dashboards to be in Excel and Google Sheets, but they could also be in Power BI, or in a specific software report format, such as a Salesforce report or a Xero report

4.   What works well?        

Ask them to share the things they value today – there could be great things happening that you want to double down on, and not lose

5.   What doesn’t work well?      

Ask them to share the things that frustrate, delay or confuse them in their roles – if they need a prompt for this, ask them what they’d want if they could wave a magic wand


The technology questions might be best focused on your technology or IT department, rather than asking every department…this is all about understanding what’s in place today:

1.   What technology do you have in place?   

Think about cloud solutions & tools used for data storage, ETL (extracting/transforming/loading data), data warehouses, databases, reporting/dashboard tools, analytics tools, and similar. Perhaps there’s a technology architecture map, a map of data flows or documentation available?

2.   What data sources do you use/need?

Think about internal data, client data, spreadsheets, software or external tools, databases, proprietary systems, public data, and so on. Most organisations have a finance tool, CRM, call centre software, marketing tools, project management tools, and similar. It’s not uncommon for an organisation to have 50+ data sources

3.   What type of data are you collecting/storing?

This could be data on businesses, consumers, public data, and so on. It could be personally identifiable information (PII) or highly confidential data like payment information or health details

4.   How is data connected together?  

There could be a unique customer ID that ties everything together…often there isn’t!

5.   Is there a common hierarchy for customers?

For instance, businesses and individuals might belong to a group as well as being an individual customer – think about a business being part of a national or global group and think about an individual being part of a family

6.   How are you analysing data?

Think about data analysis techniques, data science models, and similar. Ask about typical use cases and user stories to bring this to life.

7.   Who supports your data and technology?

Some organisations have in-house teams, some have outsourced suppliers, and some deploy contractors. Explore how many people are involved, their skills/experience, whether they’re full-time or part-time, and if training is provided

8.   How do you manage and control data?

Most organisations will have an assigned Data Protection Officer (DPO) but it’s good to explore who owns data governance, any data governance processes/documentation, any data security/privacy policies, the controls for access/permissions and what regulation needs to be complied with

9.   How confident do you feel?

Ask your organisation to tell you how they feel about data security, compliance, backups, and similar – perhaps ask them to score their confidence out of 10

10. What works well?        

Ask them to share the things they value and the things that work for them – there may be some hidden gems in there

11. What doesn’t work well?      

Ask them to share the things that frustrate, delay or confuse them in their roles…or the risks and worries they have


Now you need to explore all of the data sources being used within your organisation in more detail…there could be 10, 20, 50 of them, but start with the key ones, such as your finance tool, CRM and operations database…

1.   What is the data source?      

Ask if your organisation is using a standard version of the software or if it’s bespoke/customized for your organisation

2.   What is the purpose of the data source?

Explore what the data source is used for and why it’s important for your organisation

3.   What type of data is in the data source?

The data could include all types of information, such as information on businesses, consumers or public information – ask them about typical data fields in each data source

4.   Is the data sensitive?

Some data is highly sensitive such as personally identifiable information (PII), payment details and health information – therefore this data needs higher levels of protection than less sensitive data

5.   Is there a unique ID within the data source?

As most organisations have data across multiple data sources, connecting the data together can be a challenge. Some organisations have a unique customer ID for each client, or similar…but often they don’t and one needs to be created

6.   How can data be extracted from the data source?

Sometimes there is an API available that enables someone to automatically extract data from a data source…sometimes we need to build a way to extract data.

7.   Who’s the business owner for the data source?

Each data source should have a business owner but often this isn’t documented or fully agreed – so think about who owns the data source today…is it finance, marketing, sales?

8.   Where is the data source located?

Many data sources are located on third party cloud software but sometimes data is located in an on-premise solution

9.   What format is the data in?

For instance, it could be SQL or a similar format

10. What is the volume of data? 

Sometimes there might be a specific volume metric like X Mb or Y Tb…otherwise it’s useful to understand if data is collected every second/week/year across X customers, in order to assess the potential data volume


Armed with answers to all these questions, you’ll be able to create a data strategy that’s right for your business including:

  • Prioritising the right things first
  • Focusing on short term and long term requirements
  • Considering the technology you have today versus what you might need in future
  • Delivering value as quickly as possible
  • Enabling you to tell a compelling data story to your team

In the next issue, I’m going to focus on the tools you can use to inform your data strategy and implementation plan – we have loads of hacks we can share with you!

Thank you for reading…I’ll be back soon with more data news.

Remember…if you’re in data hell, I’m data Hels!

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Here’s some of the UK-based DATA³ team enjoying the sunshine and various vegan delights in my garden!