/ How Strategy Can Fuel or Frustrate Your Big Data Initiatives

In a recent study by BARC, companies reported several different benefits from their big data initiatives: better strategic decisions (69%), improved control of operational processes (54%), a better understanding of customers (52%), and cost reductions (47%). Organizations that were able to quantify their gains from analytics reported on average their revenues increased by 8% and costs decreased by 10%. If you’re running a company in today’s increasingly data-intensive economy, you may be wondering what more you can do as a business leader to help your organization tap into similar benefits.

Not surprisingly, the same study found that senior management was a significant determinant (61%) in whether or not an organization was able to success fully embrace analytics. Being willing to invest in the best analytics tools or sharpest analytics talent may seem like the most obvious support you can provide as a business leader. However, there’s something else you can do that’s highly beneficial and it won’t cost you a dime—clarify your business strategy and help align analytics to it.

It seems like a straightforward process—take the key priorities and focus areas of your business strategy and tie them to what can be measured with analytics. However, when compared to the other aspects of analytics such as collecting, integrating, reporting, and analyzing data, determining what to measure is often far more difficult than it should be. Why? Because many organizations routinely fail to properly define and clearly articulate what their core business strategies are.

When Harris Interactive and Franklin Covey surveyed over 23,000 employees some years ago, they discovered 80% of workers reported having no clear line of sight between their tasks and their team and organizational goals. In a recent Australian study,71% of employees couldn’t correctly identify their company’s strategy. Another MIT study showed that 45% of middle managers couldn’t name even one of their company’s top five priorities. This predicament is similar to a college marching band where the students don’t know what tune to play or which direction to move. While each student individually knows how to play their assigned instrument and can improvise, they will never achieve the band director’s intended vision if they are unsure what to play, where to move, and when to time their actions.

I’ve run into this strategic disconnect on several occasions in my years as an analytics consultant. In one memorable instance, I was in a meeting with 15-20 product marketing managers at a top technology company. We were struggling to define the measurement requirements for their various web properties. At the end of the meeting, one of the product marketing managers suggested I ask their senior management team about their online strategy and then “let us know what it is when you find out.” Ouch.

When the majority of employees might not be clear on their company’s strategic direction, the responsibility for aligning analytics with the business strategy cannot be shirked by senior management. While many executives aspire to make their organizations more data-driven, many fail to recognize how dependent analytics is on having a clearly defined business strategy—and, as a consequence, their responsibility to properly define and clarify the key priorities.

**This article was originally published on Forbes.com on December 14, 2016.

Tags: data