No wrong answers

Why your data strategy should be as unique as your organisation

4th January 2024

Civica’s Lunch and Learn series has been exploring digital topics relevant to the central government sector. In my recent presentation, I gave an overview of why a data strategy is such an important document and offered some tips on how to get started.

Check out the recording of “What is a data strategy” here . When you’ve seen the episode, it’s time to take things one step further. Let’s explore the ins and outs of what makes a good strategy – and how “good” is different for every organisation.

The 2022 to 2025 Roadmap for Digital and Data sets out the ambition “to transform public services, deliver world-class technology and attract and retain the best digital talent.” A data strategy is a must for any organisation seriously working towards the goals set out in the roadmap.

A data strategy is no longer optional

For many organisations, a data strategy is still an ambition, not a reality. The consequences of not having one could be mild – perhaps missing out on some streamlining or improvements to processes. Or they could be much more severe – accidentally sharing sensitive information, maybe even opening up the organisation to hacking.

A data strategy helps you avoid bad practices. It helps break down silos. Improve governance. Enhance security. In today’s world, where everything we do generates data, I believe a data strategy is essential.

There’s no one-size-fits-all template

Towards the end of the presentation, I gave some examples of real data strategies. One was the UK Government’s National Data Strategy. It features five missions covering everything from upskilling people to protecting people’s personal information. Its ambitions are grand – with the ultimate goal of making the UK a digital leader and improving outcomes for everyone in the country. But, of course, the NDS is quite different to a typical data strategy for a business or a small government department.

A smaller scale data strategy might simply set out the goals for a particular function and explain how the right data systems and processes can be used to support that.

A data strategy can consider everything from the organisation’s digital maturity to the tech knowledge of its typical customer. This means that no two documents will be the same. Some might simply set out some principles and measures of success. Others might include target architecture. Or even salaries for particular job roles.

However, there are some common threads that apply to any organisation.

What you might include:

  • Your business goals
  • Benchmarking where you are now 
  • A framework for implementing changes and measuring success 
  • Controls and governance 
  • What comes next for the organisation

The right approach

While many data strategies will go into detail about particular systems or technologies, it’s important to not get so hung up on the details that you forget the wider strategic goals.

Technology evolves quickly. It might evolve quicker than large or slow-moving organisations can develop and publish a strategy. And when AI becomes a common part of work life, the pace of change is only going to increase. This uncertainty about the future means your strategy should always focus on guiding principles and ways of working, rather than specific technologies.

A good strategy should allow organisations to adapt to change. It should encourage innovation. And it should ensure good governance so that when new technologies come along, there are systems in place to bring them in without disruption.

How to make it a success

A well-thought-out strategy is useless without the people to make it a success. Having the right people and culture is as important as what you include in the document.

A top-down approach

The strategy must be seen to come from the top. Everyone in the organisation needs to know that this is serious business.

A committed sponsor

Data strategies are often driven by a C-level executive – Chief Data Officer if there is one, or CIO/CTO if not. A top-level sponsor is important to bring about the cultural changes needed.

A driving force

The sponsor might not be the person implementing the strategy. Often this will be a Head of Data or similar role. Someone who knows the day-to-day details to make the project a success – who does what, how this team works.

Strategy champions

Data affects every area of the organisation. It makes sense to have advocates from each department involved in the project. People don’t like change, so it will really help to have someone from each team to bring their colleagues on the journey and get them to buy in to the vision.

Time to get started

If you wanted to cover everything, a data strategy could take years to write. It could be hundreds of pages long. But there’s no reason it needs to be that daunting or comprehensive.

Even if it covers the bare minimum, a data strategy is quickly becoming essential to many organisations. Data can be scary, especially in the public sector or government where there’s a strong expectation of responsibility. A data strategy not only helps you avoid mistakes, but it also means you’ll be able to make the most of the huge opportunities available with data

So, what are you waiting for?

Learn more about how we are helping to deliver the public sector services of the future. Or, you can take a look at our Lunch & Learn schedule here.

James Holliss, Data & Analytics Lead, Civica

Digital and Data Roadmap progress report: How are government departments doing?

Civica’s research reveals where obstacles remain and how to speed up the journey by assessing perceived progress against the six missions outlined by the government.

Find out more
Man working on laptop