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Why Having the Right Data Strategy Is Critical to Your Company's Success Aligning your data efforts and strategy unlocks your company's potential.

By Aytekin Tank Edited by Frances Dodds

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Credit: Compassionate Eye Foundation | Robert Daly | Getty Images

Back in 2006, when Jonathan Goldman arrived at the LinkedIn headquarters, the company still had just under eight million accounts.

Goldman, who had a PhD in physics from Stanford, started looking at the richness of user profiles and began to imagine ways to capitalize on the information he studied. While the data proved unwieldy and messy, he began formulating theories and possible new features to help scale up the site.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the engineering team wasn't very interested in his findings, if not dismissive altogether. After all, why change the status quo?

Fortunately, as Thomas H. Davenport and D.J. Patil write in their story for Harvard Business Review, LinkedIn's co-founder and CEO at the time, Reid Hoffman, "had faith in the power of analytics because of his experiences at PayPal, and he had granted Goldman a high degree of autonomy."

That decision would end up being fruitful and would significantly shape the company's upward trajectory. By making Goldman its "data scientist," Linkedin was able to capitalize on big data and become the powerhouse it is today.

Don't miss out on data's vast potential

This may not come as a surprise, but the way many companies address their data is all over the map these days. From not fully trusting analytics to actually recoiling from it — many leaders have trouble engaging with their data and are missing out on strategic opportunities.

Related: Behavioral Data Is About to Take a Back Seat to Declared Data

According to a Harvard Business Review report, executives, managers, and professionals are plagued by inaccurate, obsolete, or hard-to-access data, exacerbating the stresses of making decisions in real time. "The need for accurate, timely, and insightful decision support has never been greater. Yet many organizations struggle to capitalize on analytics' vast potential."

All of this is to say, you can keep operating by the seat of your pants or you can begin to skillfully use data. Here's why I recommend the latter.

Aligning your data efforts and strategy accelerates growth

"It is important to remember that the goal is not simply to get all you can out of your data," writes Thomas C. Redman. "Rather, you want to leverage your data in ways that create new growth, cut waste, increase customer satisfaction, or otherwise improve company performance."

He adds: "Successful data programs require concerted, sustained, properly-informed, and coordinated effort."

At my company, JotForm, we treat analytics as an opportunity to optimize human potential — using it to challenge our assumptions, develop new insights, and use what we learn to take action. What's more? By positioning ourselves as students, we don't only reinforce a positive culture, we are also better able to serve our customers.

In writing for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Leslie Bradshaw explains that

"The significance of Big Data to businesses, marketers, and the entire global economy is well established." However, "One important caveat hasn't been emphasized enough though: without strategic vision and careful planning, even a treasure trove of Big Data will only serve to distract business operations rather than drive business success."

How to help your team be more strategic with data

Indeed. You want to think of the bigger picture here. Helping your team become more strategic with data involves asking yourself the following questions: What changes need to be made by my organization? How will I implement my plan? What should we prioritize?

Related: Why Data Analytics Can Help Drive Sales For Your Business

And then communicate these insights across the board. Only then can you identify potential opportunities and chart a course for reaching your goals. As Bernard Marr writes in his column for Forbes "A good data strategy shouldn't be created in isolation."

Once you've decided on the right approach for your business, below are some tips to help your team meet these objectives.

1. Start with the right tools

First of all, identify the technology you need to incorporate — what are your hardware and software needs? Where could you improve?

For example, if you've been hacking spreadsheets as a database and have become frustrated with it as a workflow tool, I'd like to encourage you to please stop now.

Excel is many things — it's technically sophisticated and great for complex statistical analysis. What it is not — however — is user-friendly when it comes to tracking work.

Hear me out: Collecting and tracking data shouldn't be a drag.

There are a multitude of ways to be more strategic with your information and make things easier for your organization to collaborate more efficiently.

Take our latest product, JotForm Tables, which is a workflow tool for when spreadsheets just aren't enough for your team. It's an all-in-one workspace you can share in one click, and a no-code database with powerful online forms to help organizations better manage their information.

By improving internal workflows, it's our hope to make people's lives easier and make data strategy more accessible to everyone (not just tech extraordinaires).

2. Teach people how to think of data more effectively

Having the right data strategy isn't just about hiring data scientists and engineers. "Often, the main stumbling block for companies wanting to get more out of data is the lack of data skills and knowledge," writes Marr. "Therefore, this is a critical part of your data strategy."

Marr, who's helped many of the world's most successful organizations implement their own data strategy, emphasizes leadership awareness when it comes to identifying and achieving your objectives.

Basically, it all starts at the top.

"Your leadership team needs to understand why data is important and how data can help the business achieve its objectives," he explains."Ideally, this culture of data will filter throughout the whole company, so that everyone at every level is aware of the power of data."

The bottom line: The right data strategy breeds opportunity

"Large data sets and sophisticated analytics can create new products," writes Bradshaw. It also allows leaders to "enhance existing services, significantly improve decision-making, mitigate and minimize risks, and produce valuable insights about operations and consumer sentiment."

But all of this is made possible by being forward-thinking. As the case with LinkedIn's CEO Reid Hoffman, having faith in the power of analytics and being strategic with how to capitalize on the information gained — proved to be a winning combination.

As Bradshaw puts it: "Unlocking the potential of Big Data is a puzzle for business executives and entrepreneurs, but also an opportunity."

Related: Your Data-Driven Marketing Is Harmful. I Should Know: I Ran ...

Aytekin Tank

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Entrepreneur; Founder and CEO, Jotform

Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform and the author of Automate Your Busywork. Tank is a renowned industry leader on topics such as entrepreneurship, technology, bootstrapping and productivity. He has nearly two decades of experience leading a global workforce.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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