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Is your Data Strategy Fit for Purpose?

Simon Ratcliffe

Simon Ratcliffe
Principal Consultant, Advisory

From data lake to data warehouse, and data officer to data engineer, there is no escaping data at the moment. Often cited as the new oil, collecting data is believed to improve a business’s strategic decision-making process no end, providing better informed insights, leading to better decisions. 

While data is undoubtedly an essential aspect of any process, it needs to be viewed within a context. At its core data is a collection of numbers, which on its own can be very little use to anyone. By incorporating qualitative information and viewing data solutions within a cultural framework, enterprises can enhance the quality of the data strategy no end. 

A Lack of Strategy? 

In the digital age, the move for businesses to capitalise on the copious and now readily available amount of data is apparent. Reliance on data now spans so many areas, from traditionally data hungry sectors such as financing to far less obvious sectors such as agriculture. 

However, despite the apparent widespread acceptance of the importance of data, an overall lack of strategy still abounds. For 51% of businesses, the primary data analytics tool used is Excel. While Excel is a highly capable programme, there are now much more advanced tools available to enable businesses to best utilise their data in a more consistent way that is accessible to a wider audience.  

According to Forrester, 60-73% of data is never analysed which suggests much data is collected and stored to simply be ignored. Whilst it would be an impossible task to examine the entirety of a company’s data set, leaving the majority of data untouched needs to be a conscious decision, not just a by-product of data analytics. 

Best Practice: University Hospital Birmingham  

A great example of a successful data strategy in practise can be seen in the work we’ve completed with University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundational Trust (UHB). Ensono was selected to help build a cloud environment and migrate data from a previous on-premise infrastructure, in order to improve the visibility of patient journeys and help healthcare practitioners deliver better care.  

Part of this initiative is the Pioneer Health Data Research Hub, which focuses on researching data to improve acute care. Every year, the NHS provides 110 million same day patient contacts, which is a huge volume of data for the sector. Through consultation with Ensono, Pioneer was able to build a coherent strategy to help tackle the challenge of transforming this data into useful and actionable information. 

The initial collection and collation of data sets start small, with a minimal viable product being available within six weeks. This can then be extrapolated with continuous operational support offered during the research phase. Having started small with structured data sets, Pioneer has expanded to the point where they are now able to incorporate unstructured qualitative information like X-ray images to complement their 20 years of longitudinal acute care data they have extracted and normalised.  

Importantly, this data strategy is being framed within the wider context of patient engagement.  As it is the patient’s personal health data that is being used, data security is of the utmost priority. Preventative security measures are implemented and adhered to and only select people that need to view confidential patient data have access to it.  

Transparency is a central aspect of patient engagement, with a patient and public panel reviewing every application for licencing the data. Pioneer also holds frequent online talks to inform on how the data is being used and engage with questions from patients. 

Cultural Change is Key  

Data can be a real asset for any business, but many employees fail to see it in the same light as owned property or IT hardware. Unless all staff have a proper understanding of the true value of data in their day-to-day activities, then organisations will not realise the value of their data. For organisations looking to improve their own data strategy, a cultural change that improves employees’ understanding of how data can be used effectively is the first step. More people have become aware of the concept of data through the introduction of various regulations such as GDPR, but this alone has not created a deeper awareness of the value of data.  

Data storytelling is one of the most effective methods for developing an appreciation of data at all levels, from the basics of data driven decisions to the more advanced areas of data mining. Framing the importance of data within a story, helps bring data to life for those who may not be experienced in working directly with it.  

Ultimately, data is only as useful as the understanding and application of it. To fully take advantage of it, organisations need to implement coherent strategies instead of doing data for data’s sake. 

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