Humanising Your Data Strategy

White Paper

In our ‘always-on’ world, smart businesses accept that many of their traditional operating methods prevent agility and that they must adapt. Mature businesses are undertaking a complete rethink of their business model to accommodate this and placing data at the heart of their strategy. This is leading to the increasing appointment of ‘Data Champions’ who are entering organisations at the board level and have the skill set to drive change from the top, ensuring that the data strategy aligns with the business objectives.

In this paper, our own experts will examine the issues raised by our research and identify the key aspects you should improve to progress your organisation's data maturity in a digital and consumer orientated environment.

Get the download

Below is an excerpt of "Humanising Your Data Strategy". To get your free download, and unlimited access to the whole of, simply log in or join free.


Executive summary

Key trends and challenges

  • 84% of organisations see data as an integral part of forming a business strategy
  • 23% of all the data organisations hold is believed to be inaccurate
  • 14% believe they have the most mature approach to data quality, down from 26% in 2014
  • 31% manage data quality centrally through a single director
  • 79% believe most sales decisions will be driven by customer data in the next 5 years
  • 29% increase in sales is what businesses believe they could achieve if their customer data was fully accurate
  • 97% of organisations are looking to achieve a single view of their customers
  • 39% have 50 or more databases of contact data, up from just 10% in 2014

The most striking trend we’ve seen in this year’s research is how organisations are thinking much harder about the people behind their data. This is true not only in on-going attempts to make the most of the huge volumes of data at their disposal, but also in the way these data assets are being managed and utilised by key individuals inside the organisations themselves.

We’ve found that businesses are increasingly focused on getting to know their customers as individuals, so they can offer a more targeted, personalised service and stand out against the competition. As we move into an increasingly fluid digital environment, customer expectations are rising. Businesses need to be able to reach consumers on a personal level and through their preferred channel or risk being left behind.

Moreover, there are big changes to the way the deluge of data is being managed by strategic people inside the business. These data leaders are increasingly being called upon to coordinate and drive positive change to; processes and support the adoption of new technology and deliver a more effective data strategy, that ultimately provides results.

Our findings suggest they understand that accurate data is essential in helping them achieve this. Almost four in every five (79%) of the organisations we surveyed expect that the majority of their sales decisions will be driven by customer data by 2020, and 84% see data as an integral part of forming a business strategy.

Getting a full view of your customer

The vast majority of organisations (97%) are trying to achieve a single view of their customers (SCV). The top three reasons respondents cited for doing this were to increase customer loyalty, sales and revenue, and improve strategic decision making. However, almost a quarter of respondents (24%) called out wanting to offer real-time solutions based on their customers unique needs as a key driver in turning data into insight, and this would be powered by having a SCV.

Whilst focusing on customers isn’t a new trend, specifically identifying the link between data and customer is emerging and it looks like it’s here to stay. Over the next five years, 90% of respondents believe data management will continue to evolve to use real-time analytics to inform decision making. But for many, achieving a SCV remains an ambition. More than three-quarters (76%) of organisations believe inaccurate data is undermining their ability to provide an excellent customer experience.

Businesses are facing a deluge of data

81% of organisations have increased their use of social media

78% have made more use of mobile apps

One of the biggest challenges in moving towards a SCV is being able to recognise customers as they interact through a wider range of channels. Our research shows that there’s been a marked increase in the use of mobile and social media over the last 12 months.

This has naturally prompted an increase in data that is making it more challenging for businesses to monitor and improve quality. One striking finding from this year’s research is that 39% of organisations said they have 50 or more customer contact databases. Only 10% said they had this many in 2014.

The data volume in the enterprise is going to grow 50x year-over-year between now and 2020. I think the most important thing to recognise is that 85% of that data is coming from net-new sources

- Rob Bearden, Keynote at the Hadoop Summit 2014, California

Gaps in data appear to be growing

Against this background, it’s perhaps not surprising that common data quality problems persist. On average, the organisations we surveyed believe that almost a quarter (23%) of the data they hold is inaccurate, only slightly less than in the previous year (26%).

Incomplete or missing data is a common challenge for all organisations, but with the exponential growth of data and the number of databases being held across businesses increasing, this continues to cause issues. In recent years as the use of social and mobile channels grow this has become even more profound. Mobile and social channels limit businesses ability to collect information and therefore organisations rely more strongly on the data they already hold to tie information together and make a match on the customer. A business would easily be able to do this if they had a SCV.

60% say incomplete or missing data is the most common data problem, up from 51% a year earlier

Want more like this?

Want more like this?

Insight delivered to your inbox

Keep up to date with our free email. Hand picked whitepapers and posts from our blog, as well as exclusive videos and webinar invitations keep our Users one step ahead.

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

side image splash

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Businesses rate themselves poorly on data maturity

As organisations understand the growing importance of data to their business strategy, it appears that some may be daunted by the scale of the challenge – and the ever growing volumes of data they need to capture and maintain.

This is reflected in respondents’ views on their level of data maturity. Our research shows a decline in the number of organisations who placed themselves at the high level, ‘optimised and governed’, on our data maturity curve. Only 14% felt their approach to data management was at this level, compared with 26% in 2014. We would speculate that as businesses are increasingly aware of the importance of data in supporting business strategy they have all “raised the bar” and their perception of their own maturity has therefore decreased relatively speaking.

If you haven’t yet made data a priority it could be the key factor that slows you down – so many organisations are too slow to react.

- Jora Gill, Chief Data Officer, The Economist

Attitudes to data management are changing

Gartner predicted through 2019, 90% of large organisations will have hired a Chief Data Officer (CDO); of these, only 50% will be hailed a success.3 Whilst respondents cited only 31% of them manage data through a single director, 82% of businesses are actively looking to employ data specialists. This indicates that not only are businesses seeing the value of data, but they are actively investing in human resources to support and translate this value.

82% are looking to employ data specialists as part of their data management strategy

79% believe responsibility for data quality should ultimately lie within the business, with occasional help from IT

Paving the way to success

With such a wide variety of challenges faced by organisations, particularly as fewer organisations rate their maturity as ‘optimised and governed’, it can seem as if this ideal is getting further and further away. There may be a degree of ‘analysis paralysis’ among organisations as they realise how far they have to go to trust their data as a strategic asset and to ensure they have the right people, processes and technology to support this. At Experian, we are seeing a number of businesses we work with unlocking the potential of their data by humanising it and putting a face to their customers to build strong, lasting relationships with them.

It’s now more important than ever to join this journey or risk being left behind. In this discussion and insight led paper, our experts examine the issues raised by the research, identify the themes to consider and questions you need to ask to progress your business’ data maturity. They’ll highlight the roadblocks and help you find a way around them.

Derek Munro, our Head of Product Strategy, will show how you can use data to put a face to your customers and to support a customer focused business strategy. He’ll explain how to:

  • Use your data to get a clearer picture of your customers
  • Move closer towards a SCV by matching your data with appropriate reference data to identify and fill gaps
  • Generate real-time insight to optimise the customer experience and increase market penetration

Janani Dumbleton, our Principal Consultant, explains how putting the right technology in the hands of the right people in your organisation can lead to big improvements in data quality and business results. She’ll help you:

  • Spread data ownership across your business and align your data quality systems with the people who use your data every day
  • Embed data-driven processes as part of your business culture
  • Find the right technology that will fit with your business objectives and help you achieve your future goals

Expert view: Using data to put a face to your customers

  • 76% believe inaccurate data is undermining their ability to provide an excellent customer experience
  • 90% believe data will help inform decisions through better real-time analytics
  • 97% are looking to achieve a complete view of their customer (SCV)
  • 39% have 50 or more databases of contact data, up from just 10% in 2014
  • 29% increase in sales is what businesses believe they could achieve if their customer data was fully accurate

The message that stands out to me is that for two years in a row businesses have specifically called out the link between data and the ability to reach, serve and retain customers. In a fast-paced digital world, customers expect businesses to be able to interact with them whenever and wherever they want, from any device at their disposal. They want a more personalised service that’s built around their individual preferences and which is consistent across devices.

Over the next 5 years, 90% of businesses felt data management would evolve to use real-time analytics to help inform decisions. Our findings suggest that organisations are increasingly looking to their data to help them live up to these expectations. Rich, accurate data can be the key link in putting a human face to customers. It’s the detail that joins up the dots, to help you profile and target customers, and follow them across different channels.

Businesses are focusing spend on customers

The focus on the customer is a growing priority across all industries, confirmed by reports from leading analyst firms Forrester and Gartner, about where businesses are focusing their budget this year. In a recent report from Gartner, analysts said, “Technologies that help understand customers better, improve engagement through multichannel experience and facilitate the buying process are high-priority areas."

Inaccurate data causes missed opportunities

Seeing the potential is one thing – realising it is another. Our research suggests that many organisations are still struggling to get the most out of the data they collect, or use it to enhance their customer experience. Two findings that highlight the scale of the missed opportunities that really struck me are; firstly, over three quarters (76%) of the organisations think inaccurate data is undermining their ability to provide an excellent customer service. Secondly, businesses believe they could increase their sales by 29% if this was solved.

Moving towards a Single Customer View

To move ahead, businesses need to be able to humanise their data so that it allows them to uniquely identify and know their customers better, in order to seize the opportunities and eliminate costly errors. Central to achieving this is the creation of a SCV – identifying each individual customer and associating all the data you have about them to give a clear, joined-up picture of them. 97% of the organisations we surveyed are looking to achieve a SCV – and for good reasons, which suggests that the majority of businesses aren’t there yet despite the clear understanding of the benefit.

The latest Forrester Wave: Data Quality Solutions, Q4 2015 report, predicts that organisations that don’t know their customers are at risk of losing business and falling behind their competitors, “As customers are increasingly independent and informed about their product and service choices, organisations that are unable to recognize their customers, understand their needs and intents, and serve them beyond their shopping cart purchases will become irrelevant to customers and the market overall.”

Data that improves a customer experience and develops long term relationships will have a positive impact on sales, ultimately improving the financial position of the business

- CDO, High Street Bank

Generating real-time insight

Customers increasingly expect businesses to respond to their demands in real time. According to The Forrester Wave: Data Quality Solutions, Q4 2015 report, “To meet customers at the right moments in their journeys and in their channels of preference, data has to be ready.”

By matching and linking all their data together to generate a SCV, organisations will have a way of accessing the right information at the right time to make real-time decisions unique to the customers’ requirements. Although it requires businesses to tie information together from multiple sources, a SCV does not mean consolidating all data for one customer into a single physical database, and this is especially true when real-time capabilities are needed because the sheer data volumes involved mean you won’t have time to move it all.

What is holding businesses back?

As we’ve seen, a large majority of organisations believe inaccurate data is undermining their ability to provide an excellent customer experience. Incomplete or missing data (60%), out-dated information (54%) and duplicates (51%) are the most common errors. What this suggests to me is that people are still struggling with some of the basic elements of data quality.

Data volumes are also a problem. One prominent finding from this year’s research is that 55% of businesses had more than 11 databases. This has risen dramatically from just 17% in 2014, compounding the difficulty of identifying unique customers and linking their data. As the amount of data is predicted to grow exponentially, the challenge of maintaining accurate data – and making full use of it – increases too. But all this is easier said than done, and for many it is still an ambition, despite having been on the agenda for a number of years. So, how can you overcome these challenges, improve your data quality and move closer to creating a SCV?

Getting the basics right

Map out your data landscape

It might sound obvious, but the best place to start is by finding out where your data is. Many organisations aren’t aware of all the data they hold, or where each dataset sits within the organisation. Answering basic questions like this will help you get to grips with your data and decide what you want to do with it. Be clear what types of data you hold in different places as this will determine your ability to associate data about the same customer that is spread over different systems. For example, a system for online gaming may have no postal address for customers, whereas a traditional mail-order system will have such information.

Next, audit the quality of your data

Once you know where all your data assets are, create a catalogue of them and begin to evaluate quality. Just because a system is able to store a particular piece of data does not necessarily mean that there will be a value stored, or that it is valid, but that can be evaluated by unsophisticated data quality checks. A data quality audit will help you identify where erroneous data is coming from, so you can not only correct errors but catch them at the source and start to prevent them. The most difficult case to tackle is out-of-date data, which may require you to make evaluations based on ‘consensus’ across systems, compare with externally supplied reference data, or even use externally supplied data validation services. Organisations will often look to vendors to ensure they conduct a comprehensive data audit.

Start with your most important data

Going through this process will help you clarify what data you really need to achieve your customer strategy, so you can start to focus on improving that. For example, you might focus on completing the data profiles of your active customers and leave inactive ones for another day. You may also use business criteria to categorise your customers, or select only one marketing channel and focus on improving the data for those most closely aligned to your current objectives. In the same way as for uncovering out-of-date data, such categorisation may require you to acquire information from external sources and services to enrich and complete the information you already have.

Use this knowledge to build a SCV

For each of your customer systems, decide which data can be used to uniquely identify customers and with an eye to the issues you uncovered in your earlier data quality audit, use good quality reference information to correct and enrich it. Remember that different systems will have different levels of trustworthiness for each type of data. For example, the email addresses in an online gaming system will probably be more trustworthy than the emails in a traditional mail-order system.

Compare and match the records between the systems in order to identify and associate the data for unique customers. Most organisations doing this will use off-the-shelf matching software from specialists such as Experian Data Quality. The links or associations between the customer data in each system must be stored in some kind of master index in order to allow fast access and enable real-time matching and targeting. How you achieve this will depend on the technology choices you have made to get this far in the process and on the technology choices of your organisation. Update and maintain your SCV either by triggering updates each time you modify one of the customer systems, or (more simply) rebuild it periodically

Want more like this?

Want more like this?

Insight delivered to your inbox

Keep up to date with our free email. Hand picked whitepapers and posts from our blog, as well as exclusive videos and webinar invitations keep our Users one step ahead.

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

side image splash

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Monitor and measure

Remember to regularly review your data to keep it up-to-date. In a fast-paced digital world, data is always changing and maintaining accuracy is a constant process.

These steps will help you get started on your customer-centric journey. However, to really accelerate the potential of your data and achieve these outlined steps, you need to have the right people, processes and technology in place. In the next section, our Principal Consultant, Janani Dumbleton, will look at how you can align these to achieve your data strategy – and your business objectives.

Expert view: Establishing the right combination of people, processes and technology

  • 82% of businesses say they will employ data specialists as part of their future strategy
  • 79% say data should be managed within the business, not just IT
  • 94% have experienced internal challenges in improving their data quality
  • 60% say incomplete or missing data are the most common data problems
  • 46% see problems with data capture and validation as the biggest challenge to managing data

This year’s research suggests that most organisations understand how important accurate data can be to support their customer strategies. However, it looks like they are less certain of how to get there. That’s evident from the findings on data maturity. Whereas last year, more than a quarter (26%) rated themselves at the highest ‘optimised and governed’ level, only 14% did so this year.

As businesses are increasingly realising the true value of data in supporting strategy this realisation is likely to impact how businesses rate themselves in terms of maturity. This is reflected in the results, as ‘optimised and governed’ is perceived as the unachievable utopia of data maturity. Our Data Quality Improvement Assessment helps you understand where you are on the data maturity curve by accessing how sophisticated your data quality strategy really is. The assessment reviews your sophistication against people, processes and technology and plots your maturity on the curve - from aware, through to reactive, proactive and optimised and governed.

Getting the right people in place

To move along the data maturity curve, and begin to turn data management aspirations into actions, businesses need to consider how the interconnected balance of having the right people, processes and technology is essential in progressing forward.

The first of these is having the right people in data-centric roles to inform data strategy, embed a data-driven culture and help improve data quality. It’s encouraging to see from this year’s results that there’s a strong interest in data-centric roles and a willingness to invest in hiring them. More than four-fifths (82%) said they are looking to employ data specialists as part of their data management strategy, with 42% intending to hire a data analyst.

The role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO)

Critically, data needs a leader and 31% said they manage their data strategy through a single director. According to Gartner, since 2006, the number of CDOs has grown from one to an estimated 950 in the third quarter of 2015, and appointments have been accelerating in the last three years. I believe this is something which will continue to increase as businesses begin to see the value of managing data centrally. I believe this is something which will continue to increase as businesses begin to see the value of managing data centrally.

Having a senior role in charge of data can be critical in taking an overarching view of data and aligning business objectives in order to embed data quality in the culture and empower people to take ownership. It is important that a data focused organisation invests in this role, to give direction to the business as well as influence the management team in exploiting data.

The role of the CDO is to use data to drive value across the business, working transversally to embed this. It’s how the CDO wires data into the business to create value – I think that’s the key to unlocking data and making it work.

- Steve Sacks, Chief Customer Officer, Burberry

In 2015 we conducted research with businesses that had a CDO or a senior data leader – ‘Rise of the data force’. Amongst these forward thinking businesses we saw them already reaping the rewards as they cited tangible changes to the data culture within their organisations. Businesses with data leaders are seeing changes in perception to the extent that they no longer needed to evangelise or communicate data. They found that people already realised its value and there was growing demand from the business for information to inform decisions.

The CDO role is essential to enhance efficiency from inaccurate data from across the groups

- Deputy CDO, Healthcare

A holistic approach to data

One issue I’ve noticed is that organisations look for a data quality fix for one reason – perhaps to comply with laws and regulations – rather than considering a wider data management strategy that addresses the needs of the whole business. But using technology to provide a quick fix on its own isn’t enough. If businesses really want to get on top of their data and release its true value, their data strategy needs to take a holistic approach and align to business objectives.

Easy to adopt systems

In my experience, the solutions that work best are where the technology is designed around people. Almost four-fifths (79%) of the businesses we surveyed believe responsibility for data quality should ultimately lie within the business, with occasional help from IT.

Many organisations implement systems that are too technical for the people who need to use them. This is often driven by a procurement exercise trying to meet every capability, rather than the practical reality of what capability will be used and by whom. I’ve seen it in a lot of the organisations I work with, if the software is too ‘scary’ it tends to stay on the shelf. In other organisations I’ve seen businesses wanting to adopt more appropriate technologies hampered by the legacy of these shelved technologies. This is where the leadership of the CDO is essential. When a system is easy to adopt and intuitive to use, perceptions start to change, people start to look at data differently – not as something difficult, but as an enabler, a source of added intelligence that they can use to inform their business decisions.

Enabling a proactive self-service culture

If, instead of wading through endless spreadsheets, users could see dashboards that quickly visualise data at key decision points, they’d see the potential to make better decisions and generate their own insights from it. However, it’s critical that your data user is still able to easily delve into the detail behind the high-level statistics and perform further analysis and investigation. Self-service gives business users the ability to visually identify a problem in the data, explore the detail and make an informed judgement on the root cause in a seamless manner. Data that is accessible can help you change your culture to one in which people use data proactively to create new business opportunities.

News UK, Andy Day, Business Intelligence Director, embarked on a journey to embed customer insight into the business to deliver a data-driven view of readership to build on the insights that the editorial teams have generated through years of experience and solid ‘gut feel’.

With his team, Andy wanted to make data highly available so that it became ‘second nature’ for the editors to use, and in turn, improve product quality and drive innovation. They put digital dashboards outside editors’ offices to show performance, for example, which articles are most engaging and demographics of who is reading what. Andy refers to this as “democratising data” – making it highly available and highly visible, to make sure their product meets the needs of their readers and customers today, through insightful data on customer preferences.

Delivering on time-to-value expectations

Accessible systems can also help meet one of the big challenges cited by organisations in this year’s research – the ability to meet expectations of how fast the data should be able to deliver results for the business. 94% of businesses state they have experienced internal challenges in improving their data quality and specifically 27% cite time-to-value expectations as one of the biggest challenges. As Derek has outlined earlier in this document, business strategy is increasingly being driven by the need to respond to customers in real time. As this trend accelerates, there’s also an increased demand for data to respond to requests for information within the business.

This may result in designing data solutions that meet different timeliness expectations, and one size cannot fit all. We are seeing this with organisations creating a number of different SCVs and taking different approaches to designing. For example analytical, operational and regulatory SCVs, but all sharing a common set of seed information. This approach requires central leadership in the form of a data leader.

Monitor and maintain data integrity

Data management technology can help you track and identify where errors are coming from. For example, if it’s human error, is it coming from the same people? Where are they in your organisation? If it’s the systems you’re using, what is prompting it to capture incorrect or incomplete data?

A good data management solution can also help you design these faults out of your systems. IT should be able to monitor customer data as it’s being collected, cross-check it with reference data and give a prompt such as to a call centre operative or a customer signing up online, to question or change the information. So how do you go about reviewing your data management strategy so that it works for the whole business, fixes problems at source, and helps you optimise your data and improve your customer experience?

In the rest of this section I’ll suggest some practical advice you can adopt, to ensure you have the basic building blocks in place to help you along your data maturity journey and refine your data management strategy.

Reviewing your data management strategy

Think about who is going to use data

Before you invest in data technology, ask yourself who needs to use it and what skills people will need. Do you need to have a background in IT, or is it suitable for someone with less technical skills or that is more business focused? Remember, you may need more people to take responsibility for data in the future, so it’s advisable to go for accessible solutions.

Get buy-in across the business

Build a case for what you need, why it’s needed, what kind of value it will deliver and how. Get buy-in at all levels of the organisation. Make sure both IT and business stakeholders are working together.

Manage it centrally

The best solutions are those that enable you to manage all your data together, driving greater efficiency and helping you achieve a single view of your customers. To make this work, you should aim to control data centrally through a single manager or director.

Make sure it’s usable

People tend to use systems that are easy and avoid those that scare them. If your data solution can be easily implemented and adopted across the business, perceptions change and your people will embrace data more easily.

Make it self-correcting

Use a system that allows you to create rules to match data being inputted with reference data at the point of entry, so the system is self-correcting; saving valuable time and resource.

Measure against business objectives

Make sure you measure how your solution is performing, not just in terms of keeping your data accurate but also against your business objectives, so you can demonstrate value on the bottom line.

Monitor and control

Remember that data management is an on-going task. Build in the capacity to monitor and clean your data regularly, as your business needs and customer base changes.

Conclusion: Dealing with the deluge

Use data to build a complete view of your customers

Having accurate, quality data will be vital to support customer strategy in 2016 and beyond, driven by the need to get closer to customers, understand their needs and offer a more personalised service.

  • Start by building a picture of your data and where it sits in your organisation – make a catalogue of your data assets and data owners.
  • Once you’ve got a clearer picture of your data landscape, assess the quality of your data assets and data owners. Identify gaps, incorrect data and missing information.
  • Use strong, reliable reference data to cross-check information, confirm customers’ identities, improve accuracy and build a clearer picture of each customer.
  • Build a single customer view file, so you can profile and target your customers with a more personalised approach.

Establish a data force for your business

It’s getting harder, not easier, to manage data as channels, touch points and databases proliferate. To avoid being overwhelmed by a deluge of data, organisations should look to manage data centrally and invest in specialist data roles and solutions.

  • Don’t just leave data to IT – try to embed your data strategy as part of the general business culture.
  • Consider employing data specialists. A data leader or CDO will be able to lead change, educate people and ensure that data strategy is aligned with business objectives.
  • Look at the processes people use to capture and manage data. For example, could you do more to prevent errors happening in the first place, with systems that prompt users?

Implement accessible and easy-to-use technology

Your data can help deliver more time-to-value if you empower people to understand its value and see its potential to create business opportunities.

  • If you’re investing in data technology, involve stakeholders throughout the business in its evaluation, selection and implementation.
  • Think who needs to use it and choose tools that match their job and skills. Consider systems that only require subject matter knowledge, rather than specific technical skills.
  • Make it easy to use and download information. For example, how easy is it to see dashboards of KPIs?
  • Systems that are easy to adopt and use will encourage a more proactive, self-service culture, so you’ll be better placed to deliver greater time-to-value, respond to customers in real-time and offer a superior sales experience.

All of this is based on two key elements that are working towards putting a human touch on your data. Firstly, by utilising the power of data you can build a complete view of your customers, you’ll be better able to build lasting relationships with them and retain their business. Secondly, by putting key structures in place that help you manage transformation, drive decisions, embed a data-driven culture and implement appropriate technology, you can deliver time-to-value expectations and generate new business opportunities.

Want more like this?

Want more like this?

Insight delivered to your inbox

Keep up to date with our free email. Hand picked whitepapers and posts from our blog, as well as exclusive videos and webinar invitations keep our Users one step ahead.

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

side image splash

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy