Use This 6-Step Approach to Get Buy-In for Data and Analytics Strategies

September 01, 2022

Contributor: Laurence Goasduff

Convincing stakeholders of the value of data and analytics requires communicating business outcomes and personal impact. These tactics can help.

Every executive should be able to justify the cost and demonstrate the business value of their initiatives, but that imperative is especially strong as organizations navigate inflation, a tight labor market and the threat of recession

“The key for CDAOs is to show how their D&A initiatives contribute to, and deliver value for, business strategy,” says Alan D. Duncan, Gartner Distinguished VP Analyst. “Vague statements about D&A driving more effective business decision making won’t be enough. Explicitly develop the value story or thinking, and follow the SMART approach, where business benefits are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.”

To influence stakeholders, you must identify and communicate the desired business outcomes (why) and the personal impacts on the stakeholders you're targeting (for whom). 

Download now: Essential Guide to Prioritizing D&A Around Value

6-step approach to sell business leaders on your D&A strategies

This six-step approach keeps the emphasis on the why and for whom, rather than on the technology and architectural requirements (what) and delivery work required to implement the solution (how) — areas in which business benefits are tougher to identify and measure.

Step 1. Set a strong vision that resonates with stakeholders

The D&A vision and value should be inspirational and be from the perspective of the stakeholders. Set a positive and compelling view of the desired end state that will resonate with the engaged group. Focus on the business impact and outcomes arising from an analytic approach, rather than any project deliverables, outputs or tasks. 

Consider both better corporate outcomes (“What’s in it for us?”) and personal/professional outcomes (“What’s in it for me?”). The former could be increased revenue, market share growth, reductions in wastage or mitigation of risk impacts; the latter might be improved reputational status with peers, support for a desired promotion, a financial bonus, job satisfaction or even an easier life.

Step 2. Be candid in calling out inhibitors

Explicitly identify inhibitors, challenges, problems or risks (e.g., incumbent technical staff want to protect their positions, limited availability of skilled staff may inhibit the ability to execute, or there are power struggles over who owns the budget for D&A initiatives). Present the resulting impact of these challenges and propose remedial actions. 

For example, where a short supply of skilled staff may inhibit the ability to execute, you could replace the existing team with new resources who have the requisite technical skills but lose institutional knowledge in the process — creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and mistrust. The remedial actions could be to train the current team on new technologies before deployment, and involve business and technical team members in the selection and deployment processes. 

Listen now: How to Link Data to Business Outcomes

Step 3. Propose a solution tracing data back to business outcomes

Solution architectures are vital to delivery teams as practitioners, but solution designs seldom articulate anything about the business questions that can be answered using the data, or the business actions and measurable outcomes that can be anticipated — which risks losing the attention of business stakeholders. 

The solution blueprint for the D&A business case must offer a more consumable view that engages stakeholder attention and also helps educate about the overall solution approach — a “marketecture” view combining marketing and architectural perspectives that still captures the overall information supply chain in terms that matter to business stakeholders.

Think, for example, in terms of:

  • Expected business outcomes (what benefit will accrue as a result of taking action?)

  • Resulting business actions (what will someone do differently as a result of being able to answer their question?)

  • Data inputs, such as source data and the respective business applications (what data will the business community access to answer the key business questions?)

Step 4. Present the D&A delivery roadmap in business terms

Detailed delivery plans and schedules, including all tasks, activities and interdependencies, are critical for the delivery team, but business executives need a simplified view of the roadmap timeline. Show deliverables that need to occur over time to achieve the future state in a way that enables executives to clearly understand the things that really matter to them, such as:

  • What will I get?

  • When will I get it?

  • What impact will it have on me?

Download now: 5 Essential Guides for a Truly Data-Driven Organization

Step 5. Illustrate a cost-benefit analysis summary within the overall business initiative

As noted, anticipated benefits must be tangible, quantifiable and desirable to the stakeholders, with the causal contributions of data and analytics clearly identified. In selling the business case for data and analytics, the initial investment and ongoing support costs (total cost of ownership [TCO]) must be justifiable in terms of the expected ROI. 

Specific financial methodologies for calculating ROI versus TCO vary, but some key principles for your business case, include:

  • Tying ROI back to the aspirational vision/outcomes and key benefits of the original vision established in Step 1. 

  • Be forward-thinking and future-oriented, and show a net-positive financial return across the initiative.

  • Remember line-of-business stakeholders will typically desire business benefits to accrue as improved business effectiveness, while CFOs and CIOs may seek efficiency dividends or risk mitigation. 

  • Some organizations, such as government agencies and not-for-profit entities, may have nonfinancial benefits as their main drivers, but nonfinancial benefits should still be SMART.

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Step 6. Take immediate next actions to kick-start the D&A initiative

State the immediate next actions that you will take to get things moving in practice. This also generates the final impetus for selling the data and analytics business case to stakeholders. Next actions are framed in terms of what will happen next, who will do it, when it will be done and why it is necessary.

Create an articulated statement of intent in unequivocal terms. This is not asking for permission. It is an “assumptive close” to take control of the decision process and drive toward a conclusion. Also embrace responsibility, showing confident and purposeful intention that the CDAO is in control of the overall plan.

In short:

  • Getting buy-in from stakeholders can be a challenge for chief data and analytics officers (CDAOs).

  • CDAOs must “sell” the D&A vision and strategy through measurable business outcomes, while also overcoming stakeholder objections and resistance to change.

  • Taking this six-step approach helps you keep the focus on what stakeholders value, instead of technology, architecture and solutions they likely can’t understand or measure.

This article has been updated since its original publication in September 2021 to reflect new events, conditions and research.

Alan Duncan is Distinguished Vice President for Data and Analytics Strategy and Chief Data & Analytics Officers (CDAO). Some of her major areas of interest include data-driven business transformation, data literacy and culture.

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