It’s perhaps easy to assume that of course everyone has a data strategy. Why wouldn’t they? It makes complete sense to prioritize and maintain an organization’s most valuable asset. Throw a complex migration into the mix and it seems even more vital to have a plan for your data.

But the reality is that many organizations don’t have a data strategy at all. A recent survey of UKI SAP users found that only 12 percent of respondents had a data strategy that covers their entire organization - these are people who are very likely to be embarking on tricky migrations to S/4HANA. Without properly understanding and governing the data they’re migrating, they’re en route to some serious difficulties.

– Thinkstock / buchachon

That’s because, more often than not, when a digital transformation project is on the cards, data takes a back seat. In the flurry of deadlines, testing, and troubleshooting, it feels so much more important to get the infrastructure in place and deal with the data later. The single goal is switching on the new system. Fixing the data flaws that caused so many headaches with the old solution is rarely top of the list.

But those flaws and headaches are telling you something: your data needs serious attention. Unless you take action, those data silos that slow down decision-making and the data management challenges that are a blocker to innovation will follow you to your new infrastructure.

At best you’ll have the same issues as before, along with missed project deadlines and increased costs. At worst, you could have to deal with a complete transformation failure.

Back to the research, where 77 percent of respondents said that data management presents a challenge when moving from SAP ECC 6.0 to SAP S/4HANA. Of course it does. But when you’re under pressure to deliver, it can be hard to step back and see the bigger picture.

So why don’t we do that now? Even if you’re not in the throes of a migration, this will be useful. In fact, putting your data first and continuing to prioritize it before a big project is on the horizon will make your life so much easier next time a transformation looms.

What does your current data strategy look like?

When I start to work with organizations on large-scale, complex migrations, the common issues I see, beyond not having a strategy at all, are fragmented strategies that only govern particular data sets and out-of-date strategies that are forgotten or simply not followed. Perhaps that’s familiar to you - don’t panic, it’s not too late to do something about it.

Consider your data strategy as it stands now and think about when you last reviewed it. Take stock of what’s working well and what could be better. Listen to the people who use and manage the data on a daily basis. What do current data issues stop them from doing?

Know your data

Think about your data in a business context. Applications and technical details are important, but you really need to understand how data impacts your organization’s wider business outcomes. By drilling down into what your colleagues are using data for and by understanding which data needs to be 100 percent accurate (think compliance or safety), you’ll be able to prioritize the most important data more easily. And you’ll also have a better idea of what data isn’t useful or could be moved into cold storage.

Set meaningful goals

Returning to the research, just seven percent of respondents reported that they are very confident with the quality and accessibility of their organization’s data. How can businesses get the most from their most valuable asset if teams can’t trust it to be accurate - or even find it?

Once you know which data to focus on, quality and accessibility have to be your priority. Remember to set your goals with business outcomes in mind. And think about how you’ll track your progress and make changes as you go through the process.

Bring the C-suite with you

In so many organizations data governance is left to the IT team to manage. But so much of what your C-suite does is driven by data, from setting direction and strategic decision-making to improving performance and managing risk. If data governance isn’t already in their remit, it should be. Explain how bringing them on board will help to improve business results and let them be your champions around the rest of the organization.

A final word…

Don’t be tempted to deal with your data challenges by buying more storage. It’s a quick fix however as soon as you try to do anything beyond simply storing your data you’ll be in trouble, whether that’s migrating to a new platform or implementing new tech.

Instead, bite the bullet, get to grips with your data and the rest will follow.