It has always been important to make data-driven decisions, but the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing companies to make critical decisions faster than ever with limited information. Companies’ business models have changed. The way we work has changed. Decision-makers at all levels have an urgent need to make the right decisions and make them fast.I have four recommendations to help your organization to make the right decisions using your data.1. Reassess Your Data StrategyWithout exception, organizations have changed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some industries are facing unprecedented demand and strain on their supply chain. Some industries are essentially suspending business for now. Many organizations are struggling to adapt to a work from home workforce. Many organizations are applying their mission to address the pandemic in unique and surprising ways.Your data strategy should be adapted alongside any changes to your business model and goals. Fundamentally, a data strategy covers these three components:A vision of where you want to go with data and analytics. What better decisions could your company make if you had the right data in the right hands in a timely manner?An honest assessment of where you are now. Where is the data that you need? Is it clean? Who has access to it? Do you have the right tools? The right people? The right process?A plan to meet your goals. Once you have the above two components well-understood, you need a documented step-by-step plan that addresses the people, processes, and technology required to achieve your goals.If you don’t have a data strategy, now is a great time to put one in place. And if you do have one, it is probably time to re-visit it and see if it needs to be updated or tweaked based on changing business goals.2. Enable Use of Your Data by Focusing on the BasicsIn your attempt to move quickly, you will very quickly hit a limit of what you can do if the basics aren’t in place. Slick software with a great demo can be convincing but can sometimes lead an organization astray on costly distractions, if it does not meet your needs. I’ve seen advice from analysts lead to FOMO which can also lead to distractions. I’m not saying that a lot of software out there is not capable of amazing results; in fact, it usually is! But you will only see success with advanced software after the basics are in place first.These “basics” have not changed in decades:A plan driven by your data strategy. This plan should be revisited and updated on a regular basis to ensure it aligns with your corporate goals. Without a plan, you’ll end up playing with expensive software, creating confusion, and experiencing occasional successes with one-off efforts.A central place to keep your data. You probably need a data warehouse, but you definitely need a RELATIONAL database at the core of your data infrastructure – a place to store rows and columns of data. You may need a data lake (or a non-relational database) for especially large volumes or certain types of data.General purpose analytics or Business Intelligence software. Common examples include Qlik, Microsoft Power BI, and Tableau. There are others but stick to well-known software. Do not pick anything not listed on the Gartner Magic Quadrant, at least as your primary, standard reporting platform. And remember you need enough licenses to cover every decision-maker in your organization. If you do not have a plan to provide the data and basic analytics tools to all decision-makers, we suggest you alter your plans.Robust software to reliably move your data: You need good extract, transform and load (ETL) software. Good options include Talend, Amazon Glue, Microsoft SSIS, or Informatica. Python is a great no-cost option, but your developers need both Python skills and solid ETL fundamentals. Python is particularly suited for ETL purposes; other general-purpose programming languages are typically not.You may need and want other software, but without these basics implemented appropriately for your organization, your success will be severely limited.3. Get Data into Hands of Every Single Decision-makerDecision-making isn’t just for senior leaders. Warehouse managers need analytics on logistics activities. HR managers need analytics on hiring and employee retention. Sales and marketing people need analytics on clients and prospects. Financial planners and analysts need up-to-date data on holdings and transactions. Every single decision-maker needs access to the right data, and they need tools powerful enough to match their analytical skills.Relying only on the reporting features included with operational systems, or worse, using Excel as your main analytics tool will result in unreliable and inaccessible analytics. Don’t put your organization at unnecessary risk (especially now) by not giving your decision makers the appropriate data access and tools they need to make critical decisions quickly.4. Move Data and Analytics Workloads to the Cloud NowCompanies whose business applications are not currently in the cloud are struggling right now to equip their employees to work from home. Getting hardware to employees, struggling with training, security, and even basic connectivity are all issues they’re facing. While reason enough to move to the cloud, the WFH scenario is only one reason to do so.The most important reason to move to the cloud is that cloud infrastructure is specifically designed to scale up and down with great ease – meaning you can move quickly on anything that works and shut down initiatives that don’t work with minimal disruption.Doing data and analytics in the cloud is now routine. If your data and the core of your analytics systems are not in the cloud, (with a few exceptions) you are living in the IT past, and it’s time to move ahead.More on why you should have a cloud strategy and how to move (or continue moving) data and analytics workloads to the cloud.Find a Trustworthy PartnerQuestions about where to start? Don’t risk the future of your business on figuring-it-out-as-you-go. Work with us or find and vet another partner to help you get on the right track and stay focused. Make sure they have “been there before” and can confidently and quickly advise you through these uncertain times.