It used to be that companies viewed data as a byproduct of their business. Companies knew it had value but didn’t know how to properly utilize it.

But as economies have digitized, business leaders now recognize that data is at the heart of digital businesses. It fuels differentiation, strategy, rapid innovation, and other important elements of running a successful business. Moreover, truly data-driven companies tend to generate 8% to 10% more profit and are 23 times more likely to acquire new customers – which fuels significantly higher market valuation – compared to their peers.

In the meantime, organizations struggle to unite and access real-time data. Companies generate a lot of data, and while they have good intentions to use that data, it’s stuck in siloes. That makes it hard to leverage data to optimize business processes across the organization. According to research firm, Forrester, “Between 60% and 73% of all data within an enterprise goes unused for analytics.”

Below are some suggestions for customers embarking on an enterprise data strategy that will help bring data of all kinds together, allowing companies to turn data into business value.

Leave Your Data Where It Is

Too often companies try to centralize data via a large, top-down project where data from across the organization must be brought into a central repository. The problem with this approach: by the time you bring together data from across different parts of an organization into one place, it’s outdated.

People need to shift their mindset to connecting – rather than collecting – data. When you consider your data strategy, prioritize a digital business platform that can automatically pull data from wherever it resides – whether that’s your supply chain or finance teams’ applications or somewhere else. Doing that helps ensure your employees can work with real-time information from across the company.

Make Sure You Can Handle All Data Types

Organizations generate all kinds of data – structured, unstructured, relational, and geospatial, to name a few. Too often organizations approach each type of data differently and separately, which replicates the problem of unconnected data that doesn’t come together in one holistic picture.

Select a platform with data capabilities that can analyze and knit together these different types into a unified whole. Businesses need a modern platform that treats data as multimodal and multidimensional. By looking at the multiple facets of data, business leaders can make new correlations that help to make better decisions while accurately anticipating future opportunities and threats.

Harness Data to Drive Automation

The real power of data kicks in when you can use it to drive automation and machine-augmented decision-making. There’s no reason to maintain so many manual processes, like invoice reconciliation or handling basic customer complaints in call centers. If you can harness data appropriately, many types of tasks can be automated – freeing employees to do more strategic work.

Automation also augments employees’ on-the-spot decision-making capabilities. For example, a consumer packaged goods company could use data from cameras and machines to help a quality control manager determine whether to approve a certain batch of products. Machine learning can process varied pieces of information, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) data or bill-of-material changes, faster than a human, providing an extra level of support on the front lines.

To advance automation, you need a platform that allows you to embed machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) into your business applications – and one that can handle varied data sources in real-time.

Democratize Data

While data used to be the preserve of elite analysts and data scientists, now it’s a priority to democratize data. Information needs to be easily accessed not just by executives but by people on the front lines so they can use it to make decisions. Enabling self-service access to data also reduces the time IT departments spend on manual work, like running reports.

Your platform must make it easy for everyone to access and analyze data, so be sure to evaluate the usability of your data management solutions. Ask questions such as: Is it user-friendly and intuitive? What kind of training is involved to empower people with self-service analytics tools?

Protect Your Data

Related to access is the importance of security. One of the hallmarks of digital business is the ability to seamlessly connect across your organization but also externally to your customers, partners, and suppliers. But this is fraught with risk – especially in this day and age of ransomware.

Your data platform must take into account any areas of exposure or vulnerability and build in the right security, access controls, and governance to protect your data – and information shared across your network.

Finally, remember how you use your data will make the difference between success and failure in the next decade. It’s the foundation of digital transformation and will help launch new digital business models that go beyond automation – and truly redefine how companies operate and differentiate themselves. SAP Business Technology Platform provides a platform with database and data management, analytics, and intelligent technology – like embedded AI – solutions that customers around the world are already using.

So choose wisely. Because with the right platform, your company will be poised for success now and in the future.

To learn more about this topic, attend the “SAP Data and Analytics Forum: Accelerating Outcomes,” which will be held virtually from September 14 to October 7. Find more information and register for the event.

Raghu Ramanathan is chief revenue officer for Platform and Technologies at SAP.
This article also appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.