By Bryan Kirschner, Vice President, Strategy at DataStax\n\n\u201cWe saw an immense uptake in our online business when the challenges of COVID hit us. At one point, we started seeing Black Friday-type volumes every given day, and that had everything to do with having the people, process, and technology to scale out and really provide unparalleled service.\u201d\n-- Fahim Siddiqui, SVP, information technology, The Home Depot\nThe Home Depot accomplished something pretty amazing when COVID-19 struck. In a matter of weeks, the home improvement company was able to deliver curbside pickup functionality to its customer-facing app when the pandemic made this strategic shift critical to business continuity.\nA big reason The Home Depot was able to make such a significant change so quickly was its reliance on a modern data stack built on powerful open source software.\nWe knew from our research and our experience working with many of the world's largest and most data-intensive enterprises that those using an open data stack\u2014one that comprises some combination of Elasticsearch, Apache Kafka, Apache Pulsar, Kubernetes, Apache Cassandra, and Apache Spark\u2014were more than 2x more likely to attribute more than 20% of their revenue to data and analytics.\nBut we wanted to know more. We wanted to validate patterns and practices beyond technology alone that set up companies like The Home Depot for success, while learning about steps that others less far along on their data-driven business transformations could follow to accelerate their progress.\nTo get there, we had a series of in-depth conversations with dozens of executives and technical practitioners. We used what we learned to develop 70 strategic, technical, and cultural attributes that might predict success in deriving business impact and improved customer experiences from data. We then built a survey that we fielded to more than 500 executives and technology specialists.\nThe results of this latest research revealed some surprising new insights into how business and technology leaders are managing data to win. Here are the four most unexpected findings we uncovered.\nData leaders have established crystal clear data strategy ownership\nAmong nearly all the data leaders (95%), it was extremely clear who owned the responsibility for turning data into products. Primary accountability for the data governance that enables this universally (99%) sits with business domain leaders at these organizations.\nThis doesn\u2019t, however, diminish responsibility for IT. In fact, it sharpens the focus. When data leaders align technology infrastructure strategy to a data strategy that\u2019s focused on a business goal, IT\u2019s mission becomes even more important than ever: to enable the highest-value uses of data that have been identified by the people with the deepest knowledge about customers.\nData leaders appreciate a hybrid data structure\nWe\u2019ve noticed a maturity curve when it comes to hybrid data architectures (where data is managed both on-premises and in the cloud). Organizations first commit to a hybrid cloud strategy. Then, as awareness increases that data needs to be a \u201cfirst class citizen\u201d in the architecture, these organizations embrace a hybrid strategy for their data, one that takes a similarly mindful approach to ensuring consistent data access patterns and portability across on-prem and multiple clouds.\nIn our latest research, data leaders told us about their need to make the most out of their data while preserving flexibility. Nearly all of them are building a hybrid data structure (97% of respondents said so, with two-thirds feeling this \u201cstrongly\u201d describes the organization\u2019s direction). \nData leaders lean into open source\nLegacy data architectures weren\u2019t designed to meet modern market expectations for high-value use of data. Evidence of this surfaces in the choices that data leaders make about their data architectures. We found that they are leaning in to using more open source software (OSS), and are four times more likely to have deployed Apache Cassandra, Kubernetes, and two of any of the following open source technologies: Apache Spark, Apache Pulsar, Apache Kafka, or Elasticsearch.\nPerhaps more importantly, a strong majority of data leaders believe that their modernized infrastructure gives them a competitive advantage (71%, with more than half characterizing it as a \u201cbig advantage\u201d).\nData leaders recognize the importance of immediate, well-supported action\nWe uncovered compelling evidence that data leaders understand the importance of urgency during times of disruption and throughout the recovery that follows. Eighty-eight percent of these organizations said that adapting to COVID-19 has increased the pace of innovation.\nData leaders also said that data strategy is a board-level discussion at their companies, and that they have funding sufficient to fuel innovation.\nAs a CIO told me during a recent roundtable, it\u2019s not particularly challenging to convince their board of directors of the importance of moving quickly with building data products.\n\u201cWe have our eye on hundreds of millions of dollars of EBITDA,\u201d this CIO said. \u201cThat\u2019s how we find use cases.\u201d\nWhat about everyone else?\nNaturally, not all organizations have reached the advanced capabilities and success of data leaders. We broke the rest of the field down into four different stages of progress toward using data to deliver value to customers and drive revenue like data leaders do. We divided the remaining respondents into organizations that are:\n\nRearchitecting infrastructure to unlock the next wave of innovation\nReorienting toward a culture where data is core to everyone\u2019s job\nScaling a good start into true competitiveness\nStarting to treat data as more than an afterthought\n\nFor each of these segments, our report identifies the biggest hurdles organizations face, and offers recommendations on the best moves they can make to progress on their data journey. For example, companies that fall into the \u201creorienting\u201d category rate culture a bigger barrier to progress than technology\u2014by more than two-to-one. Our data suggests that a good move at this point is to make data strategy a board-level discussion, with the aim of making it a company-wide change initiative.\nThere are many more findings we share in our new report, \u201cThe State of the Data Race 2021,\u201d but here\u2019s one overarching, important takeaway: you might not be among the data leaders, and you certainly might view these organizations as a competitive threat to your business. But it\u2019s also true that the way to become a data leader\u2014the technology, the architecture, the strategy and practices\u2014is all proven. Anyone can accelerate their progress toward it.\nDownload the free DataStax report, \u201cThe State of the Data Race 2021,\u201d to learn more.\n\nAbout Bryan Kirschner:\n\nBryan is Vice President, Strategy at DataStax. For more than 20 years he has helped large organizations build and execute strategy when they are seeking new ways forward and a future materially different from their past. He specializes in removing fear, uncertainty, and doubt from strategic decision-making through empirical data and market sensing.