“This is the golden age of data, and your organization is sitting on top of a gold mine!” Yet every business has been generating data since its inception. There is financial data, operational data, quality data, sales data, etc., and we pore over it every month of the year. What changed then? Our opportunity and ability to massively transform data into insightful information that once did not exist or that was prohibitively expensive to consider.
What do you mean, it did not exist? We have significantly moved beyond just financial numbers in a P&L. Our customers, partners, employees, and tools are sharing data that once was entirely private. We now have the ability to see their behaviors, patterns, habits, and trends, and information sharing is happening on an unprecedented scale. Data tools are more affordable and more powerful than ever.
What has not changed is that data is not information. Data is just bites of facts or events that have no meaning on their own. We need to start insisting that those pieces of data work to create information to lead us to action.
Are you in a position to demand such behavior from your data?
Hello, I am Data!
I find it easier to think about data as a bright-eyed and energetic new personal assistant with immense potential to influence every area of the business, instead of thinking about data in the abstract and as an organizational asset that someone else manages, owns, and is responsible for. From this perspective, I know Data, our new team member, is going to need four fundamental things, just like other human counterparts, to meet my information demands: Guidance, Investment, Tools, and Time. Below are some ideas on how to help Data meet my needs.
Get to know Data
If you do not know what exists, you will not know what questions to ask. Take time to understand where Data came from, how was it created, how fast it changes, and what other facts were created at the same time. Aim to go beyond your current set of data pieces that you know and work with every day.
Have a Web portal or e-commerce site? Get familiar with the things Data can tell you about your customers’ and visitors’ behavior, locations, access points, habits, and so on.
The essence here is to understand what facts are recorded by Data across the enterprise and when. Stepping away from the financial cost and revenue numbers, you’ll find there are many facets of Data that are probably unfamiliar to you.
Guide Data to answer specific business questions
This is where Data needs your direction. The best advice is to start asking questions with the aim to help you sort out a problem, look at an opportunity, increase your revenue and profitability, etc. Consider that Data can help you answer business questions in a few major categories:
Operational efficiency and flow – Look at where and how things have not operated smoothly, where there’s been excess waste and rework, work stoppages, and so on. The more you can view cumulative historical information, the better your analysis and trends will stand out.
Relationships – How do you interact with and serve your customers, partners, and even employees—that is, how proactive are you, and how easy are you to do business with? This may include what data is available to your service, sales, and support staff as they interact with customers. Past experiences are critical to customer loyalty.
Speculation – What potential places do you want to take the business—new products or services, new markets, new customer interactions? Not only can you speculate with Data, you can actually collect facts on that speculation, much like running experiments.
Sketching on paper what pieces of Data are needed to answer questions can be beneficial to figuring out the best direction to give Data.
Socialize, network, and synchronize Data with others
In the era of social networks, even Data could benefit from socializing with other parts of the business. Socializing involves working with others to give you a different perspective on what you already know about the facts you collect—at the very least, the ones upstream and downstream from where you are.
The networking part relates to combining data from multiple places in the business to move from asking/answering local questions to asking/answering global questions. Local questions relate to the boundary of your domain, while global questions relate to the entire business and market. For example, in manufacturing, to figure out the cost of a particular job (a global question), you need to merge scheduling data, machine information, financial data, and quality data. To ask a local question, such as whether a machine is running or not, you need to pull information from only one source.
Global questions also demand that you synchronize Data with other areas to have all the facts necessary to generate the information you want.
Spiral and Power it Up
It is unlikely that all the data necessary to answer certain questions exists. Do not feel discouraged when capturing new pieces of data from the existing processes. Questions at first may not be as razor sharp as you want them to be. I like to consider the journey as a spiral up, in which I act on each of the suggestions above, evaluate the information I get, and repeat. Not everything will be perfect at first. Just realize that the information generated will evolve as you move up the spiral.
Use tools in the analyzation of Data because it will speed up the time it takes you to spiral up. There are tools to visualize, socialize, network, and synchronize. One of the most powerful tools is Excel, but don’t stop there.
Team up with someone who understands and can interpret what the information is saying about the business. Our clients’ regular feedback is that teaching a technology-focused individual about the business or teaching a business person to learn the technology takes more than anyone expects. That time can be used to generate information for insights instead of getting bogged down in the mechanics. Do you still believe it is important to develop both skills in-house? Team up and consider external support to speed up the process.
It doesn’t take much to start turning data into information. The most important step is to get started. Leverage the ideas above and start seeing how information can impact your business’s bottom line and customers.