Are businesses meeting their data dietary requirements?

Is your business a gastronome or a glutton?

France’s categorisation of gastronomy distinguishes between those who truly appreciate and understand fine food, and those who merely want to stuff their faces with no regard for quality or taste.

Enterprises don’t eat, but they do rely on ingesting and digesting massive amounts of data — all too often with scant regard for the quality of what they consume. It’s clear that they believe that the more data they gobble up, the fitter they become.

I disagree. In fact, I’d go as far to say that ‘data gluttony’ is worthy of being one of the seven deadly sins of modern business. Not all data is equally nutritious, and bingeing on huge volumes of information makes them less likely to derive value and insight from the data they process.

Don’t take my word for it. McKinsey found that businesses typically “leak” about 90% of the potential value that analytics ought to deliver. And little wonder: if we stuff ourselves full of worthless data, it will affect our ability to analyse it and gain meaningful insight.

It’s high time that businesses were more selective about the data they consume. By going on a balanced “data diet”, they’ll find themselves fitter, leaner and better able to turn data into decisions that make a real difference. But how do they make a start?

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Asking the right questions

It can sometimes seem as if a business’ sole purpose today is gathering information. Every application, customer interaction and connected device is harvesting data and depositing it a bewildering array of departmental silos. There’s little if any organisational oversight; few opportunities or incentives to share information (or insight) between teams.

It’s easy for businesses to be seduced by unscrupulous analytics vendors who advise them to gorge on data and assure them that their platform will turn leaden information into gold. The natural response to this guidance is to focus on data gathering as an end in itself.

To get the right answer, it helps to ask the right questions. But businesses are getting this the wrong way around: they are harvesting every available bit of data before applying their analytics platform, rather than starting with the strategic or tactical need and working out what they need to know to put plans into effect.

But what works well for Rolls-Royce won’t necessarily be right for every enterprise. There is no single model of success for turning data into insight; every system needs to be tailored to the business’ specific needs and organisational model. Indeed, separating data analytics from individual business departments can be one of the biggest obstacles to getting insight to the right teams in a timely and effective manner.

Data is central to business strategy. It requires a strategic, unified and company-wide approach.

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Building a holistic data strategy

It’s not just organisations that feed off data: employees need it too. These days, most of us are knowledge workers, and we need accurate and timely data at our fingertips. One of the problems with sequestering information in a separate analytics department is that employees are kept waiting for the data they need to make the right decisions.

Instead, data and insight should be embedded in every team, whether it’s sales, product design or logistics. Marketers can’t wait for data scientists to deliver insights from the quarterly sales breakdown; nor can sales staff afford delays in customer satisfaction figures. They need the right data, right now — ideally in the form of easily-digested dashboards that give them the instant and up-to-date insight they need to do their jobs effectively.

The starting point for building a business insight strategy begins with people and processes, not data. Often, it’s the employees who operate at the coalface of a business who have the best insight into what data is valuable and what’s not. It is they, after all, who have to make the day-to-day decisions. That’s why it’s so important that they are included within the business insight process.

If businesses listen to their employees and ask the right questions of them, they will get invaluable insight into what data is valuable and how it can best be delivered. Only by asking them will business decision-makers get to the root of poor productivity, missed opportunities and clouded insight. To take just one example, they might discover the difficulties of having to flit between multiple systems and screens to get a full picture of the customer, instead of having an easily-accessible single version of the truth.

What does this look like in practice? Ask the right questions of one of your marketing employees, and they may stress the importance of capturing customers’ address and date of birth in delivering personalised campaigns.

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A better data diet means a healthier business

Businesses strive to be lean and agile, and that’s impossible on an unhealthy diet. It’s time for a new approach to insight. We must start with strategic organisational goals before engaging with employees to formulate the key questions that need to be answered: only then can we move onto the data itself and decide what we should be gathering and what is otiose.

Above all, let’s remember that every employee has their own data dietary requirements. If we want them fit, healthy and ready to respond to today’s fast-changing business environment, they need the fuel to do their job. To get the right insight to the right employee at the right time: that’s the recipe for a healthy business.

Written by Ian Matthews, data evangelist at NGDATA
Written by Ian Matthews, data evangelist at NGDATA

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