How many times must I have heard someone in Operations or Sales say that their BI solution produces pretty charts that lack the information to drive the business. They show data, but miss out on information and insight.
Five years ago I wrote a similar article concerning the adoption of big data solutions where I said that unless you sorted out and understood your data you would end up with the equivalent of moving the deckchairs on the Titanic while it is sinking!.
So what have I seen and what has the industry learned in the last five years? With the continued exponential growth in data this is still the case today – even with a ‘big data solution’ the business must be confident that the right data is being analysed in the right way, made available at the right time and is presented in the right way to drive your business forward. Otherwise it’s still just a pretty graph pointing out that last month’s sales are up or down …So what!
In my previous article I offered an alternate approach, one that focussed on making use of the data you already have (or can easily get) to generate smart, action orientated KPIs. This is all about focusing on converting data you already have into insight. Insight that you use to drive the business forward, and having smart, simple, cost-effective, approaches to structure, use and maintain your data. So how do you develop that long-term data strategy which uses the right data in the right way for maximum business impact?
There are a multitude of software options out there that look great in demonstrations and will have execs and IT departments drooling over the glitzy visualisations and brilliant dashboards; they will want them, and they will want them now.
This is where my earlier article still holds true….
These tools are meant to help the business understand the past, present and future, track against KPIs, and enable the user to ask questions about and make decisions based on the insight gleaned.
To answer these questions and deliver the corresponding dashboard requirements, business stakeholders need to have confidence that the data being fed to these tools is both accurate, timely and complete, since the visualisations will have no real value if the data is unreliable or inaccurate.
Many of these new wave suppliers focus on how to make attractive visualisations; they’re not so good at delivering the data sourcing effectively, or combining and maintaining its quality on a long-term basis. The consistent sourcing of data is required to produce accurate insight and facilitate effective decision making.
If my data provision is not managed properly, all the above comes to nowt. Pretty does not mean effective.
Worse, this will lead me to make decisions based on unreliable information, which will be at best less than optimal, at worst unsound and costly.
You must qualify, identify, clean up and have confidence in the data you already have and will continue to collect on a day to day basis. By adopting a purely IT approach (i.e. looking at the latest and greatest platforms, technologies, tools and, still Big Data solutions) one stands a high risk of deciding on the answer before understanding what the problem is.
The IT perspective is important, but it is critical not to put the cart before the horse. The main drivers of any change should be aligned to business imperatives and real questions that need answering – i.e. what data and insight is needed by whom to help them to run their part of the organisation? As an example, what information do sales and marketing teams mean when they say “if we only had this data against our business KPIs, we’d be able to prevent churn, increase acquisition, reduce marketing spend,” etc.? The same approach can be applied across other areas of the business e.g. operations, accounts and so on.
This is something that a visualisation tool will not solve, no matter how pretty the diagram colours are!!
So where should we start?
In any organisation, the likelihood is that most of the required data is already around somewhere, and that much of the rest will be available externally, sometimes free of charge, sometimes not. The problem is normally that no-one has either:
- Worked out what data is needed, by whom
- Compared that with what you have and could have
- Worked out how to combine and provide it
- Defined the executive level key performance indicators that will show whether the business is on track to meet it’s corporate goals
You need someone (and a technology tool) that can quickly identify whether the core data needed to feed these KPIs is available, evaluate and mash data to improve quality, and visualise them in such a way that all business users can see their value – both in terms of driving the overall business forward but also, and probably more importantly, how having access to this insight will empower/enable them to ‘have a good day’.
So, my advice remains consistent then and now:
- Take a step back to consider what insight you need for the day-to-day
- Consider what data you don’t have when you make decisions
- Consider why you don’t trust your data (is it inaccurate, out of date or incomplete?)
- Consider what you could do if these were all solved.
The next time you sit looking at the information in front of you, preparing to make that decision, see whether you’ve already got the fundamental building blocks – good data and aligned KPIs.
Paul Collins is a business change and project manager specialising on data and insight consultancy at CPM ([email protected])