Don’t let your data determine your destiny

Published 9/27/2021

Just about every business is collecting data. And most want to do something with it. Usually though, what they’re collecting is for an operational need, not an analytical one. So, when it comes time to see what that data can tell them about how their business is performing, it’s very rarely something useful.

The thing is, the data and analytics industry almost ubiquitously has a heavy bias towards a data-first approach, meaning they dig into existing data first and see what they can find. 

Business users fall into this trap, too, thinking there must be some gold lying within their existing data that will tell them something they don’t already know. They’re typically time poor, so the idea that someone clever can “mine some data for insights” and produce something insightful is appealing. This works well for most data practitioners, who are happiest with their head deep in data, hoping they’ll find something useful without having to engage too much with business users. 

Data for data’s sake

While there might indeed be an unknown insight hiding in an organisation’s data, more often than not, it’s not something that is necessarily aligned with the goals of the business. Worst-case scenario, it means nothing to anyone, with no formal context for anyone to do anything with it.

It’s not often we see an organisation that has decent data governance capability inside their business. Data engineering teams are spending extraordinary amounts of time producing data assets that see little use over the long term. And by taking a data-centric approach to improving their data, they run the risk of spending too much time and money cleaning up the quality, but still not knowing what it’s good for.

Start with goals instead

Over the years, we’ve learned that the data that organisations collect is rarely done so with important questions in mind. It follows that the data they hold doesn't magically serve up many answers.

Which is why our approach is to instead ignore the data and start with business goals first. It’s common for KPIs to exist at different levels of a business - but also quite common for them not to link to an overarching strategic goal. There’s no way of knowing whether those siloed KPIs are actually helping get an organisation closer towards its business objectives.

Once we understand the goals, we then convert them to metrics and begin the long but collaborative process of building these metrics in such a way that the people can easily understand and use them. For a practitioner to be truly effective in delivering something useful, this process requires a high amount of interaction and iteration between them and the business user. We then find or create the right ceremonies and contexts for these metrics to be used to create action, with a focus on progress towards the company goals.

In taking this approach, we also uncover the gaps or limitations that exist in the data that prevent us from creating metrics that matter. And because we’re focused on metrics that matter, when we do find gaps, we also know that they are gaps worth filling. From that moment on an organisation can begin data collection with intention.

You’ll find the right answers, when you start by asking the right questions. In flipping the approach and leading with goals, it puts you in control of your data, and ultimately in control of your business destiny. If you want to start using data to help you get you where you need to go, we can help. Get in touch to find out more about our approach to realising the full potential of data in your business.

Data engineer working with data

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