A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking in Macon at the USG (University System of Georgia) Web Tech Day. My talk focused how to turn dirty data into decisive data. The talk was a combination of technology and business domain, and how business ultimately drives the data.
In my weekly meeting with different agencies I notice a theme when it comes to data: there’s a lot of it but agencies aren’t sure what to do with it. As a result, agencies become frustrated with the large amount of data.
The Role of Data
When it comes to data, it’s important to understand its role. Data is the servant of business. Business is the master. Business receives data from a particular source and converts the results of the data into action. Actions taken on data alone will lead to incorrect conclusions and will devastate an agency in both the long term and short term.
There are two approaches to looking at data, especially when looking at data for the first time.
The first approach is a knee-jerk reaction to the data. This happens when data is put in front of you and you’re forced to make a quick decision. If data is treated as a chore, like a task to mark off your to-do list, then you’ll probably come to an incorrect conclusion.
The second approach is a thoughtful response to the data. This approach requires framing questions around the data. Thoughtful questions buffer against a quick reaction. Asking questions about the business relationship to the data guides you into thinking about the larger context of data.
When evaluating data, I ask a few business-centric questions:
- What are the business goals?
- What are my business questions?
- What data will answer the business questions?
- Are my data collection and review processes established before I receive data?
You can approach data as with either a reaction or a response. Here’s an example of the difference between the two:
- Reacting: Your child breaks a dish. You react by getting angry and yelling, upsetting both yourself and the child. The relationship now needs repair.
- Responding: Your child breaks a dish. You notice the possible reaction. You pause and think about the situation. One, is the child hurt? Two, acknowledge the dish is broken. Put the dish into a larger context of importance. Three, clean up the dish with the child and use it as a time to teach about mistakes. Four, discuss how to avoid future mistakes. The relationship is now stronger.
You deserve to reap the full benefits of your data. To make good business decisions, the data needs to serve you. Approach and respond to the data thoughtfully by asking business questions to get the answers you need. Dirty data leads to dirty decisions and you won’t know the impact of those decisions until it’s too late.