Working With Data

Data is the future.  The future will continue to see an explosion of data collection and an increasing need to digest it.  This is what the industry refers to as “big data.”   The ability of one company to collect, analyze and take action on large amounts of data can be a serious game changer in the marketplace.

Any stakeholder who seeks to be successful in their role will leverage data.  Given the imperfections of our world, the stakeholder may have access to a limited data set.  While the stakeholder recognizes their need for clean, accessible data, the IT and BI teams may be months away from delivering.

The stakeholder has has two choices: 1) throw up their arms, complain about the data and cause a ruckus, or 2) work with the data they have and make the best of the situation.

Throwing Up Their Arms

“The data is wrong!” yells the marketing analyst sitting in a meeting with IT and BI teams.   The IT and BI managers shrug their shoulders and reply, “then tell us what is right.”   The marketing analyst bangs her fist on the conference table in frustration.

Bottom line, stakeholders who don’t embrace even the worst data, does not understand how to measure their business.  I’ve seen exchanges between BI and stakeholders where data has been subjected to strict QA by the stakeholder, but the stakeholder has never referred to the data as wrong.

Work With the Data

Every stakeholder interested in a data set needs to have the long term picture of the business in mind and understand the KPIs and other metrics involved to manage their part of the business.  All data used in analysis are typically seen through the lens of the business KPI which provides the context.  Chances are a stakeholder would never accept a data set that is so far from the truth to be useless.

Based on my career, the best course of action is to work with the data you have.  Granted you might not be able to answer more complex business questions, but you will start a journey along a road that will get you there.  Take the data you have and create three lists:

  1. parts of the data set that works for your requirements
  2. parts of the data set that should be modified
  3. parts of the data set that are important, but not pertinent to the requirements

Your goal is to understand the ins and outs of the data you have and create a constructive list of actions that evolve your knowledge and the data set into a market changing analysis. Providing documentation on to help the IT and BI teams evolve your data and turn into your pot of gold is the best course of action.

Data is Not Static and Neither is Your Knowledge

Keep in mind that as you interact with data, ask questions, build more detailed documentation and draw correlations or disassociations, your data will have to change to follow your in-depth understanding. This is why maintaining a positive relationship with the team that you rely on is so important.

Iterations of data sets can be subtle and they can also be large.  Just remember, that the data you had for version 1 is NOT wrong compared to version 2.  When reflecting back on version 1, understand where you came from and that you are looking at a less evolved set of data.  Then you can laugh when you look at version 3 and wonder how you managed the business with version 1.

Working with data is an awesome thing.  It should be a fun, productive journey for both the analyst, IT team, BI team, and all stakeholders involved.   When you here the word “wrong” come up, defend the evolution of data and point out that perfect data sets don’t come out of thin air.

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