Making the most of business data and this summer’s mix-tape
“The plural of anecdote is not data”, says Marc Bekoff, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Successful businesses that make decisions based on qualitative input alone are just plain lucky.
Currently we are all in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; this crisis has generated a need for organisations to ask questions about their core business from operations to finance and all stops in between. Unfortunately, many of these organisations now realise they have little understanding of the data they possess and even less idea about how it can be used to monitor the business and measure success. There is a sense of mild panic developing.
An organisation’s use of BI (business information, in which I include MI, management information) can broadly be categorised in one of two ways, operational or analytical. Most businesses are stuck in the “operational” category, the first stage in a journey of transforming data into information. Businesses operating in this way use the data to represent information in a very rudimentary form, typically reporting historical facts, commonly requested by senior management.
This reminds me of listening to music when I was a student. Sitting in my bedroom recording a mix-tape from the radio, I had no control over the data being provided, and had to select the music I liked, depending on my mood. As my tech evolved, I was able to rip all my CDs onto a laptop, spend enjoyable hours curating music and the mix-tape became a playlist. Progress? Not really, as I was still restricted to music I had purchased.
Manipulating data operationally, produces what I think I need, but can miss so much. According to a famous Henry Ford quote (that he probably never said) “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. You don’t know what you can’t live without until you see it.
As a firm’s data adventure develops, more data sources are added, increasing richness. Rather than just translating “data into information” it becomes possible (with the right technology) to turn “information into insights”. This is the analytical realm where data isn’t used simply to summarise the past but begins to make predictions about the future. The businesses that make the leap from operational to analytical are the ones that have really understood the value of data and the essential truth of that hackneyed phrase, “data is the new oil”.
And music? I still make mix-tapes, but on Spotify. I have my own tastes in music and I’m also influenced by others, not just Spotify recommendations and auto-generated playlists, but the weird and wonderful additions that my fellow book-clubbers add to our shared playlist. I use Shazam when I hear something I love playing in a cafe. I no longer care about the source of the music I listen to; I simply collect music wherever I hear it, and this summer’s mix-tape will be so much better because of it.