By Julio Kuok, Solutions Architect, BusinessForward
Life is propelled by the data we use to drive our decisions. From the complex analysis that goes into buying a home to purchasing food, it is always there. Yes, even grocery shopping is data-driven decision making. Where is the best place to find the best quality at the best price? Is it Whole Foods or the farmer’s market? Am I in a rush or do I have time to go to multiple specialty stores for my goods? Data is there to show us the way.
When it comes to your business, you probably have more data than you can handle. This is why understanding exactly what you want from it is critical. Are you gaining insight with what you have?
In retail, how do we know if a location is the right place to build a new store? How do we know if a product is priced right? In HR, are you providing service to employees so they are getting what they need and expect? In the midst of a merger, are you making the right technology decisions? There are so many questions data can answer, once you know what to ask.
Data Insight and Analysis
INSIGHT is the ability to “gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing”. With regards to data, once we understand the subject or purpose, the road to gaining INSIGHT becomes clear. That’s when we can turn it into information to make wise decisions. How do we do that? Through ANALYSIS.
ANALYSIS is the ability to “examine methodically and in detail, the constitution or structure of something”. Through analysis, we are able to dissect and understand information that is actionable and drives wise decisions.
In order to drive INSIGHT, we need to have an approach or process for how we will dissect information.
Four Things to Ask of Data Before the Dive
1. What business purpose will it serve?
2. What questions do I want to answer?
3. What is the objective of it?
4. How will it impact a business decision?
Number four is probably the most critical and really the driver of your time. Always overlay the business purpose over the information. Focus on what can impact a business decision and use data that actually is actionable.
In the example of buying a car, there are many attributes to look at, so understanding what we trying to accomplish should frame what information is gathered. We could look at features, cost, design, quality, comfort, size, purpose and many more data points to help make a decision. This is a very basic example. Imagine a new ERP system. There could be thousands of attributes to examine. The key is to make the data meaningful. All attributes cannot have the same weight if we will be comparing. It makes sense that certain attributes are more important than others. Ranking them helps organize and prioritize needs.
Be Clear on the Business Question
I recently worked with a customer that had hundreds of types of data at their disposal. Our first step was to be clear on the business question we were trying to answer. In this case it was around staffing for retail stores. The question was, “What do we need to look at, and how, that will tell us which of the 500+ stores, has a staffing need?” Once that was clear, we could pick and choose the appropriate pieces of data that could best answer the question.
In the case of this project, data needed to be concise, relevant, and actionable. There was no time to kludge the information. Once this was determined, the next step was to define a process to act upon it and looking ahead, have a way to continuously improve.
An attribute that is important today may not be as important tomorrow. An attribute that is available tomorrow, may not be available today. This multibillion dollar corporation is adapting to its geographical and consumer needs and growing fast. We need insight to grow and adapt with it. That brings us to something that cannot be emphasize too much:
Once the formula has been determined, think ahead towards continual improvement. Be flexible enough to include future and better attributes, faster ways of processing it and make the use of the data scalable and expandable.
Insight is what we strive for. Data makes it possible. Clarity on the questions we’re trying to answer, finding data that is relevant, and having a process and structure to obtaining it are essential to success in understanding it. Your data tells a story. Construct it before you even look at one line of information and you will be able to use it as the most valuable tool in your business.
Julio is a whip smart, dynamic member of the BusinessForward team. He has played a critical role in numerous projects with customers including Sheetz, PPG, EDMC and Giant Eagle. Julio complements his flair for data with a great creative eye, moonlighting as a photographer.
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