The alarm rings at 6:20 and you know what you need to do. You prepare for the day and are out the door by 7:00. You reach town by 8:00 and plant your car in your favorite parking spot by 8:08. You make it to your office by 8:20. This is a typical Tuesday. No middle of the night feedings – for either of you, no bad weather or traffic delays. You know if you are up by 6:30, out the door at 7, in town by 8, and parked by quarter past, that you will be on time. How do you know that? You have done it a million times before.
Habits are based on data. Some of those habits are learned and are good… and some not so much. The way we act is subconsciously data driven. There is no denying this fact.
Now think of this in a business sense. What actions do you take at work that are subconsciously data-driven? Perhaps it is the time of day you visit the cafeteria to avoid the lunch crowd, or the best time to take the elevator down-and-out at the end of the day. Data could dictate the time you arrive on-site – before the boss – or the time you leave – after the boss. Those things are easy to consciously unravel. But other things are not as simple.
Real and fully-conscious data is used to make business decisions. Data is used to set schedules, plan logistics, deliver the goods, and communicate with everybody and every “thing”. The quality, timeliness, understandability, accessibility, and the usage of data are some characteristics of your data that set your business apart from your competitors.
However, some of the decisions we make, the logistics we plan, and the goods we deliver are not always constantly improving. There must be a reason for this. Companies and managers that are striving to constantly improve – whether that improvement is getting more out of their people or delivering better products or service – look closely at the results and live-and-learn how to become better at what they do. And this depends on data that is trusted.
It is one thing to trust the data that we think we know but have no control over – for example, how long it takes to get ready and drive into town every day. When bad things happen – as they sometimes do – it throws off our day and we recalibrate depending on the severity of the data changes. This happens all the time. We adjust. It is not as easy for your business to do so.
What happens when the data we use to operate our business is bad? What happens when the habits we build are based on data that is bad? Or, heaven forbid something bad should happen to the data itself. The impact of bad data (previously referred to as “ungoverned data” by this author) can be catastrophic to the business at worst and impact our ability to maximize our resources and profits at best.
Bad habits built on bad data can only result in one thing. Bad news. I will attempt to simplify this for you with two examples.
If you always order parts from the same supplier because they are cheaper, that may be your habit. The quality of the parts is a factor in the vendor decision. So is the availability of the parts and the time it takes to receive the parts. So is the service the supplier provides to your company, and even the boss’s relationship to the supplier. All these things are data and they change over time. To make the “best” decision about where to get your parts, all of these pieces of data must be defined, produced and used together. Without data that is trusted, the adage of “we have always done things that way” prevails. This habit does not maximize either efficiency or effectiveness.
It may be your habit to treat your “better” customers more fittingly. How do you know they are your “better” customers? Better is a subjective word, almost an instinctual term. Better customers can be customers you have known the longest or buyers with the greatest lifetime value. They can be the ones that tell all their friends or colleagues good things about your company. Better can mean more responsive, less difficult to support, most consistent, or none-of-the-above. It is a great thing if you know your best customers. However, the dynamics (or should I say data) of identifying who is “better” should also be maximized.
The question often becomes — “Do we use all of the data we have?” or “Do we even have all of the data we need?” — to operate the business at maximum efficiency and effectiveness? In many cases the answer to this question is “no”. The answer is “no” when the organization does not make someone formally accountable for making certain that the data is managed as an asset. That is a very bad habit.
Data Governance, by my definition, is the execution and enforcement of authority over the management of data. Authority is required to guarantee that the organization has data that can be counted on to improve what it does. Do you have somebody in your company that is formally accountable for governing your data? Putting Data Governance programs in place is my specialty and I would love to speak with you about your bad data habits.
[From time-to-time, TDAN.com republishes older pieces of content that are still relevant today. A similar piece was originally displayed in 2015.]