Never mind the coming data flood, are you using the data you have?

By Lynn Buck, MacKay & Company

The headlines lately are all about Big Data. However, many organizations don’t execute on small data effectively.

It always amazes me when I hear stories of how little value is placed on the mining and exploration of data, no matter the company or the industry. Worse yet, companies think they value it, but aren’t dedicating nearly enough resources to producing truly actionable intelligence from it. This may be because the cost of housing data is really expensive, but shouldn’t you want a return on that in-vestment aside from a data holding tank? It also could be that the wrong people are watching your data.

Undertaking a giant task of looking for stories in data is daunting, so start small. Look for things in the data that match your existing knowledge first. This will give you and those to whom you are providing data some comfort.

Data is like a hiking trail, once you go down a path, keep going until the story in the data stops.

By then, you should have many other connections to explore. In prior lives, I was always the data guy, no matter my official role. I would explore the data queries (searches) of those that came before me and puzzle together what I was looking for. Once I did that, I was off and running. There wasn’t a stock or purchasing optimization project I didn’t have the ability to gather data for. Mining the data for those projects gives you experience on finding other useful information. Most likely you have someone in your own organization that would like the opportunity to do this for you. Give them a couple hours to see what they can do.

Other considerations:

Everything is data: purchase orders, sales orders, parts returns, core returns, technician repair data, parts purchases, customer invoices, customer payments, warranty data, employee time off, fleet composition, etc. All of these sources have stories.

Data quality matters, a lot. If you are reporting on data that is garbage, it can do more harm than good. Audit the data that is input and make sure it is useful by standardizing inputs where possible.

Utilize subject matter experts for the data mining projects, not just database IT personnel unless they are the same people. A technical person without subject matter expertise can lead you in the wrong direction.

Ensure your reports give you the data you need and are easily accessible by everyone who needs them. If not, why not?

It is dangerous to have one person control all reporting or data.

Make time for implementing action-able data projects. Producing reports without a goal is a waste of time.

Internal staff who know what they are doing are 10 times more valuable than expensive reporting software systems with recognizable names. Listen to your staff.

The bottom line is data can be a nebulous and scary term. It makes people uncomfortable—sometimes because it can produce stories that defy an expected narrative.

Don’t be afraid of it. Using it effectively can head off problems before they make the light of day, help you stay more competitive, discover a customer’s unmet need and optimize products and processes. If these things aren’t happening at your organization, explore options to make your data usage more effective.

Lynn Buck, information technology analyst, joined MacKay & Company in November 2012. His background includes more than 15 years of data analysis and reporting in a variety of settings. Most recently, he has performed the roles of pricing manager and inventory manager for two aftermarket parts distributors. Prior to that, he analyzed markets for new parts and service locations for Navistar.

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