Friday, 14 February 2014

Transforming data into information?

Data, big, small, local, global, no matter its form, is one of the most sought after assets in modern business. There is an assumption that data is the be-all and end-all when it comes to knowing about your field, but data on its own is limited, whereas information can be invaluable.

Former US President Theodore Roosevelt has more quotes and facts attributed to him than almost any other political figure in history, but one thing I find fascinating about him was his constant quest for information and knowledge. It is said that he would read a book with breakfast and at least two more before he went to bed. Not everyone can boast similar speed reading skills, but what was even more impressive is how he managed to focus his concentration and retain such vast pieces of information.  As one biographer wrote, “his occupation for the moment was to the exclusion of everything else; if he were reading, the house might fall about his head, he could not be diverted.” Roosevelt was notably able to apply what he read to his thought process and problem solving - from the autobiographies of his mentors and historical accounts, all the way to poetry and Greek mythology, he was convinced everything he read had something valuable to teach him about life.

But how does it affect what we do day-in day-out? As a consultant I have come across both sides of the coin such as companies with limited data who have assimilated it into as much actual information as they can, and continue to focus and dedicate their analytics to find new ways of understanding their data asset.  Conversely, I have seen companies who have mountains of data, but have never stopped to turn it into information. You may guess correctly that the company with lots of information from limited data often performs better than the company which has masses of data but limited information. I believe the difference is what Teddy Roosevelt called ‘concentration’, or, in our world, analysis.

Analysis should be focused on turning data into information, sometimes it may mean following an avenue that doesn’t lead to an immediate result, but the process of getting there can glean useful insight and enhance an analyst’s understanding for future projects. We often see analytical resource deployed to ensure that the business continues to run smoothly, or to find a work-around in a crisis. Whilst this is unavoidable to an extent, a conscious effort should be made to allow analysts time for research and development and not just use them to firefight or continuously maintain systems.  

We know this because as consultants at TDX we are in a unique position of being able to step back from the day-to-day business on behalf of our clients, and to concentrate solely on a particular area of the business or a unique set of data. We are able to apply the information we have gained from previous engagements to deliver solutions that may not have been considered previously, particularly by an in-house team. Because of this position, we can see that companies who truly excel at turning data into information make the effort to give their analysts this time for ‘reading’ and creative thinking. We’re fortunate - as consultants we have the luxury of this every day.

By Stephen Hallam, Consultant, TDX Advisory Services

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