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We’re told almost daily about the value of data. It’s often positioned as a panacea to improve business performance. Think: data on customers, buildings, employees, cars, machinery, and so on. With so many ways to generate and access data, Duncan Davies, CEO at Notify Technology, recommends that organisations focus as much on the ‘refining’ process as they do on the mining of it, to ensure they maximise insight and innovation.

Data, data, everywhere…

Not a day goes by without a media story about data. Sometimes it’s the use and control of personal information (see Cambridge Analytica & Facebook), sometimes it’s about data theft (see Yahoo) and sometimes it’s about how blindly trusting we are of ‘the data’ (see all those smart predictions on Brexit and Trump). And, of course, we’re all currently consumed by GDPR regulations (brief tangent: our free-forever near miss app, NotifyIt, requires zero personal data to download and start using immediately). Data has even been described as “the new oil”.

It’s never been so easy to generate and store data. And it’s easy to believe that purely having this well of information is job done. That having the data in a trendy database (ideally ‘in the cloud’) will just churn out “answers”. Even better, if you can apply some ‘artificial intelligence’ to that data. Does it work like that in practice?

It would be an interesting exercise to calculate how much data is lying idle in databases across the globe. Like a lake of unrefined oil.  The organisations that generated this data may use basic dashboards and reports that the system gives them, but they aren’t truly ‘refining’ it. Don’t get me wrong: some of the world’s greatest inventions have been stumbled upon completely by accident, or while somebody was actually looking for something else (Steven Johnson calls this Serendipity and Exaptation in the excellent ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’). But by and large, this pursuit of data for its own sake risks losing sight of the bigger fundamental skill: the ability to ask the right questions. We gather all this valuable data and it just sits there, waiting. .

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question” – Eugene Ionesco

Asking the right questions drives what data you look to gather in the first place. It drives what you’re looking into that data for. Even better to then pipe that data around your organisation so that different perspectives can be applied. This needs to be done proactively (i.e. it’s a tasks someone owns). Pouring data into a hole and hoping people will dip their toe in as they pass isn’t going to work. It needs to entail a real shift from measuring everything, to measuring what matters. Knowing what matters is a function of asking the right questions.

Before being seduced by the power of data we recommend developing the core expertise of knowing what questions need answering. That process in itself can add value, without spending a penny on software. And when it comes to making an investment later, you’ll be better set up to know what you want from your valuable resource.

Our background at Notify is with “big data” (for another blog) and we’re passionate about making data faster and easier to access (and it’s in the Cloud). However, we also take seriously our part in helping clients refine that data. We work with clients to help ensure they are clear on what they want to get from that data. We point out that data only drives intelligence when it’s properly refined and delivered (shared) in a useable way.

And when a customer finds a new and interesting question to ask, we’ll look to develop our platform to address that question for all users.

So the next time you look at a product and get excited about all the data it can gather for you, pause for a second. Ask yourself whether you have the organisational skills and resource to do something useful with it that truly helps your business improve and innovate.