Data Tip #3 – The Lean Data Strategy

November 17, 2013 by Jennifer Cobb

The right data, in the right place, at the right time - this is something that most of us can only dream about.  The stark reality for many companies is a backlog of forms, emails and faxes, all filled with important information, waiting to be processed.  And with channels of engagement with customers, suppliers and partners proliferating, this problem is only going to increase.

While all data has value, and every business collects it, data is only useful if it helps answer questions and enables insights.  Data exists in a context and that context is driven by what you need from it.  For example, data about customer satisfaction is highly relevant to product development, but may be almost useless for HR.

A lean data strategy does not begin by asking “What data do I have?”but rather, “What do I need to know?”  This approach flies in the face of the current big data paradigm, which assumes that all data matters, all of the time.  The thinking goes that in order to have a complete picture of our world, and be able to run adequate analytics, we needed to have all possible data integrated, cleaned and ready.    While this is certainly true for some very complex problems, most businesses live in a world where they are still struggling to get the right data into their systems in a timely way.  Lean data is an approach that can help you make sense of the data in your world and leverage it for business advantage.Lean Data

The following are tips to keep in mind when thinking about developing a lean data strategy:

1.       Start with use cases

Useful data cuts across channels.  For example, many companies gather customer data in a variety of ways – from websites, search engine marketing, call centers and events.  Each of these is its own channel, but if you don’t take the time to think about how the data flows across all of these, you could be missing some significant opportunities.  So think about your data in terms of use cases, such as customer conversion or customer satisfaction, and not in terms of where and how the data is gathered.

2.       You know best

You may have come to believe that the only way forward is to hire a data specialist, or call in your IT group for help.  While these people may have expertise in data definitions and systems, they know next to nothing about your business or department and how it functions.  The best data strategies start with you and your unique business goals and objectives.  Only you know the primary challenges you are facing and what questions you need answered.

3.       Build a data map

Begin by writing down all of your critical business processes.  Then pick one to start with, ideally one that is closely associated with a critical revenue stream, such as customer support or order processing.  Then make a map of all the inputs to this process, and then where the data will need to flow in your various systems of record.  Make sure that as you build your map, you consult all the people who touch the business process so you don’t leave out any critical elements.  There are domain experts for each aspect of your business process.

4.       Data is both digital and analog

As you map your business process, you will likely discover that many important sources of data are offline.  Are people filling in forms at events?  Are your employees collecting information when they interact with customers and partners face to face?  What are your salespeople learning in conversations with prospects and customers?  This highly valuable and reliable data is often not the most available data, so many of us skip over it.  Particularly as more processes move online, we tend to focus our data collection on these highly available streams of information.  Keep in mind that just because you can easily get something doesn’t mean it is what you need most.  Availability does not equal value.

5.       Develop data discernment

Not all data is created equal.  Some of your data is core to your business processes and to engaging and retaining customers.  Other data is more peripheral.  And not all of your data has the same time sensitivity.  Some you need right away, and some can wait.  Some has immediate but ephemeral value; some is valuable for a long time.  Take a look at the graph to the right.  Once you have a map of your data inputs, determine what quadrant your data belongs to and then build your data capture and integration strategy based on that.  Focus your limited resources and efforts on capturing the data that matter most, when it matters to you.

That’s a start on a lean approach to the right data, at the right time.


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