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The quest for ‘data truth’: why data without order is just dead weight

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software)

Data: the new oil, they say. And with the commodity now more expensive than gold, it’s important we get it right.

But let’s get straight to the point: corporate data is increasingly dishevelled, and that confused and unfocused approach is undermining the extent to which analytics can really help businesses thrive.

At a recent seminar hosted by Tug, together with our participants, we identified a number of endemic problems in corporate data management.  This list was lengthy: a lack of clear business focus in data strategy; an excess of flawed (or irrelevant) data; uncoordinated data acquisition across a business; tasking single individuals with data governance; not to mention poor access to useful data – and data tools – at non-executive levels of the business.

To combat this, companies need to get their houses in order. That means reassessing data policies and honing in on the specific ‘data truths’ that allow businesses to squeeze maximum value from the reams of information at their disposal.

It may sound complex, but have no fear: the process can start with just three key steps. To tackle corporate data management issues – or better yet, avoid them entirely – businesses must take a step back, run a critical analysis on their data approach, and ensure they’re covering the following bases:

1.            Quality over quantity

Rory Brown, Chief Commercial Officer of sales planning and forecasting tool Kluster Intelligence, affirmed that far too many companies still lack a clear sense of what they’re seeking to achieve from their data use. The key questions in his mind: “What am I going to do with this? What decision am I going to make as a business? What is the outcome that I want to achieve?”

Rory’s right. After all, any data that is sourced but won’t actually be used is at best expensive; at worst, it’s a waste of cash.

Far beyond just a lack of direction however, the quality and sheer quantity of data alone are cause for concern. In fact, studies have shown that a relatively paltry 44 per cent of global organisations actually trust their data when making important business decisions. And, while this stat reveals that  ‘structured’ data is clearly underperforming, the problem is even worse elsewhere: less than 1 per cent of all other ‘unstructured’ data is analysed or used at all.

Leave it to Rory for the last word here: “Data integrity is a far more difficult thing than you think, and a lot of people don’t think about the integrity and quality of their data quite enough, given how much we use it these days.”

2.            Lead with executive buy-in

For data strategy to succeed, ultimately, those right at the top need to support and believe in its inherent value. Regardless of how much time and money you invest in purchasing the latest tools and gadgets for your data team, you’ll never get very far if leadership doesn’t have faith in your business intelligence vision.

Our cohort agreed that securing buy-in from the very top takes a lot of friction out of the process – and it also gives you a lot more leeway to make mistakes and learn from them. As with doing anything for the first time, as your business grows, you’re probably not going to get everything right from the get-go. But with the senior leadership on board, any minor mistakes and quarrelsome quibbles are meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

3.            Establish your ‘North Star’ metric

The North Star is the brightest star in the sky – a guiding light and a constant reference point. Manas Datta, of growth marketing and data consultancy DataDemons, advises that every company should have its own unique “North Star Metric” to lead the way when transforming data analysis into business insights.

If that metric doesn’t immediately come to mind, Manas shared some key points companies should be looking for: “It’s that one number you look at which encompasses things like: do we still have product/market fit? Do our customers still see value in our product? Are we profiting from what we are doing? It is about trying to find out the best metric for your business or your team.”

 That might not sound so easy, but, as Manas noted, the results are more than worthwhile: “Putting thought into what a North Star Metric is for your organisation can reap dividends later on.”

Now it’s your turn

Ultimately, digital agencies play one of the most significant roles in helping clients refine their data use. Above all, the most critical factor in success is investing the necessary time and resources early on – because long-term success relies on steady hand steering projects right from the outset. At the end of the day, if we’re to align our data analysis protocols and measurement frameworks across the board, every organisation needs to find its data truth.

Dave Porter, Business Director, Tug