The seven deadly sins of data management

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Spring is camping season, and as we gather around the campfire on warm evening it’s time for some spooky stories to tell around the bonfire. And none are more terrifying than the tale of the 7 deadly sins of data management.

Legends tell of a data analyst whose skills were unmatched. He consistently achieved data excellence in the face of adversity and not even the most complex data set could challenge or phase him. However, as time progressed, budgets grew increasingly stretched, he was called on to learn new skills such as data visualisation, and it became increasingly apparent his work needed to show a clear business benefit that added both value and profitability to the business.

 Today we refer to the challenges this legendary hero overcame as The 7 Deadly Sins of Data Management and every data analyst must also learn to overcome their influence if they wish to achieve analytics excellence:

  • Lust – Do not allow your eye to be turned by the bold claims of salespeople who offer the moon and stars… but give you rocks. Everyone loves a shiny new visualisation tool and in the right conditions they are vital to the modern analytics lifecycle. However, before investing in new technology that enhances the visual effect of your data, you should ensure that your house is in order. Additional software, such as visualisation platforms will not provide their full benefit if the data you put into them is incomplete or has not been prepared correctly.
  • Pride – Clive Humby described big data “as the new oil” and the term has taken root in the public consciousness. To work in a supportive organisation that understands the benefit of data and is willing to invest in it is a powerful feeling. However, be cautious about showing off your skills to impress others. Do you really need a shiny new API to show the optimum route for each employee to reach the coffee machine? Don’t fall for the sin of pride – data analytics is only useful if it brings value to the business, time spent making you look good is profitability wasted.
  • Wrath – The idea of working in an organisation that fully appreciates your work is but a dream for many. Always remember that it will be of no benefit to lose your temper with colleagues that don’t appreciate the value data brings. It’s a learning process for all, and many team members are used to making decisions based on guesstimates and gut feeling. Don’t give in to wrath and instead support them through the process as best you can.
  • Sloth – ‘Sorry, I can’t do that’ is a term no one wants to hear. In a world governed by increasingly high demands for a stricter budget it can feel inevitable. But, sometimes the sin of sloth can raise its ugly head. An ill-informed colleague asks for something they think is simple – but you know will take hours. You could do it, but who has time to create an axis for every data point? Just tell the team it isn’t possible and clock off early. After all, they don’t understand what you’re doing! If you’re looking to kick-start a data culture at your organisation, giving in to sloth will not convince others of the business insights data can provide. Far better to explain the process to them and why it will take so long. Once they understand the typical analytics process colleagues are more likely to make reasonable requests.
  • Gluttony – The opposite of sloth is the sin of gluttony. Data can be empowering and the need to ‘prove your worth’ can be overwhelming. This is particularly apparent if your organisation doesn’t have a data culture and you are trying to impress. Your time is limited and it’s unrealistic to single-handedly analyse every single data point your organisation gathers. Learn to spend your time wisely or your greed will only lead to envy of colleagues leaving at 5pm.
  • Greed – The rise of big data has created a tsunami of information being made available to data analysts. Do you really need to know your customers’ star sign and favourite type of mug? While it could come in useful, the relevance of data is particularly important if you want to achieve concise analytics excellence. Not all data is useful, think about what brings value to the business and focus on those areas. Better to have a shorter list of accurate, informative information than getting greedy and hoarding data simply for the sake of completing your collection.
  • Envy – Data analytics is a journey and a process. Just because your competitor is further along than you doesn’t mean you can’t catch up. Take it one step at a time and don’t be discouraged by the success of others. For those at smaller organisations, the allure of larger companies that can afford expensive systems to supplement their analytics teams can make you resentful and envious. Focus on your own role, and how you can enable success with the tools and skills you have rather than constantly pushing to ‘defeat’ your competitors.

I wish I could offer a happy ending, but this sorry tale does not have one. Although the sins can be quelled, they can never be overcome completely. Data analytics is one of the fastest moving industries and there are always new challenges to face.

Sadly, the legend of the ultimate data analyst isn’t real, but with the right attitude, and an awareness of the pitfalls others have fallen into it is possible to achieve analytics excellence within your organisation and lead others on the path to success.

Nick Jewell, Technology Evangelist, Alteryx
Image source: Shutterstock/Carlos Amarillo