At first, I was going to title this post “How a 12-week body transformation challenge taught me the value in data” but then I realized that there is no value in data. Data is not this highly prized asset. It’s not the corporate secret weapon to 125% quarterly profits, or a super high stock price, or even a successful company. It doesn’t matter if you have the sexiest PowerBI dashboard, the most accurate data warehouse, or latest this or greatest that. It’s all irrelevant.
There is no value in data.
If you’re still here, then I am assuming you either a) believe I have a valid point, or b) just want to see how crazy I am for opening my new data blog with a post spouting the lack of value in data. We’ll see which option is right by the end of the post because right now, I am not so sure which one is right and which one is wrong. After all, if there is no value in data, why should companies hire data professionals and give them a pay check?
As data professionals I think we sometimes get hung up on the technical details of what we do because that is what we are passionate about. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I take all the various databases in my organization and bring that data together. For me, data warehousing and ETL is my passion and so I get very excited when I can take data from separate systems and bring it together in a coherent view. However, do you think most directors or VPs or other corporate bigwigs care about the fact that I can integrate payroll data with time clock data to show them the least productive employees that are costing them the most? If you answered yes, I have some beach front property in northern Alaska to sell you at a really good price. Unless the executive has a data background as well, odds are they don’t care about the technical nuts and bolts.
There is value in action.
Ralph Kimball heavily advocates for modeling data around business processes. I think he does this because he knows that value is created by taking action, not by looking at data. If data doesn’t lead someone to take action, then the data has no value. If data leads someone to take the wrong action, then the data is worse than worthless. However, if the data shows the relationship between the input variables and the outcome variable and allows a business leader to adjust those inputs to alter the outcome, then that data leads the business to a gold mine via the leader’s action.
Every business process has inputs and outputs. For example, in manufacturing the inputs are raw materials, time, money, and manpower. The output is a finished product that then sells for a set amount of money over time. If I build 100 cars using $15 million in raw materials and manpower over 15 months, then those are my input variables. The output variable is 100 cars that sell for hopefully more than $15 million in less than 15 months. As a business leader, I care the most about the profit and how to maximize it by adjusting the input variables. Of course this example is rather simple which leads us to our next point.
Simplicity beats sexy – every single time.
Simplicity is key in a data solution. A simple Excel workbook with conditional formatting and spark lines built by manual data entry will beat a fully automatic on-demand PowerBI solution every single time if it leads to more consistent action than the high-tech solution. Technically complexity is not the sole indicator of a successful data project.
It’s not about the data, it’s about the action that is driven by the data.
So, do you still think I am crazy?