Data as a Business Resource

By Jamie Adams, CIO, Mspark

Jamie Adams, CIO, Mspark

As Rockefeller’s main source of wealth was oil, the 21st century magnates are focused on a completely different type of resource–data. In 2006, oil and energy companies dominated the list of top six most valuable firms in the world, but in 2017, the list is dominated by data firms like Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. The amount of data in the world is projected to be at 44 zettabytes, that’s 21 zeros, by 2020. Businesses collect data on consumer preferences, behavior, consumption patterns, and it’s easy to collect! People readily provide intimate details and do not think twice about it. Think about how easy and enticing it is to like social media posts, pictures, ads; follow your favorite celebrity or brand on Facebook or Instagram; stream your favorite shows and music on Amazon. While behind the scenes, each “like”, share, post, stream is collected and stored away in a digital profile that defines you as a consumer.

While your company may not be in the social media or retail space, there is still an opportunity to capitalize on the data resources currently at your disposal or to capture new data and expand your existing resource pool. We see the power behind data when we read stories about Target’s success with predicting consumer pregnancy and improving target marketing ROI. As CIOs, we are responsible for helping our organizations understand the possibilities with data and for utilizing data to improve value proposition. In the same way that crude oil becomes more valuable when it is transformed into gasoline, data must be refined and transformed into useful information. We can’t be effective at increasing shareholder wealth without identifying and tracking the right metrics.

"Organizations should identify a winning combination of leading and lagging indicators for business and mitigate risks associated with bad data"

Identify Winning Metrics

Key Performance Indicators are metrics that companies use often to measure, manage, and communicate results. There are two types of KPIs: Leading Indicators and Lagging Indicators. Many organizations will focus on revenue, profit, and growth as key measures of success; all lagging indicators that tell a story about what has happened. While these are important metrics, they do not provide foresight to where the business or industry is headed. According to Gartner, companies that focus on more leading indicators earn five percent more than businesses that do not. Why is that? Leading indicators represent metrics that forecast a high probability of future success, and they tend to communicate change in the environment. In 2010, we saw a shift in the entertainment industry when Blockbuster, the video rental giant, filed for bankruptcy. The image of the big blue and white sign that was seen on main street corners was quickly replaced with a white and red jpeg. Netflix disrupted the market. They measured viewer reach, the number of video rentals, and not the number of brick-and-mortar stores. The key is to identify a winning combination of leading and lagging indicators for your business. The next crucial step is to evaluate the data and mitigate risks associated with bad data–either data that is out-of-date, incorrect, or irrelevant.

Bad data can happen to good companies: Trouble with maintaining ‘data quality’ is an ongoing problem that plagues numerous businesses, and if IT leaders don’t take steps to improve the accuracy of their information, there could be serious consequences.As CIOs, it is our responsibility to mitigate the risks associated with bad data. Many organizations fall into the trap of collecting data and immediately trying to make decisions from the data, without first evaluating the sample size and distribution. We often assume that the data is normally distributed and the sample size is sufficient. For example, poor data quality at one real estate company resulted in huge opportunity costs. The company used historical data to predict the optimal location for sales events. Come to find out they were sending sales representatives to Philadelphia when they should have been sending them to Chicago, all due to one outlier that skewed the results. There are many sources of bad data and this is just one example. According to the Forbes Insights and KPMG “2016 Global CEO Outlook”, 84 percent of CEOs are concerned about the quality of the data they’re basing their decisions on. Gartner measures the average financial impact of poor data on businesses at $9.7 million per year.

I encourage CIOs to champion data governance. Despite the bureaucratic-sounding name, data governance has become an essential requirement for any organization that aspires to derive insight and business value from their data assets.

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