Better late than never? Not for data
There will have been times in our lives – me included – where we have relied on the phrase “better late than never” to excuse tardiness. We've come to rely on it like a safety blanket or an old friend to get us out of a scrape. But when it comes to data or information that informs decisions in business, late data is pretty much useless data.
Just think about the film Armageddon. When they eventually discover that there is an asteroid hurtling towards Earth, the information comes too late for everyone (namely Bruce Willis) to stop it and also survive. Or in that seminal Friends episode where Ross doesn’t get Rachel’s voicemail to say she takes back her idea to go on a break until the next morning (I don’t need to go into the specifics about the decision he made). The point is that, in all likelihood, the decisions made had they received the information in real-time would have been different.
This is what is happening today in business - although perhaps a little less dramatic or world-ending. Too many businesses are still relying on old data – in some cases months old - to trigger actions. It’s potentially damaging and more importantly, avoidable.
A recent and widely publicised example of concerns around old data was the accusation from an independent panel of scientists that AstraZeneca had used “outdated” information about its US trial of the covid-19 vaccine that potentially offered an “incomplete view” of the trial data. AstraZeneca went on to defend the results and work closely with DSMB to share analysis with the most up-to-date efficacy data but the story shows how important is it to be able to show decision-making based on as close to real-time data as possible. If there are positive legacies of the pandemic, this is one of them. No organisation, business or government should be relying on old data.
Changing how we approach data
This is where the perception of data and analytics needs to change. Firstly, because data should be treated as a living, breathing entity not as a static set of numbers on a spreadsheet. That mindset shift, in turn, feeds into the new, evolved approach to business intelligence; a move from passive data consumption to active intelligence. This is where businesses should be today. They should be able to capture data, apply insights and take action continually.
That can only be achieved with near real-time data. There is absolutely no point in triggering an action based on data from months ago. The world we live in today simply moves too fast. There is a quote from data quality specialist, Gregg Thaler, which I think sums this up perfectly - “data ages like fish not wine…it gets worse as it gets older, not better”.
Businesses know the value that good data offers, and many have done the work to become analytics ready. Now they need to move to the next stage, to be business-ready. That requires context, business logic and underlying trust in data. To get to that point, businesses need to ensure that their supply chain of data is well-governed so that they know where the data has come from, how it got there, where it was last updated and who has access to it. From there, the humans can analyse, question and – with increasing support from Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence – translate the insights that this analytics data pipeline has provided into business logic and informed action.
Strike in the business moment
Taking informed actions in the business moment can turn the tide for a company. But only if they’re using fresh data. If it’s not, they could be triggering an action that might have been appropriate three weeks ago, but the situation has changed significantly since. Or they spot an opportunity with a particular market or customer segment where they could get ahead of the competition…if only they had spotted it four months ago when the data was first available. Now they’ve lost out on precious time that could scupper their changes of an advantage. An active approach to data is key to coming out on top by helping business leaders and their teams capture the pulse of the business before, during and after the action.
The ability to use near real-time data in decision-making will be what sets businesses apart. So, I urge businesses, get yourselves out of your data slump and start to become more active. I guarantee that it will reveal new opportunities and may just save you from that asteroid that’s coming your way.
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