The year was about 1994. Sitting in a Statistics 101 class. The professor wanted to highlight for us students the fact that numbers can be deceiving and that you should always dig deeper. “The average number of kids per family in the U.S is 1.84” he then said. I paused. Thought about that number for a second. My wacky mind started wandering to Biblical times and the Solomon Judgment thinking for one second what would have happened had he actually gone with his idea to tear that poor baby apart and would end with a 0.84 of a baby…. I think I made my point here…. In the world of Analytics, big data, AI, KPIs, dashboards and anything else you bring to the table it seems that we have become a bit too blind, a bit too gullible with the sexy charts we are presented. It seems we believe most of what is presented to us. And I say - dig deeper. Ask more questions. Find out the source. In my line of work, I am seeing lots of data points, graphs and reporting dashboards. Recently, due to a small question about a specific data point, we started digging further and realized the data itself was off and as they say – garbage in, garbage out. So this post is just a quick reminder on how important it is to have the right data in place and not take every picture with data for granted.
According to Liat Portal, an expert in Business Development and Data Analysis (https://www.linkedin.com/in/liatportal/) here are the 3 critical elements of data collection and analysis (with my interpretation):
1. Put the right elements in place already when the data is consumed so the data in as clean shape as possible. Whether you use a CRM, an Excel spreadsheet, an online form, an ERP, make sure that the User Interface for those who are putting the data in (that’s right - UI already at this stage) is intuitive and in a way that prevents human errors as much as possible. Have the right fields in place, use drop downs with options instead of free form texts, mandate specific fields, automate where possible.
2. Maintain, update and refresh the data often. Again, if you can automate it, great. But regardless, look at your data sets. Even if you are a small business owner and use basic means for collecting basic data points such as customers names, emails and birthdays (if you don’t - shame on you), take a peek at your tables every now and again. I recently learned how to download my own LinkedIn contacts and let me tell you – saw some really cool things when it was all laid out in a table like that (and thank you Rachel Simon from ConnectTheDots.com for that). And if you run a larger business unit with real database etc make sure your DBA queries the data sporadically in such a way that will give you an indication of its cleanliness. This way you create trust on the customer side who goes through the data, digs deeper and finds the data is genuine.
"Data doesn't speak for itself; it needs a storyteller"
3. Invest in the right interface! Not only to visualize the data but rather have the data tell the right story. Too many dashboards (whether on Tableau, Qlik, ZOHO Analytics, DOMO, Periscope etc.) are being under-utilized by us! The users. It is not enough today to simply lay out colorful dashboards with KPIs. Think of yourself looking at your monthly cellular bill. I bet you are thinking to yourself....pretty cool but SO WHAT??? Tell the story, highlight the points you want to highlight and if you can....that's right...touch their emotions while telling the story. Emotional Relevance - remember?
If you take nothing else from this blog take this - So What? How does it impact me? How does it move the needle for me? What can I do with this beautiful graph or chart? These are the questions your customers (internal and external) are asking themselves when going through the data you are presenting to them. And this is the question you should try and answer when you are putting together the story you want to tell while laying out your data. On whatever front end technology you choose. So what? Was on a Delta flight back home from New Jersey last week. Usually a flight that takes less than 2 hours. Like all of us, even though a relatively short flight, I like to check every now and then the Delta Flight Tracker on the screen. Every time we look at that screen we rely on Delta to go through the process I mentioned, clean the data, make it relevant and display it in an appealing way. Here is what was in front of me….
Indeed, a beautiful and appealing display of data. Except…..I do like to dig deeper. Almost 9 hours of flight? From Newark?? Are we being kidnapped and taken to a far far land???? Hang on, total distance 150 miles – are the kidnappers turtles????? So I dug a bit deeper…..and here is the screen of the guy next to me…..
You see why pretty dashboards are not enough? According to this, the guy next to me will get to Atlanta 10 miles after me……or ahead of me?? Did you know that the average number of pilots on Delta flights is 1.87 per flight…..???? I’m pretty sure the pilot’s name was Solomon….;-)