In the modern corporate world, business leaders are put under ever increasing pressure to make the correct decisions in ever shorter time periods. These demands have forced people to turn increasingly to data systems, but is this approach really delivering on its promise?
Data has been the bedrock of IT systems since their inception but the advancements in data handling both in terms of quality and processing have developed immeasurably over recent years. Developments such as machine learning, deep learning and AI have been at the forefront of this development and have allowed systems to process data faster and begin to provide real insight. But is this increased focus on data really enough?
The real power rests with people
Many people believe that the real power is in the compute power, some the algorithms and some the software, but the real power rests with people. And here I talk about the use of technology, not to simply reduce workload, but to enhance people. The focus of such development is to provide information in an appropriate form that can be easily interpreted and reviewed in order to formulate the next step, be that a decision or just the next question.
So, this raises an interesting question; does more data help decision making? Data without context rarely helps, so more data does not necessarily support the decisions businesses must take. In recent times, the amount of data and information shared has grown exponentially; however, this growth in data must be used with care. Data for data’s sake can be both pointless and expensive, but unfortunately these days can be common.
What to do with all this data is another interesting area. Firstly, we need to understand it in terms of our businesses and situations. This helps to understand what the best way is to absorb the information. Keeping it simple often helps, so converting the output of an ML experiment to a simple red, amber, green or an up or down arrow could be the most appropriate interpretation.
Understanding the context of data and the appropriateness for the recipient is key. This interpretation and understanding comes from people, not computers. In order to maximise the benefits of data, real people are needed to select, review, and interpret. This is important because, at the end of the day, computers process data in whatever way we tell them to; even machine learning works on the information we normalise and feed it with.
Looking at data in a different way also highlights the importance of accurate and timely delivery. We have all heard about Just in Time (JIT) when it comes to areas such as manufacturing and supply chain management; but this also applies to data systems. The enemy of JIT is Just Too Late, and if data is just too late then it is not available when required – for instance when a key decision needs to be made. The impact of this can be severe in terms of both business decisions and opportunities.
Does it Help?
So far, we have focussed on the negative side of data but what happens when you do get it right? Does it help? This is a resounding yes. Understandable, accurate, timely data and information with context can and has changed business forever, by supporting decision making, providing options and new perspectives, but most importantly by enhancing people.
Let’s hope we continue to learn as we move forward on our data journey and particularly about how best to use it with our business resources.