Insights & Ideas

Why Data Should Be Time's Person of the Year

Every year, Time magazine publishes the Person of the Year. I have a recommendation.

The person I have in mind is widely known. Heck, I can’t think of a person in the world that doesn’t mention his name, both in praise and anger. He’s a truly adaptable chap. He’s also extremely helpful and reliable because when asked he’ll tell you something truly insightful. He is someone you simply can’t live without and yet he’s not bothered about being in the limelight. There is no ego with him. My person of the year is Mr. Data (aka Data Analytics).

Sadly, something tells me that Time magazine will not be selecting him as person of the year on December 10, 2014.

One of the reasons is no one really knows Mr. Data. You get from him what you put into the relationship and here lies the root problem. Unfortunately, because people don’t truly understand the value of data, no one really invests the time to get to know him beyond a casual encounter when there is a need to compile or view a report. The good news is, I believe, that progressive business and IT leaders are increasingly viewing data and data analytics as a strategic asset. They are investing time, money and resources to ensure that their organizations are able to exploit the value of data. It’s great news. What worries me is how they are progressing the data agenda.

I recently read an eye-catching Gartner prediction: By 2017, 33 percent of Fortune 100 organizations will experience an information crisis due to their inability to effectively value, govern and trust their data. This statistic does not surprise me.Why? I believe these organizations are not focused. Instead of investing in getting the most out of core internal datasets such as customer, product and spend, they are being distracted by sexier “big data” projects that won’t deliver short-term business value.

It’s been well documented that organizations are drowning in data. Yet, they aren’t tapping into the already existing datasets sitting in multiple reporting systems. It shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that Forrester Research estimates that 90% of an organization's data is not accessible to its employees! Imagine if the data was made available as meaningful information? A lot of things could possibly happen from better business performance to innovation. Until it happens, it’s a lost opportunity. Every organization uses data differently, at different times – just like every person consumes different types of food at different times.

That said, I do believe organizations should follow a journey that: one (1) starts with getting the most business value from pre-existing internal datasets. Step two (2) involves linking specific internal datasets to other internal sources of data. This will provide colleagues with greater visibility and insight than step one. Only then would we recommend step three (3), which is connecting connect internal data with external sources of information. It is not uncommon to see organizations run big data projects that incorporate phase three when they haven't mastered one or both of the first two phases. In the long-term, it is unsustainable because business performance will reveal which organizations have not focused on exploiting the value of existing data.It is untapped value.

Underlying these three steps - and organizations should have the agility to start at any of these steps - is turning complex data into meaningful information for the business to use in decision-making. In other words, data quality. Just as important is data-business alignment – ensuring that business goals set by the management team are supported by the relevant information (data). Otherwise, all the efforts going into obtaining and improving the quality of data will be wasted because the information won’t be used as expected by business and IT leaders.

Data is increasingly being recognized as the fourth corporate asset, joining capital, land and labor. It’s why I believe Mr. Data should be the Person of the Year. It might be too early for him to win this year, but I’m going to keep promoting him. He deserves the recognition. Fortunately, he has an ally in most organizations – the chief data officer. Perhaps they could split the accolade next year?

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