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Data is an Unfortunate Side Effect of Information   

By Neil Bazley, Vice President Chapters, IIBA   
  
We are in the late-middle of the hype cycle of “big data”. I’m seeing quite a few information technology organizations spend a lot of time on Business Intelligence (BI) projects, cleaning up their data (I know of one mid-size IT shop in the energy industry that has spent over $6 million to date to clean up wellsite data alone) and analysing BI suites, predictive analytics tools and upgrading infrastructure to handle the vast amounts of raw data that they are being asked to process.
 
And with data from (web enabled) sensors, mobile devices and social media there is a lot more data than ever before. I don’t think though, that we have a data problem as much as we have a prioritization problem. We can spend a lot of our finite resources analysing, reporting and dashboarding and not provide any information of value. I’ve said many times that data in and of itself is useless. It’s not the data; it’s what we do with it. Data is important to IT organizations. Storing it, managing it, backing it up and recovering it all matters to IT. To the part of the business that generates revenue, none of that matters unless that data can be converted into information.
 
Data is an unfortunate side effect of information. I’ll even take it a step further and say that the information itself doesn’t even matter unless that particular information provides insight enough to make an informed decision. 
 
So what decisions is your business trying to make? What are the important, strategic questions that need to be answered to ensure the survival of your organization? Are you faced with a challenge from a new entrant into your formerly staid and stable industry? Is there a social trend that threatens to change the way that your entire industry operates (think newspapers or record companies)? Can you provide the right information to facilitate the decision whether to enter the Asian market with your products and services? And if the answer is yes, what market has the optimal business environment and culture for your business style and company culture to be a success?
 
Years ago I was mentoring a young business analyst working in the same energy company as me. I said to her that she would never go wrong if, every time she was asked to do something or every time her stakeholders asked for something new, shiny and pretty she asked herself the question “How does this help us get more oil out of the ground?” 
 
Think about the strategic goals of the organization. Think about the questions that need to be answered in order to meet those goals. Find the information to make those decisions. Get information on your customers and competition that is relevant to those strategic decisions. Challenge any request that doesn’t provide the traceability back to the organization’s objectives.
 
There are a lot of shiny data related trends in their hype cycle right now, big data, (the latest iteration of) cloud computing, SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile), the Internet of Things and predictive analytics on unstructured social data are but a few. These are all great trends to watch and it will be very interesting to see how these trends develop and interact with each other. But unless we can use these concepts and technologies to provide value to the strategic direction of our organizations we run the risk of falling into a data driven trap.