In today’s digital world, businesses are understandably taking strides to become ‘data-driven’. But some businesses unwillingly end up in another situation which I call ‘data-busy’. I’ll tell you what that means…

Quite simply, a data-driven business is one that uses data in ways that drive the business towards achieving its goals. Unfortunately, some businesses lose their way before becoming data-driven, and instead end up spending lots of of time, energy and money on data, but without achieving much benefit in return. That’s the difference between data-driven and data-busy.

Why do businesses end up data-busy?

Every business trying to become data-driven, wants to avoid being data-busy. So why do some businesses end up being just data-busy?

Leadership

The primary cause lies as so often, in leadership. If a business’s data efforts are not guided by a singular vision and championed by senior sponsors, then those efforts will be plagued by many issues such as funding problems, poor stakeholder buy-in and siloed processes. Naturally, fighting back against these issues drains precious resources, and holds a business back on the journey towards becoming data-driven. So this is the first reason why a business ends up being data-busy – a lack of appropriate data leadership.

Culture

A second reason, is an unwillingness to use numbers. Or to express that the other way around, a willingness to make decisions and take actions based on opinions and ‘gut-feel’. In businesses where this is the culture, data has to work hard to gain traction. A common symptom of this is when time in meetings is wasted on debating ‘whose report is right’, or arguing against the credibility of some data analysis over others. Plainly, in these circumstances people are busy with data, but not in a productive way. Data is not driving the business forwards.

Change

Another cause of a business being data-busy rather than data-driven, is a failure of projects to acknowledge data impacts. This is when a business carries out projects without fully investigating how each project could change the way data flows through the business, or change the data itself. The upshot of this, is that the project must spend extra time and money on remedial work to repair the unforeseen impacts, or the business is forced to live with the consequences of unintentionally undermined data. Sometimes, it is both. In either case, the business is once again piling energy and resources into data which is not returned in the form of business value.

Accessibility

A fourth cause of ending up being data-busy, is poor access to quality data. If people can’t readily access the data that they need, then you either have a situation where people are wasting time scrabbling about for data, or manually patching gaps in data quality. As a result, people are once again busy trying to work with data, but for little benefit. Or in the case that people just give up on trying to access data, no benefit at all!

Standards

Finally, one more cause of a business being data-busy, is the absence of a data standard, which is a documented record of the level of quality that a business’s data must maintain, in order to satisfy the business’s data needs. Let me put it like this – a business’s data has a job to do. If data doesn’t have a job, then there’s really no good reason for a business to hold onto it. So therefore, data must be fit enough to perform its job, and it’s that level of fitness which is recorded in a data standard. Without a data standard there is no target for data quality, and it’s impossible to hit a target that isn’t there! As a result, businesses without a data standard find themselves endlessly running around in circles, trying to get data to fulfil jobs which the data is in no fit state to do. Which is by definition, you guessed it, data-busy!

To wrap up…

There’s a couple of fundamental points to take away from all this.

    1. It’s important to simply be aware of the danger of becoming data-busy. I’ve seen some businesses that believe they are data-driven, because they can see lots of activity taking place around data. Yet the leaders of the business aren’t aware that most of that activity is wasted effort. This is clearly a precarious position for a business to be in, and one that can begin to be avoided by businesses leaders being more sensitive to the kind of situations I’ve described above.
    2. After awareness, comes preparedness. Be well prepared to prevent or rectify harmful cases of ‘data-busy’. One of the best ways to do this, is to devise and adopt a data strategy which incorporates the kind of issues I’ve outlined here, and clarifies the business’s tactics for responding to them.

I hope you find this insight useful in making your business more data-driven! Fuel some useful discussion by leaving your comments, and if you have any questions that you’d like to ask me directly, you’re very welcome to connect with me. There are more causes of ‘data-busy’ which to keep this brief, I haven’t mentioned here. And I always enjoy hearing people’s thoughts on data topics like this one!

PS – I created this short video on this topic too, take a look!

About the Author

Phil Husbands

Phil Husbands

I show organisations of all shapes and sizes how real business intelligence isn't just about technology. As the Data and Analytics Director at Acrotrend, I help businesses to turn their data into truly valuable reports and information, by aligning BI and data technology with their goals, people and processes.

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