Looking for your most valuable data? Follow the money

The closer to the money that your data is, the higher its potential value

Have you ever contemplated the potential business value of data? Do you wonder where your most valuable data might be? Do you speculate about the data that will help you sleep at night and keep the wolves from the door? If you have answered yes to any of the questions then my advice to you is to follow the money.

We can learn a lot from data that follows the money, and we can use money-centric data to not only control our operations and govern our tactics, but also to understand ourselves and others, to help us to put the important aspects into a realistic business context, and to formulate coherent, cohesive and realizable business strategies as a result.

A lot is being said about the potentially massive benefits accruable from mining nuggets of pure gold embedded in terabytes, petabytes and exabytes of relatively unstructured data – gushing digital data-sources that many people are now calling Big Data.

Not a day passes by in which new claims are not made regarding the miraculous powers, curative properties and colossal intrinsic value of Big Data.

Accompanying the burgeoning democratization of massive data comes a vast array of enabling Big Data technologies, that whilst appearing all very similar to the untrained eye are almost all very similar in fundamental aspects, based as they are on a reduced set of simple, neat and appealing architectural principles for movement, storage, searching and counting of relatively unstructured data.

But is Big Data technology much of a muchness? Not in my opinion, as the big difference in the technology offerings in the area of Big Data seems to be more focused on enterprise readiness, stability and performance, which is where the bigger Big Data technology vendors are able to add real Big Data technology value and mark significant differences between their offerings and the ostensibly attractive and beguilingly cheaper brown-bag open-source offerings, that offer neither enterprise readiness nor bells and whistles.

So we can clearly see that Big Data technology, together with its attendant data volumes, velocities and varieties, is very much the flavour of the times.

But, is that where the high-value business data is really at? Is the highest business value to be found in collecting, collating, sorting, searching and counting Big Data? Or is the really important data still intrinsically linked to our very existence as businesses and business people?

In her book Emotional Currency psychotherapist Kate Levinson describes money as being an “an incredibly good vehicle for seeing our issues and vulnerabilities because it touches on almost all aspects of life and it reveals deep parts of our psyches, including our needs, fears and desires”. Money has become important at all levels of society and at all levels of abstraction, this is why data and information are meaningless unless they help us to understand, control and create money and to help us make informed decisions and take beneficial actions, whether capitalizing on an opportunity or averting a costly risk.

Look at the value of data another way. For example, consider that I have a bunch of operational data and I want to know what value it has for me, I could pose the following questions:

  • If I don’t have this data will it mean that I lose existing customers?
  • If I don’t have this data does it mean that my business will lose money?
  • If I don’t have this data does it mean that my cost-centre will lose money?
  • If I don’t have this data does it affect anything of significance in my business?

You will see that the more important that data is to the business, the closer that data is to providing an understanding of money and its relationship to our business.

So, where’s the most valuable data:

  • Simply stated, your most valuable data that you have in your possession is in your operational systems, in your in-house applications and in you ERP systems – this is data you create and the data that you obtain to support the operations of the business
  • Your most valuable data is structured. Semi-structured and unstructured data can have value, but the most valuable data, day in day out, is structured data
  • Your most valuable data does not typically come in massive volumes, varieties and velocities. Unless your name is Google.
  • Your most valuable data is first about money and then the many things directly related to money. The value chain for data can be generalized into the degrees of separation between money and the data. The closer to the money that the data is, the higher its potential value.

Put in simplistic terms, your General Ledger is like the wealthy neighbourhood in an affluent ERP/SalesForce area, whereas the sprawling Big Data conglomeration is generally not remotely as well-to-do as its wealthy data neighbours, and typically requires much tedious and arduous effort in order to extract value from it.

So, how do we get this data under control and working for you?

There are many ways of collecting, collating and delivering high-value money-centric-data to those in the organisation who can create most value from it, and here are some avenues to explore:

  • Enterprise Data Warehousing – this is a platform that serves up business data and is based on the Bill Inmon approach to delivering high-value information for strategic decision support, it is the information supply framework par excellence.
  • Money-oriented statistical analysis – don’t be side-lined by dodgy claims about the instant marvels of data science, this is where the real solidly grounded analysis takes place. A great statistician who can get valuable insight from modelling and analysing your money-centric data, is worth their weight in gold.
  • A picture is worth a million megabytes. Explore the use of brilliant visualisations of money-oriented statistical analysis using data from an Enterprise Data Warehouse or a similarly appropriate information supply framework. Your audience will thank you for it.

Before I leave for the day, I have another piece of advice. If you don’t have your money-data under control and informing important decisions then don’t go hopping off on a Big Data wild-goose chase until you do so. Remember, that whilst Big Data may be the cherry on the top of the business data cake - and that in itself is pretty debatable - it’s the data-cake that is still the most important data aspect of your business.

Yes, I know it’s probably going to be much less fun, but if you remember to follow the money, you’ll thank yourself for it in the end.

Many thanks for reading.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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