Finding Value in Data

value-big-data-150x150If you ask 100 people to define the value that data brings an organization, you’ll most likely get 150 different answers. Yes…that’s right…150 answers. You’ll hear a few good succinct responses but most will give you a few different answers with examples of how their organization ‘uses’ data.

There’s a problem with that response though. Using something doesn’t mean it has value. Doing data analysis isn’t delivering value; its just doing data analysis.

The value of data comes from the purposeful analysis of that data. Additionally, you can’t analyse data and hope to find value without an idea in mind of where that data comes from (i.e., context) and how you hope to be able to use that data (i.e., strategy).

Approaching data analysis without context and strategic purpose is similar to getting on the highway with a full tank of gas and driving without a destination in mind. Sure, you’ll get somewhere but you won’t really know if that ‘somewhere’ is the ‘right’ place.

A caveat to the contextual and strategic aspect of data analysis is that if you are ‘doing’ big data the right way, you should find more questions than answers. Your strategic thinking and data context should continue to drive the analysis and use of data within the organization but you should be willing to take whatever questions and answers you find.

Some people would argue that part of data science and big data is finding new questions and insights that you didn’t know you were looking for. In fact, you never really know what you’ll find when you start digging into data; but there’s a difference in digging into data without some sort of roadmap and purposefully analysing data.   If you don’t have some form of strategy behind your analysis, you won’t really know when you’ve found something of importance.

There is value in data but the real, long-term value of data comes not from just the data itself but from the purposeful analysis of that data.

Links for May 19 2013

Technology Consultant - Eric D. Brown | Image for link posts
  • Why personas can be a bad idea for content marketing

    Quote: I guess that brings me full circle: go ahead and create personas. It can never be a bad idea to start your content marketing by thinking about the people you’re addressing. But if your nice, neat persona templates are acting as a substitute for real contact with real people, you’re doing yourself a disservice and your content will suffer for it.

  • Innovate on Purpose: Creating and Sustaining Innovation Energy

    Quote: If you can create a lot of energy, excitement and engagement in your organization talking about ideas, then you have one third of the challenge overcome from the start. The next question is: can your team commit to doing the hard work of innovation?

  • My 16-Year-Old Bike Explains Which is Best: Quality or Quantity (Hint: They’re Both Wrong) | Advanced Riskology

    Quote: In reality, quality and quantity exist on a spectrum, and the sweet spot you ought to land on is called value. This is a lesson I learned in 6th grade when I bought my first bike from the local shop in my hometown—a good ol’ Trek 420 that, 16 years later, I still ride every single day. Yeah, it’s a little small—like a bear riding a tricycle—but it’s perfect for me.

  • The Modern Mantra: “Instrument, Analyze, Tune”

    Quote: So while I’m thrilled about Big Data coming to manufacturing (and soon to just about all other sectors of the economy), I’m concerned that it will increase and accelerate the ‘hollowing out‘ of the workforce already underway.

  • Getting it right with data attribution : CloudAve

    Quote: Data attribution is increasingly important, but it will be essential to make sure that the rules, tools and norms which emerge are both lightweight and pragmatic. Now is not the time to get heavy-handed and pedantic about where the comma goes.

  • Big data, cool kids – O’Reilly Radar

    Quote: Enjoy the noise and the energy from the growing data ecosystem, but keep your eyes on the problems you want to solve.

Measuring and Delivering IT Value

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

I spend a lot of time talking to IT professionals, managers and CIO’s as part of my job and as part of my ongoing networking activities. During our conversations, we talk about various topics but the most discussed topic seems to be around ‘value’ of the IT group and how IT professionals can demonstrate true value to their organizations.

Now…value is a very subjective term.  Every person and oganization thinks about ‘value’ differently, but I think the basic tenet of ‘value’ is this: “how can I / my team help the organization succeed”.   Of course…’succeed’ can be defined many different ways as well, but let’s save that discussed for another day.

Myles Suer with HP writes a nice piece that touches on the ‘value’ discussion in an article titled Real IT managers speak out about management and measurement on the Enterprise CIO Forum.  In this article, Myles relates some interesting questions that he’s recently heard from IT Managers. A few examples are:

  • Several folks discussed the need to better demonstrate the value of IT—both for running the business and changing the business
  • How do we achieve best practice, and then how do we measure and demonstrate that it to the business?
  • How do we make sure that we are delivering the right services?

Sounds like questions/discussions I’ve had as well.

Myles responds with the following as a means to solve these issues and show ‘value’:

These questions point to something we talk a lot about at HP: the need to create a service-cost model for IT as well as the need to evaluate IT services through a business lens. A performance management system provides the fact-based evidence of how IT supports the business. It can also – when combined with financial planning and analysis – provide the numbers that enable IT to partner with the business to make decisions on service delivery and prioritization. With a performance system in place, IT leaders have a picture of how and when IT is adding value to the business and begin to optimize, managing assets across their full lifecycle.

Emphasis mine.

I would agree with Myles. Some form of performance management system should be able to tell the business what type of value they are getting from their IT group and investments.  But…what about the more ‘ethereal’ value that is much tougher to measure?  You know… the softer side of things (people, etc)?

I’ve not seen an IT / Technology performance management system that incorporates these softer  value ideas into it…have you?  Can you even really measure many of these soft values?

At the end of the, at least for the people I speak with, what most IT professionals want is the ability to point to measures that the organization has said are important and say ‘look…we are delivering what you need’.  A good governance and measurement system is necessary…but many times the act of measuring and managing measurement takes precedence over delivering.

That’s the difficult part of working in IT and leading IT.  Showing value  while also delivering on that value.

Image credit: Measured Currency by By Brooks Elliott on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

On Value

If you don’t know, my passion outside of technology, entrepreneurship and writing on this blog is photography.  I’ve recently been spending even more time on that passion of mine…which is OK by me 🙂

Don’t fret though…I still love thinking, and writing, about IT and people

One of the photography blogs that I regularly follow is called “A Photo Editor“.  In a recent post titled “Microstock Unsustainable According To iStockphoto“, the author provides a brief commentary on a fairly turbulent argument about stock photography.

The stock photography issue / argument has been raging for a few years and and ultimately it boils down to the argument of whether ‘professional’ photographers livelihoods are being affected by ‘amateurs’ within the industry.

This argument is one I find interesting and deeper than what most people want to admit too.

On one side you have ‘Professional’ photographers and on the other you have ‘amateurs’ or ‘semi-professionals’.  The pros are complaining that the non-pros are cutting into their livelihood.  The stock photography business has been one of the main drivers of that argument for a few years.

Personally, I think the argument is rather shallow….if there is a professional photographer out there who’s gone out of business due to non-pros, I’d say there’s more at issue there than just pricing.

The world of photography isn’t the only place this is happening though…the same argument is being had in every industry today.  Here’s a few areas where the debate about ‘pro’ v ‘non-pro’ is happening today

  • Need a logo designer? You can pay a ‘professional’ a couple thousand dollars or you can post your request on 99Designs and get a logo for ~$295.  Many ‘professional’ designers are bemoaning the fact that these ‘amateurs’ are now ‘allowed into the industry’ with statements like “the kiddie designers of 99Designs“.
  • Need a website?  You can spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars or you can spend a few thousand dollars (or less).  You can go with a local web designer / developer for very little money or hire a large organization to build your site.  Or…you can crowdsource the work.  Whichever you choose, your budget will dictate the large or small price tag…but you will ultimately pick the proposal with the most value to you.
  • Need a wedding photographer?  You can spend ten thousand (or more) for a photographer or five hundred for a photographer.  Will you get the same results from from each? Depends on whether you see the value in what the higher priced photographer provides.

Why would you pay more money for something like a website or logo than you need to?    Probably because you’ve been sold on the value found in the higher priced option.

Say it with me…V-A-L-U-E .

You might opt to spend 10 times as much for a logo or photographer because you see the value there.   If you pick the cheaper option, perhaps its because you don’t see the difference in the product that costs 10x as much.

Let’s play a game…you want to hire a social media consultant for a day.  Here are your two options:

  • Option 1:  Consultant #1 will charge you $2000 to come to your business to talk about Social Media & Marketing.  You found this person on twitter and they seem to know what they are talking about.  I mean…they have the title of ‘social media ninja’ so they gotta know what their doing, right?
  • Option 2: Chris Brogan will charge you $22,000 to come to your business for a day to talk about Social Media & Marketing. You found Chris while searching the web and asking around.  Chris is listed #2 on the AdAge Power150…so he’s got to know a little bit about what he’s talking about right?

Which option do you take?

Some might pay consultant #1 $2K for a day while others may see the value in what Chris brings.  Me?  I’d take Chris for $22K. I don’t have $22K…but that’s beside the point 🙂

So….value is what you make it.  Value is what you communicate.  Value is what you can deliver.

The key is helping the buyer understand that value.

The Microstock article listed above closes with a pretty insightful statement:

Trying to be the cheapest is a miserable business to be in.

I tend to agree….very few companies or people have achieved long term success by being the lowest priced option (Wal-mart is one…but are they the exception?).   But…if you are the highest priced option in the marketplace, you can’t make the argument that the ‘cheap’ guy is an amateur, stealing your business and destroying your livelihood. You’ve got to step up and show the value in what you do.  Target is a great example…they are a higher priced option than Wal-Mart…and have been pretty successful at it.

Pretty similar to the modern IT group, no?

Modern IT is full of people proclaiming that cloud software is taking away their ‘business’.  Modern IT is full of professionals screaming about the non-pro’s forging ahead in the murky world of Shadow IT.  Modern IT is busy trying to implement processes and procuedures to ensure Shadow IT (and the people behind it) are driven out of ‘business’.

But…is anyone in Modern IT asking the simplest question?

Is anyone asking why?

Why are these things happening?   I’d argue that its because many in today’s organization are tired of paying money for no value.  Many are tired of wasting time with the modern IT group.

So…those of us in IT….take a second to step back and ask yourself this question:  Does the organization understand your value?

My bet is they don’t.  My bet is that they see you as the ‘highest priced option’ but they don’t understand that value wrapped in the  ‘price’.

Value is in the eye of the beholder….and its your job to make that value visible and understood.