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It has been said, not least by my business, that we are living in the ‘defining decade of data’. I can say this because of the unique place we’ve arrived at in human history.
If ‘data is going to change the world’ sounds like something you’ve heard before, that’s because you have. For years, technologists, futurists, and business leaders have predicted a revolution in every pocket of society, powered by data.
It would be perverse to argue that data hasn’t changed the world, though it would be fair to say it’s been a hard road to get to the place where a modern cloud analytics stack makes data monetisation, sticky apps, and embedded analytics practical and easy. And that’s saying nothing of the basic promise of business intelligence that is merely timely and useful. But now these things are here and in practice daily throughout the world, from neobanks to restaurants and even global technology giants.
Behind these changes are a swathe of massive technology trends. The cloud has gone mainstream. With cloud analytics, businesses can get real-time insights based on real-time, live data. And anyone in an organisation that wants to take on the role of a business analyst, can, with self-service analytics powered by search (think a ‘Google for data’ approach to asking questions) and AI - providing the guardrails and support to channel our curiosity to appropriately secure the right answers.
In this defining era, there is massive opportunity for organisations who can turn these trends into tailwinds that drive the next decade of success. Doing so, however, requires recognizing and ending the data mistakes that have held our industry back. Here are the six I see data leaders make most often that will hold you back from dominating the era ahead:
Six mistakes that knock you back a decade
“It’s good enough now.” No. This should be a simple one. Don’t settle for the technology offering the features that gave us dead-end dashboards with inert, past data, slow requested analytics turnaround times, restricted only to a select and expensive few. Get the best of breed solutions to create your own modern data stack. Many existing solutions are SaaS based and making change isn’t particularly disruptive. There isn’t so much of a price trap set by one preferred vendor anymore that means settling for several OK solutions makes financial sense. Plus, set that against the very real fact that ‘good enough’ doesn’t lead to greatness. It never has and never can.
“I only want the specialists investigating our data.” No. That slows down the analytics process and ensures a divide between insights and domain experts. Now everyone can be a business analyst, even in small ways. Search and AI guardrails exist to empower everyone through truly self-service analytics. No learning to code, not necessarily sending insights off to an analytics specialist. They have a very real role to play, but not every organisation needs one, and where they are employed most usefully isn’t by being locked away in a cupboard as part of an insights team.
“We have to pass this through the existing process.” No. No more dashboards, no more slow processes, no more multi-person reviews. Action based on data should be really easy. Insights and ideas really are great but can’t die on an unread report sitting on a desk. Plus, to put the boot into dashboards again - insights don’t spark action if all they do is raise another question that can’t be immediately acted on. Question, answer, insight, action - in
real-time. This is what breaks the rocks in front of organisations today. Be active and reactive, not part of the passive legacy data queue.
“But our execs really love their dashboards.” No. Stop using the d-word. Dashboards are dead. There’s no perfect data warehouse. Create freedom by building flexible data foundations. Practitioners and domain experts should be able to use the data platforms and solutions that work for them. Teams have different needs and need to interact with data the way they must to do their jobs. Solutions should offer governance, structure, and automation that allows them to work in the way they want. Cloud solutions now offer this.
“Our data is all we need.” No. Your data is good, but their data will combine to make it better. Don't' neglect to make use of third-party data to make smarter models, solutions, apps, and services. The cloud and APIs make this so easy, there’s no excuse to be backward. Now business leaders can have truly holistic views on their industry and customers, and offer powerful services to customers. Think of an app like Uber. Mapping data is part of the power, but knowing where all these other parties are, the drivers, gives it its power. Sharing data with trusted partners makes a more powerful product for everyone.
“We had to make it this way, for us.” No. Put users first. We are not in the world of ‘do as I say’ anymore, that’s a relic of older, unwieldy, technologies. Users know what good UX looks like stubborn and they want a personalised experience that lets them do their job. Changing a role to fit pre-packaged software is a very 1990s concept - it;s as dead as those dashboards. Analytics can become part of an engaging user experience in any business application. Embedding it where users want to use it means their decision-making becomes data-led.
Getting over these six mistakes enables teams to make better decisions based on the signals that matter, combined with their existing domain knowledge. That means bright people working the way that they want to achieve better results.
Sounds like a good way to create a legacy of innovation and success.