Fisher-Price Your Insights

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Generating Insights

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend the InformaticaWorld 2015 conference in Las Vegas. With more than 2,500 attendees talking about all things data, this was for sure the time to get your data geek out. There was plenty of talk about data governance, intelligent data platforms, big data, predictive and prescriptive analytical processes, and ultra-fast message ingestion from devices on aircraft engines.  But in the midst of all of the cool data talk, a CIO from one of our customers put a timely reminder to us data people to “Fisher-Price our insights” – to keep it simple.

From systems of record to systems of engagement to systems of insight

Geoffrey Moore has been the future of IT for years and how our systems have changed from mainly record keeping to those at the front lines of engagement with customers and suppliers. Today we live in a world were nearly every possible interaction or event is digitized in some form through very addictive social media, sensors, and the likes. And this deluge of information is opening up a new world of learning and insight into behaviors ranging from buyer journeys to personalized healthcare. Perhaps we now enter the systems of insight stage as we are putting this data to work to drive better outcomes.

The purpose for generating insights

As a data geek it has always been fun to dig into the data, find the hidden patterns, and build out the algorithms to do my correlations. But our CIO reminded me that for most of the time, our analyses are not serving our own purpose, but that of the business or agency we work for.

I have been working in the data space for 30+ years and have built data warehouses, managed business intelligence and market intelligence teams. And one of the toughest jobs I have found is to distill an insight down to its core essence when you communicate with executives or your board. It is not that they are not smart enough, but that they might not be steeped in the data and methods. Least of all, they don’t have time to pour over the data as you do for hours each day.

A few thoughts on simplifying insights

While there is a sea change in the c-suites and boardrooms all over the world as management gets more data savvy and shift from “knowing it all” to “knowing what questions to ask”, we can help our causes with some simple considerations.

  • Charts are better. This seems to be a popular line and in my experience holds true – especially if you could make it a bar chart with a big bar and a small bar.
  • Let the data tell a story. Not in a single chart with every possible insight on one slide, but in a sequence of easily digestible charts to illustrate the learnings.
  • Use business language. The more you can connect your insight and language to the language the business speaks, the easier to conversation go.
  • Review with a stakeholder-coach. You have one shot to get your point across.
  • Dumbing it down does not mean remove the insights. Perhaps this does not entirely fit in my list, but asking tough questions and sharing unpopular insights takes courage. Don’t hide the truth behind over-simplifications.

Need for superpowers of the data geeks

For sure the list above can be much longer, but it also illustrates some challenges for data scientists and data geeks alike. The desired skills are not just the super powers of math, stats, and computer science but knowledge of business, psychology, economics and the likes that makes the super powers really super. This or course begs the question what the best education is to train our data scientists. We can hold that discussion for another day.

Parting thoughts

While it is important to simplify business insights when we present to the executive teams on the business side, it is equally important when we build business cases and justifications for our own data projects in IT. Whether you are the data scientist or the CIO, I believe the advice from our CIO remains equally strong. Keeping it simple and keeping it in small increments will help you justify your project better. Please share your ideas for keeping it simple and how you coach your teams in this process.

For more background on delivering great data to power your business, read our ebook Data Drives Profit.