The Importance of Looking at Data Through a Granular Lens

By Bill Schmarzo, Data influencer and Author

When I first started working with data in the '80s, we were fixated on aggregate data. Because storage costs were high and we were operating in a data warehouse world, we’d combine 24 months’ worth of data and build out averages to understand sales in a whole year versus another. The problem with this was that aggregating insights stripped all of the nuances from data out.

Fortunately, the way we work with data has changed. As I discuss with Qlik’s Chief Data Officer – and my long-time friend – Joe DosSantos, in the latest episode of the Data Brilliant podcast, we’ve learned that the key to obtaining business value from data is the granularity of insights, championing diversity of thinking, and monetizing outliers. By shifting the way we think about data, we have drastically increased its importance within organizations to the point where it is arguably the most valuable resource in a corporate environment today.

Never Underestimate the Importance of Design Thinking

Throughout my career, I've seen a significant shift in the perception of what it means to explore data insights. If business leaders want to push data to the limits of its value, they need to create a culture where every individual in an organization feels comfortable to explore data freely, fail, and learn without being reprimanded.

Design thinking is a big part of this process. We must allow individuals to challenge assumptions and redefine problems to create innovative solutions in a fail-safe environment. However, as Joe and I discussed, for this to be truly successful, we need to view data science as a team sport. When bringing people together for a workshop or brainstorm, I find that some of the best ideas come from employees outside of the data science team – people that are doing the hands-on job. Whether that be teachers, nurses, technicians or engineers, it is these individuals that have the experience and knowledge to explore new ideas and innovate in a way the data science team sometimes can’t on their own.

It’s this diversity of thought that has the power to unlock the value and potential of that granular, outlier data that can so often go overlooked.

We All Have an Ethical Responsibility in How We Use Data

When it comes to data, there’s a big difference between ‘do no harm’ and ‘do good’ and as a society, we need to wrestle with these ethical issues. But whose responsibility is it to instill ethical guidelines by which we use data?

Governments must first of all understand that establishing a solution for the ethical use of data cannot be decided by a group of politicians. Groups of organizations – including government, corporate, education and even religious organizations – need to be involved in the discussion. It is too big of an issue for it to be decided by one group alone. We all have a collective responsibility.

The Powerful Impact of Data

It’s no secret that data has an extremely powerful impact on business and society. And that’s why its use must be approached carefully and ethically. Data is informing decision making in all of the world’s biggest companies – from giants such as Netflix and Amazon – to your local retailer down the street. By looking at data through a granular lens, you can spot new trends and patterns to learn about your customers, your products and operations. This allows you to fine-tune the way you do things, monetize opportunities and drive strategic value. As I like to say, the details can always be found in the data.

Tune in now to hear @schmarzo and @JoeDosSantos explain how organizations can gain true value from data

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