Most owners and key decision makers in a business realise that it is vital to continue to find new ways to stay competitive. Much has been said about using your organisation’s most potent assets to help achieve this. In our previous articles, we touched briefly on the value of people in the organisation as a key asset. Whilst not disputed here, there is another immensely important asset that is often either overlooked, or if used, it isn’t nearly to its full value. That asset is DATA and it is one of the few assets that rivals the importance of your
people in some regards. Below we explore some critical considerations in this regard and point out how you could go about unleashing the edge that understanding your data, can bring to your business.

We will suggest five key considerations in order to turn your data into diamonds for your business, namely:

1. There is a difference between data, information and knowledge.
2. Understand the different implications for using data and data driven insights in an Operational environment, as opposed to data analysis for Strategic advantage
3. How to use technology and digitisation effectively to sweat your digital assets fully
4. The role of consultants, and the benefits of the correct leadership attitude
5. Data is a very valuable business asset – and therefore, must be invested in and grown as a business enabler. Leadership is key to this.

1…
The difference between data, information and knowledge: a transformation of building blocks to meaning

It is important to avoid confusing data with knowledge. There is a leap here which has caused many to fall prey to a trap. As valuable an asset as data might be, it is not very useful in its rudimentary state. It carries no intrinsic meaning and cannot provide a ‘story of insight’ if the data elements and attributes remain in this state. A transformation process –

OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY COMPETITIVE EDGE IN MARKET

Think of it as prospecting – has first to take place, and this transformation has to be supported and embedded into your business to yield consistent and valuable results. Getting data to be diamonds require some vital activities to get to the diamonds. Once transformed, this will provide your business with a currency strong enough to use for deep and meaningful strategic insights into your business direction. Using these data-driven insights – or in simple terms, advanced knowledge – will provide value that your business might have owned all along but have not used as a key asset to drive out strategic decisions that provide you with a competitive advantage.

To get to the data diamonds, what needs to happen is a process illustrated below

The first theoretical understanding is to know that data must be made sense of before it carries any meaning per se. This is no simple task – much like letters form words, and words in turn sentences and meaning when strung together, so too data must be strung together.However, discovering the rules and permutations that make more sense and have stronger truth than others, is a complex process. The first step, if done correctly, will allow data to transform into information. This is basic form of usable truth, but not yet sophisticated or deep enough to provide insights that are complex and hidden – often, information is useful up to a point, but says what is probably already known. In the next point, the difference between information and knowledge will be further explored.

2…

Operational insights are different to strategic insights – and the difference is information vs knowledge

It isn’t necessary to go into great philosophical debates on this one – suffice it to say that there is a pecking order at play, where data is at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to the potency of meaning, information sits in the middle, and knowledge is the element which holds sway as the full bearer of meaning. In operational environments, where established and bench-marked processes are in place, any departure from a set parameter or benchmark will be flagged as an outlier and will therefore need intervention to bring it back to acceptable parameters. This is fairly simple once established and fairly straight-forward to discover through ongoing (real-time) data analysis. Therefore, this typically provides information, against which known interventions can be applied, in pre-determined and structured contexts.

On the other hand, discovering patterns, insights and potential truths in vast lakes of data, which has no seeming structure and is mostly amorphous, requires much more skill. It not only needs sophisticated methods of analysis such as those offered by statistics to understand hidden clusters and patterns, but also requires acumen, other knowledge, context and often judgement, to start making sense of it and transforming it into (meaningful and deep) insights. In addition, there is no guarantee that the story is the correct one, and it therefore also requires sophisticated techniques of cross-checking and validating against other complex data-derived pieces of insights. This, in turn, takes much practice and skill to get right, and is a slow and layered process, the more of which is practices, the better the results are likely to be. Only here, can one truly consider the data – so transformed – to really be knowledge, which can drive and inform key strategic insights and provide a competitive advantage.

3…
Technology can help you for both information and knowledge pursuits

Given the outlines given in the first two points, it already seems obvious that there are indispensable solutions available to assist with the Operational need, to monitor data and let it become useful information. In this regard, the use of FLOW as a workflow tool can greatly assist, as well as continually change and adapt in the hands of the business in the quest for continually improving operational efficiencies. It does so because it is configurable and able to change to new improvements, and it is able to provide bespoke reports which will drive out new improvement opportunities through its use of data inputs and known parameters, to provide up to date and valuable information to cycle this process in your business. Other excellent solutions, such as WebOffice – using the same principles – will manage your resources and their allocation, and allow for multiple inputs and report on any parameter at risk of, or actually being, exceeded, including resource time, capital, and other critical resource elements. Managing exceptions in an IT system in the form of issues or problems in a technology estate, benefits from a system such as ITSM, which is a no- nonsense and simple to use ticked management system, bringing operational efficiency to
your tech support functions.

When it comes to the next level – getting to a place of data driving out knowledge – things get somewhat more complex. The structures of your data bases and how easily the data can be changed and manipulated to take on different forms becomes paramount. In addition, there are certainly sophisticated statistical packages able to provide very complex data analytics – but there still is an indelible need for context, interpretation and judgement as part of the process of transformation into knowledge. This neatly leads to the next point of the five considerations.

4…

The role of a consultant is very valuable, seeking knowledge through data

Given what has been very briefly explained in the preceding points, this consideration can be made brief: use consultants with expertise to assist you in creating optimised work processes, which you can benchmark and continue to improve on. Their insights and industry knowledge will provide great value in getting your business models and processes off to a very good start through solid business design and architecture. This might be an expense initially but will save much wastage when you eliminate redundancy in your operational environment through arduous and often expensive trial and error, instead of cutting out what you can up front though consultancy expertise and insight.

Given the complexity of knowledge creation, it seems fairly obvious that expertise will be of immense value to perform some of the specialised data analytics and statistical applications, and to help shape the emerging knowledge. In addition, consultants with deep industry experience and business acumen will also help shape the context and make recommendations borne from their own deep skills and experience, assisting you on the path of becoming more adept at taking on more of the task in your own capacity. Here, the role of leadership is very important – leaders who are knowledgeable, able to harness and act on insights, and able to create conditions to actually manoeuvre a business to adapt to the knowledge gleaned from sophisticated data analysis and industry expertise, are critical to be able to make use of any strategic insights by coupling it to their own intimate understanding of the makeup and workings of the business they lead. It comes as no surprise then, that any software development business who prides itself on its robust and value-adding solutions, cannot boast any such claims without having equally capable consulting expertise as part of its offering.

5…
Data is a valuable business asset – be sure to treat it as one

Last, but by no means least important, is that the owners and leaders of businesses must be convinced through their own insights of the value of data. If they are so convinced, it is  incumbent on them to invest in this asset, to nurture and grow it, and to make sure that all the needs that might be evident in the transformation process of data into diamonds, is funded, that the conditions are continually created to ensure the continued transformation process, and to embed and champion the value and use of data as a critical input into
strategic decisions which allow for competitive advantage to your business. Under- investment and neglect to nurture and grow this asset, will lead to an asset being allowed to weather and eventually become a tragic missed opportunity to prospect, find and cash in the diamonds that a data-driven organisation can bring.