DanMaycock.com

Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Category: Data Strategy

Posts related to data strategy, and the best methods / practices for building data competency.

3 Steps to take Data Analysis from “Well, That’s Interesting” to Revenue Impacting

Data is hot right now, and it seems everywhere in business these days there is another tool or framework on how to leverage data to drive a real difference in your business.

A good metaphor to understanding data effectively though, is training for an Olympic event (great timing for the metaphor, eh?). Most athletes train, not for the sake of training, but most likely because they want to stand on the podium with a medal as a statement to how good they are at the event. Anyone can train for the sake of training, but competing and winning is really the whole culmination of 4 years of tireless preparation and training.

The same is true for data visualization, in that the real goal should not be building dashboards and pretty charts, but pointing to the direct impact that data had on driving a top or bottom line impact on the company’s revenues. Yes, in larger companies it’s very hard to make a difference on the overall number, but every piece of data should tie to some positive contribution or else what is the point?

Yet, with so much data being made available, and so many people learning how to mine data for insights, there’s a lot of very pretty pictures out there which don’t move the needle at all. Yes, it’s great to hear about athlete’s and how they train, but the credibility isn’t there to the same degree as it is if they’e wearing an Olympic medal. If you’re a budding data analyst, or seasons chart builder, imagine if everything you built had a number next to it that said “this piece of data drove this quantifiable business impact”.

Though data visualization can serve qualitative benefits, such as monitoring a key business process or helping change a perspective on a topic, there should still be some way to tie even those things back to the difference it made (or could make) on the business.

Here’s three steps then, to help that mindset along

1. Understand the Reliability and Structure of the Data You’re Using 

All because you have data, and have access to data, doesn’t mean it’s useful or all that important. You having access to log files from a server, which spits out information on usage patterns of your e-commerce system throughout the day only matters if you’re able to impact that usage in some meaningful way, then tie it back to a positive revenue lift. More importantly though, you have to know the data is reliable and understand how to model it in a way that it produces accurate conclusions. Build some baseline metrics, and measure against numbers you know are correct before going into any complex modeling exercise. Once you put a chart in a slide, it’s out there. So make sure you’re starting from the right data set to begin with. 

2. Develop a Series of Hypothesis about Your Business

Once you know the data you’re working with, and have a good sense of how reliable it is, think about the business as it relates to parts you can actually control / influence. If you’re in advertising, don’t focus on product improvements. If you’re in product development, don’t worry about retention patterns on the website. Think about 3-5 gut instincts you have about how the business could operate differently, then use the data to test out those theories. Don’t simply mine the data, hoping the magical insights just pop out at you. Data, like a car, helps you get to where you’re going – it won’t take you there on it’s own. You need to at least have a rough idea of what you’re looking for, so you can build worthwhile visualization to help vet that hypothesis into an actual conclusion.

3. Focus on Low Hanging KPIs, then Expand from There 

It’s easy today, with technology making more data accessible with less effort, to try and go after ground breaking insights. However, you no doubt have areas of your business you can directly impact and know will make a sizable difference to the bottom line, that you need help in influencing. Start with thinking through 3-5 KPIs coming from your hypothesis that you can build from the data you’ve vetted, to influence key business people or back up your assertions with a new direction you’re moving your team in.

If you can measure it, you can prove it (as long as it’s reliable and true), but remember that it’s never a silver bullet or the whole story. Data can be powerful, but it can also lead people astray or get people focused on the wrong things. When done right though, using validated data tied to a hypothesis and measured in a way that drives a meaningful revenue outcome, it can make a big difference.

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3 Reasons Why You Need a Chief Analytics Officer

Data has exploded in a way that rivals mobile’s explosion ten years ago. Everyone is out there buying masters degrees, data visualization licenses, and data scientists by the truck loads in a way that mimics corporations buying mac laptops, mobile developers, and app store branding when iPhones blew up the smart phone space.

The Analytics ‘Trend’ Isn’t New

There are a lot of great things taking place right now with all the interest around data analysis, but the funny thing is that data analysis is nothing new (neither is data science). There’s a good 30-40 years of work on data, from data architecture to database administration (not to mention the millions of excel spreadsheets that corporations are running critical business functions on) that live inside companies and create a legacy layer that this latest wave of data analysis is building on.

Other new trends, such as big data analysis and the cloud computing revolution, have further spurred companies to consider ways to extract usefulness from their existing data and move away from churn or ARPU and develop distinctly competitive analysis with phrases like “regression analysis” and “predictive analytics” becoming much more common in corporate board rooms.

Translating Data

The big problem is, as was the case with mobile, is that you have to be able to translate interesting technology into impacting ROI-laden investments that drive top or bottom line revenues (or create efficiency and lower costs of course, as well). There’s a good deal of buzz around big data being an overused term, and a hundreds of millions of dollars spent on visualization tools will, at some point, taper off when the average business user turned dashboard builder runs out of things to visualize due to saturation, bad data, etc.

So Who / What Is This Chief Analytics Officer?

A Chief Analytics Officer could be a Director of Data, or a VP of Analytics, but having someone at an executive level that can drive a centralized data strategy for the company should exist for these three reasons.

  1. Centralizing Your Data Resources Will Help Avoid Silo’ed Capabilities

To turn all this hype into profit, it means building a centralized capacity. A capacity which sites outside of the IT-to-business politics and hype to buy visualization tools, and instead focusing on building a stack of capabilities, from the data lake to the dashboards, geared around revenue generating use cases taken from business partners who need more usefulness from their data without having to build silo’ed data science teams that rely on fractured data sets.

When anything is this pumped up, every department is going to want to get involved and build capabilities, since every business group uses data in some form or another. The problem is that it takes a variety of experiences and backgrounds, along with investments, that need to be built at a corporate level with a plan to centralize some capabilities and decentralize others with a clear data strategy that everyone can get behind.

Centralizing this capability means one strategy, one leader, and limitless opportunities for everyone to participate without each department deciding their own game plan for riding this data wave.

  1. Consolidating data to maximize usefulness, while aligning that effort under a single leader

The topics around big data, and data lakes are growing overwhelming, with more and more companies working to consolidate all their data in one place to allow for both advanced analytics & traditional business intelligence functions. At the same time, a data lake built in the wrong way can cause latency along with too many executive peers building extensive requirements which ultimately brings any progress to a halt.

Bringing your data consolidation effort under a single leader, tied to a data strategy that brings the bigger outcomes into focus and alignment while leaving the smaller day to day details up to a single org unit means your company can spend less time planning & debating, and more time driving value from your data lake.

  1. Impact is prioritized, over ‘interesting trends’

Much like the millions of dollars spent on corporate mobile apps that never got traction, companies today are spending millions of dollars on real time streaming, data visualization, and corporate education on DAX programming all in an attempt to capitalize on the data analytics hype and create a stronger bottom and/or top line revenue stream through the use of data analysis.

The thing is, data isn’t a new domain for technology, nor is investing in Big data going to revolutionize your company.

There’s a good deal of effort being spent on building impressive looking visuals, which add no incremental value over the same data displayed in an excel chart. Furthermore, companies investing in hiring legions of data scientists without clear revenue-driving hypothesis will find they spend a good deal of time figuring out just what to focus on.

As is the case with any over-hyped technology, whether it’s enterprise wide tableau licensing or infrastructure to support web traffic analysis for real time personalization, the tools are only as good as the capabilities on the team and the business cases they are actively working towards.

Focusing on a single leadership structure to come up with the real tangible value for investment in data analytics means there’s a common set of goals that’s driving the spend, and a clear idea of what each department and employee is focusing on.

It’s not so much that a single team owns every analyst, but rather each instrument is calibrated so the whole company sounds like a beautiful concerto vs a number of instruments playing at different rhythms.

Furthermore, when it comes to the vendor onslaught and procurement nightmares that naturally arise in the midst of a technology boom, there’s a clear investment strategy for how the company plans to leverage capabilities such as big data or advanced analytics. This can influence everything from recruiting and training, to infrastructure and software licensing, and help ensure each investment is additive vs expensive and lacking in impact.

There’s a good deal of interesting happenings in the data space right now, but companies need more impact to back up the cost.

There are no doubt other benefits I’ve missed out on taking data seriously, and putting someone in charge who is somewhat removed from the politics and inefficiencies that come from burying the capability inside an existing org (similar to the CIO coming of age, and now no longer reporting to CFOs in most companies).

The aim is however, to ensure your data analytics efforts are making a meaningful impact, and driving the kinds of returns most companies never experienced during the mobile app boom almost ten years ago now. And in so doing, benefiting every company that invests in the great capabilities a data-driven org has at its disposal.

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Explaining The New Brand for DanMaycock.com

So I changed the look / feel of my social media all around a single image – the evening skyline for Seattle, but there’s a bigger meaning behind it.

For the new brand, the focus is around four core themes

Data (Water) – Thought leadership on Analytics, Data Science, and Visualization along with the platforms and infrastructure to support that analysis.

Strategy (Lit Skyline) – First hand experience, and best practices around both corporate and start-up strategy, from company fundamentals to marketing planning and best practices on sales / branding.

Innovation (Space Needle) – Understanding of what meaningful innovation looks like, how it can help both SMBs and Corporations, along with first hand experiences taken from my book, and consulting background.

Leadership (Night time) – Stories, best practices, and advice on leading teams in corporations, to helping build and launch start-ups based on my work advising and starting companies.

The new brand then, incorporates these four themes in the photo

The Space Needle represents Innovation, as it’s a symbol built during the World’s expo in Seattle to represent America’s pursuit of an Innovative future. My book “Building The Expo” is all based on the premise of companies looking to build their own “World’s Expo” to showcase innovation to the world, but many companies end up building symbols without the results and follow through to back it up.

The Water represents Data, as data really is a vast ocean of bits collected across companies that can help companies as much as it can hurt them, based on how it’s managed and used. Just as good data analysis can grow a company’s revenues, bad data can lead to worse decisions that can have the opposite effect.

The Nighttime represents leadership, or rather the need for leadership as people often find themselves in the dark without it. Strong leaders can guide any company through even the darkest of nights with the right guidance and best practices, along with proven experiences.

The Lit skyline represents Strategy, in that it takes several bright ideas to help drive companies from failure to success. At the same time, too many ideas can be blinding without the right actions and results to go hand in hand with a good strategy.

These elements not only work together to make a beautiful image, but what they represent can help people, regardless of their role and company.

It’s for those reasons, that I chose this image to represent my new personal brand. If you’re interested in learning more about how I can help you with any of these areas, please subscribe to my newsletter, or contact me at dmaycock@gmail.com

Thank you,

Dan Maycock

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Don’t Go on a Date with Data, Marry It

There are a lot of companies out there today sitting on several types of data, with various levels of integration. For most, it’s a process involving multiple individuals to extract, transform, and develop that information into a useful dashboard or decision-support system given the company has legacy infrastructure and several different third party vendor platforms all producing useful information but it’s in own specific format.

The big challenge then, that companies face today, is how to tie all of this information together in a way that provides meaning but more importantly, provide it in a way that can be near real time with the ability to tie different types of data from all over the enterprise together.

Yes, you know how much you lost and earned in a given period of time, but can you determine why with the ability to stitch together different data sources? Can you do your own regression analysis, or perform correlation research to determine what trends might be causing a rise or decline in monthly revenues? Or do you have to hire it out, and wait several weeks, while analysts inside or outside your company work to produce the answer to that one simple question?

There are lots of people willing to charge you for the ability to do this month to month, on an ongoing basis, but if you’re content with having systems kept in disarray while you’re driving up the cost of labor to mine it every time you have a question about your numbers, then you’re simply dating your data.

You’re content leaving data at arm’s length, getting to know it to a point, but you’re not spending the time and effort it takes to really get to know the data inside your company and make the investment to make data a key part of your professional life. Marriage means accepting the ugly truth about someone, and acknowledging to them the same sometimes ugly truths as well, to build a close relationship.

Marrying data means you’re accepting the truth that legacy infrastructure, silo’ed data sets, and weeks spent building a single dashboard isn’t working for you and you’re ready to spend the time and effort it takes to bring data closer to the core of your business. It means making the investment to build an agile analytics platform that allows for ad-hoc analysis, and spending the time it takes to get your leadership team on board with understanding what a regression is and what level they feel comfortable being trained to help drive insights without an army of external analysts.

Marrying data also means accepting the things you can’t change about it, and learning to live with limitations as they are. It doesn’t make sense to send everyone to school to learn data science, but it does make sense to get up to speed on what it means and getting people trained in the vocabulary of data so that those highly trained resources can build what is needed and make sure everything you’re investing in has a clear return at the other end.

Making the ultimate commitment to data, vs having an off again on again relationship, means you’re wiling to spend the time it takes to make the upfront investment to clean up the silos and tie together the systems keeping your really valuable insights locked up. It means knowing that it’ll take time to see the value, but it’ll be worth the investment, vs continuing to grow your OpEx budget on consultants and FTEs working with what’s there now, and spending time sorting and tying each system together for one-off requests.

More importantly, marrying data means you’ve accepted that the key to a happy company is a happy data warehouse, and that Innovation in it’s most meaningful way means you’re able to draw out from your past what solutions and ideas might help fuel your future. By spending the time and effort to build meaningful data interconnectivity, along with the systems necessary to analyze and understand that data, you’ll be able to see what trends are coming your way and how you can be proactive to meet the challenges in an ever changing industry environment.

You’ll reduce the risk of being disruptive, you’ll be armed with answers before the questions get asked, and you’ll be able to walk hand in hand with your data into the sunset while every division within your company gets insights they need to better track what’s working and what isn’t along with driving new revenue streams to your customers.

A happy marriage for some seems like a fairy tale, and it’s not going to solve every problem you encounter. However, if you’re willing to put in the time it takes and accept that there’s things you could be doing to pay better attention to your data along with spending the time to care of it, your data will produce insights and become more open to analysis as a result which will always work better than keeping it in a chaotic state and spending time doing one-off reports.

So consider what marrying your company data looks like for you, and build a plan and a roadmap to make data more meaningful and acceptable for your company. I can guarantee you, your competitors are probably already doing the same.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book atAmazon.com or learn more about Dan at http://www.transform.digital

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4 Ways to Effectively Use Data In Your Job

With all the excitement around how companies are using data today, it’s hard for anyone outside of a job specifically dealing with data to know how to effectively use it for their day to day work. Yet, there isn’t a single career that isn’t impacted by the use and understanding of data, and the more effective someone becomes at harnessing and understanding data mining, the more they can impact the things that impact their professional ecosystem.

From impacting your online brand, to better tracking variables you deal with around a given task at work, knowing how to leverage data can make a big difference in any number of careers.

1. Start with a question

Before diving into a number of articles or tools regarding data, start with the question of what you’re trying to answer. It sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how often I’ve worked with people that have said data is the answer without first having the question. Figure out what are the most pressing business problems you, your boss, or your company are facing and see how data might help provide insights to answering those important need to knows.

2. Start with a small amount of data, build from there

It doesn’t take petabytes of data to answer questions, sometimes it can be a relatively small set of data to answer big questions. With all the hype around big data, sometimes it’s hard to realize that with only 100 or so records, and a pivot chart, you can get to important answers that are far more useful than what a million records could show, depending on the type of data and the question you’re looking to solve.

3. Leverage third party data that’s free

There’s a TON of data out there that’s completely free, and useful to use. US Census is a great place to start, and there are a number of sites, such as Google’s public data directory that’ll let you explore it. Furthermore, you can download the data for free and combine it with your own internal data to add greater context for things like taking your company’s store sales by zip and seeing how demographic trends within those zip codes may impact certain buying habits.

4. Learn about Data Mining 

The key to making data useful is by learning methods that allow you to tap into data, and find useful data points that can help solve the business problems you’re looking to tackle. Data mining is the practice that helps you start to uncover trends and patterns in data, and is a great discipline to begin with, whether it’s using Excel and a little bit of data or tapping into RapidMiner and starting to dive into Hadoop, Data mining spans the gambit on complexity and data quantities. Remember the first three points to keep the right context and not go overboard too soon though, and you’ll be in good shape.

Regardless of your career, there is a way data can no doubt help you professionally and impress your co workers and higher ups in the process. Start with the fundamentals, help answer important questions, and simply build from there and you’ll be a bonafide data analyst before you know it.

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Why Everyone Should be a Data Miner

In thinking about the topic of data mining, a lot of different types of roles pop up in people’s minds. From data scientists typing away in giant data centers, to DBAs sitting in cubicles processing large amounts of corporate data, to an analyst building a spreadsheet for an annual report contribution.

Maybe it’s something far more physical, bringing up images of pick axes and hard hats and a big block of data (however that’s visualized, probably with 1’s and 0’s – all matrix like). Regardless of the image that comes to mind, it’s probably hard to fathom every business professional in some form or another becoming adept at data mining, and considering it a critical competency to keep in their professional toolbox in the years to come. Yet, when we explore the topic, we can easily see how data mining could become one of the preeminent skills that set folks apart in an era where it’s harder and harder to stand out from an increasingly noisy and competitive work climate. Lets start by looking at the six attributes that make up data mining (as defined by Wikipedia)

  • Anomaly detection (Outlier/change/deviation detection) – The identification of unusual data records, that might be interesting or data errors that require further investigation.
  • Association rule learning (Dependency modeling) – Searches for relationships between variables. This is sometimes referred to as market basket analysis.
  • Clustering – is the task of discovering groups and structures in the data that are in some way or another “similar”, without using known structures in the data.
  • Classification – is the task of generalizing known structure to apply to new data. For example, an e-mail program might attempt to classify an e-mail as “legitimate” or as “spam”.
  • Regression – attempts to find a function which models the data with the least error.
  • Summarization – providing a more compact representation of the data set, including visualization and report generation.

Though the definitions seem somewhat dense, think about how you’d be able to take any job – from being able to use regression analysis to construct a real estate data model to improve pricing predictions, to using summarization to build a better financial report for your senior leaders to interpret how great of a quarter you had.

Though some methods of data mining are harder than others, and you can quickly get in way over your skis without proper learning, knowing how to sift through data, and pull out the useful stuff, will give you a greater sense of the world you work in by understanding the data that matters and it’s so easy these days to learn data mining techniques online!

Just typing in “data mining classes online” produces hundreds of leads, from Coursera to MIT open courseware. Though some options go into areas like Data Science, which is much deeper level analysis, it all starts with understanding data and how best to derive meaning from it – regardless of how deep into the weeds you want to go.

This in turn gives you a big foot up against your competitors, who are largely relying on other services / people to hand them processed data and conclusions to do something with. Going from a commodity to a distinct competitive advantage means going in a direction others aren’t, and just having a nicely worded dictionary isn’t enough these days – you need to be able to turn that dictionary into a novel, and tell a story with the data that will reveal things about your business or your industry that’ll drive better decisions through unique insights.

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Does Your Company Have a Chief Data Evangelist?

A lot of companies are talking about Chief Data Officers, but what about having a chief data evangelist instead?

Recently I was talking to a good friend of mine that works in the Business Intelligence space about the concept of a Chief Data Officer being brought up in the halls of different companies around the US (mainly of course, IT departments dealing with the onset of new data solutions to handle all their data.)

What he shared was that companies should focus less on centralizing data to get to a single version of the truth. Instead, they should focus on recruiting a chief data evangelist to get groups within a company on board with a set of standards that they can build data models around for use within their team, then grow grassroots communities within their company. This could be akin to a data “co-op” of sorts which could, in turn, enable teams to take their own data models and share data at a bottom up approach vs simply being drug along by a chief data officer from a top down approach, marching to the beat of centralized data control.

This extreme decentralization has worked in other facets, including executive leadership as characterized in the book “The Outsiders” by William Thorndike so why couldn’t it work with data?

As I began to think about it, it does make sense to have people in your organization advocating for best practices, and getting different groups on board with a set of standards but leaving the usefulness of the data to the teams using it, as no two groups of course ever have the same need for a specific data set in a specific format.

Though larger efforts like data warehousing will remain centralized activities, imagine what companies could achieve through extreme decentralization focused on evangelism of standards and organization level adoption & modeling efforts that in turn drive community activities within a company vs dragging along the enterprise one team at a time to conform to centralized data models that may or may not work for them.

Seems like a much better solution to me. In thinking about what a Chief Data Evangelist might do at your company, consider the following job description

Task #1) Strong understanding of best practices around data governance, data management, and data modeling for the purpose of leveraging corporate data for use by a specific team

Task #2) Desire to get teams within a company on board with leveraging standards for data governance and modeling, for the purpose of collaborating with other teams and sharing data within organizations / company

Task #3) Make a killer salsa

If that sounds like a great job description, perhaps the job is for you. Regardless of who has the role, be it official or unofficial, having strong advocates for standards along with proponents for data / BI communities in your company can go a long way in helping drive greater adoption of data solutions within your company and help grow data-driven solutions in the process.

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Building a Strategy that Sticks

What I’ve found more often then not, is that mobile strategy is more about how companies adopt to change and adapt their existing business to something disruptive, then it is about devices or the software running on them.

If a company is seen as innovative, up front, and dynamic then the corporate culture seems more hospitable towards disruption and works to incorporate whatever does the job most effectively as quickly as possible. When a company, in the eyes of the employees, is seen as being “traditional” or slow to pick up change, adopting something like mobile devices becomes more of an issue of buy-off and stakeholder agreement than it is about the technical hurdles to bring the devices into the company.

If strategy is anything, it’s a plan to move in a new direction successfully. Whether you’re talking about merging two disparate companies, or adopting mobile devices, strategy itself is an engine for change and crafting a plan on how to tackle it. Yet, companies can often be their biggest enemies when it comes to executing on a strategy, and successfully adopting whatever goals or principles are being aimed for.

The key I’ve seen in making the strategy engagements I’ve worked with stick is focusing on user adoption and stakeholder involvement, more than it is war rooms with sticky notes and high priced memorandums distributed throughout the entire company. Until a company can effectively traverse the opinions and politics of an organization, understand the triggers towards aligning employees under a unified direction for everyone’s benefit, and clearly outline that strategy is never a silver bullet but rather a target everyone should be shooting for, then even the largest most advanced strategy engagements are doomed to fall short of their target.

A strategy built on quick hits, focused on effective collaboration, with iterative steps is much more effective than a 150-page dissertation outlining massive lists of opportunities. Not to mention, something far more useful for companies, and something we’ve seen work time and time again. By empowering teams, focusing on collaboration, with goals aimed around incentives employees care about, and more importantly helping them feel like it’s something they’ll see the benefits from, then you’re setting up a strategy that is sure to gain traction and help lead to more effective strategy initiatives.

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