Developing an enterprise-wide data strategy is critical for every business, yet is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, here are seven ideas you can use as a manager to improve your use of data in your daily decision-making.
Recognize and mitigate the potential for biases. Seek out data that expands the picture or conflicts with the data in front of you. Encourage an external observer to evaluate your assumptions around data.
Strengthen your understanding of data management. There are ample free sources of insights on the web, and many organizations offer seminars or workshops on data analytics and business intelligence. Many universities have added courses for this booming field. Keep sharpening your skills.
Ask yourself or your team, "What data do we need to make this decision?" Too often, we rely on the data at hand and ignore the need to seek more data to complete the picture.
Correlation and Causation
Be critically aware of the difference between correlation and causation. As described earlier, confusing these two is a potentially dangerous pitfall for decision-making.
Quality-Check Your Data
If your firm does not have a data quality or master data management commitment, invest the time to evaluate your data for obvious errors, including duplicate, incomplete or erroneous records. There are many commercially available software applications or to support this activity, and many firms draw upon the expertise of data experts to query and assess the data quality. Also, consider external service providers who can help cleanse the data for you. Importantly, focus on continuously improving the quality of your data.
Advocate for stronger data quality and management efforts across your firm. This work has often been the domain of IT or technical professionals, yet data has the potential to serve as a strategic asset. Every manager must care about the firm's ability to better leverage data for decision-making and strategy execution.
Technical and Data-Savvy Talent
Add technical and data-savvy talent to your team. Sales and marketing departments understand the power of engaging individuals skilled in the latest technologies and competent at navigating many of the data challenges outlined in this article. Technology and data are no longer the domain or responsibility of a single function in an enterprise.
The Bottom Line
The firms and managers who learn to leverage data for improved decision-making will win in the marketplace. These organizations will be able to monitor and respond to changing conditions, and emerging customer needs faster than their data challenged competitors. They will be the first to glean insights from social media dialog, and they will win the battle to know and engage customers at a deeper level—all based on data. This is not a fad, but rather a new reality of managing and competing in today's world.