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Data is a lot like music.
I know it first hand. I’ve worked in the data side of the tech industry for 40 years – and when I’m not dealing with data during the workday, I spend time playing the piano.
So how can data be likened to musical masterpieces (not mine, but in general)? Think of the symphonic sounds of an orchestra. A trained ensemble of musicians come together with violins, flutes, saxophones, horns, trumpets and even snare drum, piano and tambourine. All are led by a conductor who directs the performance, signaling when different sections should play their roles. The notes on a page form a score. This score is interpreted and played by musicians, who transform the sounds into harmonious music that we hear during a performance.
Similar to the journey of the musical note from page to stage, your business data needs to flow intelligently throughout your organization. It must be understood, consulted and managed effectively. One aspect of data can enrich and validate another — and key data insights are what drive critical business decisions. These critical business decisions determine your overall business performance, just as different musical techniques can enhance an orchestral performance.
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So how can your organization create a culture of contextual, connected, and continuous data?
Know your data: Commit to understanding your data
Just as a musician struggles to know a musical selection “by heart,” so must you strive to understand your business data. This includes knowing the technical parts (and types) of your data, what the data means, what happens to the data as it moves through your organization, and the resulting impact of the data on your organization.
Many companies are trying to boil the ocean with their data governance initiatives in their attempt to answer these questions – and that encompasses data quality, data lineage, and data flows. Successful companies are those that identify the right “horizontal slice” of their data processing environment to beginning with. This is the tranche that will give them the best quick return for their governance efforts. Whether it’s a bank, healthcare organization, or automaker, there’s usually a specific subset of information that can answer key business questions.
This insight will often follow a linear pattern traversing many or all of the organization’s end-to-end data analytics systems – systems that help transform huge amounts of raw data into descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics.
From there, organizations get the usable (and valuable) information they need. Which subset of customers is most vulnerable to credit card fraud? How does a supply chain delay for a single part affect the production of a particular vehicle? Are there new customer buying behaviors that we should “listen to” related to a certain product line? Work to identify this narrow (but wide) slice of your data analytics systems. How do you do that?
Let’s review our orchestra for a moment. Although there are several sections of the ensemble (woodwinds, brass, strings, keyboards, percussion), a section (strings) may carry the melody of a certain piece. You will hear these instruments and this section more than the others.
It’s the same with your business data. Ask which decision maker talks the most about a particular key business goal, whether it’s increasing revenue, reducing fraud, or increasing the number of partnerships. Chances are, the loudest person is also the one with the most potential business impact – if they can get the data they need.
Untangle company data “ball of string”
Once you get close to a slice of potential key data, you’ll want to dig deeper into its source, quality, and lineage. It’s like analyzing a musical composition and looking at which parts of the piece will be played by which orchestral section and at which tempo (adagio, allegro, vivace).
This in-depth look at your data helps you understand where you should define data and what flow you should focus on when it comes to lineage. You may also see additional data sources, targets, and staging areas that require definition and continuity.
You can also think of your data as a tangled ball of string. Over time, this ball rolls, gathers more yarn and grows larger. Your most important slice data can be wrapped in this chain, in an infinite number of complex systems, algorithms and processes. Before you can define, cleanse and improve your data, you need to untangle this ball to take stock of what you have.
As you untangle you may see short pieces, long pieces, thin pieces, thick pieces, blue pieces, yellow pieces and more. This will show, at both macro and micro level, the origin, path, sources, targets of data, where it is stored and where it flows. After that, you can assess the quality and reliability of your data.
Ultimately, you want to give your data professionals the best data to quickly answer the questions that matter to your business.
Realize that data is your most important business asset
The only way to cultivate quality data is to respect its importance and commit to investing in your data from day one. As you aggregate, enrich, and validate data, it gets smarter (and therefore more valuable). Companies that buy, merge and take over other companies also absorb the various technologies, information and even personalities and data processing culture that come with them.
Just as data grows in value, intelligence, and importance over time (and with increased investment), so does music. At a basic level, music can exist as a compilation of notes and frequencies. If we add, combine and rearrange these notes, we create a new composition. And if we combine different compositions, we can merge different musical styles (jazz fusion, for example, is a combination of jazz harmony, rock, funk and R&B) for an incredible result.
Good data orchestration across your business is essential to inform business decisions that will make things happen. The guidelines above can help you navigate your data journey to improve your business results – and that’s music to everyone’s ears.
Ernie Ostic is SVP of Products at MANTA.
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