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Live from DAMA – Naked Without My Data

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Pip Coburn gave the closing keynote on Naked Without My Data. Pip made the point that lots of people actually don’t want to get quality data – they want to hear what they expect. People are not acting like quality of data matters. They want the data that supports their point of view or conforms in some way, not data that is “right”. Great technology (or data) is helpless in overcoming rotten culture. Why collect all this data if people don’t really want it.

  1. Society is an infant with respect to data and that this will persist for a long time
  2. The vast majority of the data ecosystem does not support wiser decision making or better outcomes
  3. Real-time, results-now mindset has overcome the thoughtful approach
  4. Data is used for personal missions in conflict with corporate ones – personal survival comes first
  5. We tend to feel naked without data, making all these things worse
  6. Opportunities to stand out using data are stunning

When Pip looks at investments he is looking for those where the recognition of a crisis is growing while the pain of adopting a solution is falling. Looking for big societal changes that will affect products and services and for companies that will have an unfair competitive advantage given this change.

One of the societal shifts he sees is “Naked without data” in that people cannot act without data to support it. He gave some background of how data is misused including an example of a 30,000 word report written to “prove” that Roger Clemens did not take HGH that was immediately taken apart by some statistics professors – the word “prove” having set them off. Most people, however, are not protected from this kind of thing because they lack the statistical and analytic tools to assess the data and its usage. They ignore Warren Buffet and idolize data.

If the information age is only 60 years old, as seems likely, this is not a long time for a society to adjust. The Internet hits and now everyone “knows” there is so much data that you won’t be listened to unless you have some. No matter how expert someone is or how much their judgment is valued, they still get asked for data. But no-one checks the data. Add to this data mining and potential for problems is huge – data mining is a two-edged sword because it can be used well or poorly. Surveys and the obsession with survey data is another symptom but most surveys are useless because of the way questions are designed and samples selected. Some surveys are really valuable, most are not. For example, a survey asking CIOs about spending included a question about spending on WTP (Winnie the Pooh) – 40% of CIOs said they planned to increase spend on it!

He showed a simple flow chart moving from problem to data to information/knowledge by adding context to insight/wisdom using experience and ultimately to decisions (my emphasis) and results. He does see huge opportunities for using data to compete and to drive new businesses – everything from Google (mass market, low quality data) to Ansys (small market, high quality data). Not just companies, even individuals like the GM of the Oakland A’s. This can be competing by quality, data mining, presentation, accessibility and more. He focused in on some things that were good ways to compete:

  1. Competing with better data (most common, perhaps 90%)
    But the margins on data are very low relative to those on wisdom. Exclusivity and service quality, for instance, can be competitive advantages but it is tough to compete with just data. He tends to invest in companies that are moving to information or wisdom or event decisions.
  2. Competing by shortening the time it takes to move through the various steps.
  3. Simplifying the way the end user interacts with the data.
  4. Avoiding “one world” views – broader perspectives work better.
  5. Do not suffer fools gladly – bad data gets shot down.
  6. Iterative culture – keep learning, fail fast so can learn some more. Data must enable this.

He had some suggestions:

  • In data more is less – lots of data must be kept, does not mean it is useful or can/should be the basis for a decision. Figure out the real information needed to increase wisdom and thus make better decisions.
  • Technology can only transform a culture if the culture is ready to change.
  • Need to hide the details because most people actually don’t care about technology – they want to run their business.
  • More complex solutions fail more often and simpler, easier to understand ideas work better
    Warren Buffet, for instance, won’t invest in companies he cannot easily understand.

He recommended Good to Great, a book I also liked. That’s me done with DAMA, back home and back to the usual blogging tomorrow.

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