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Data is a lot like music.
I know this firsthand. I’ve worked in the data side of the technology industry for 40 years – and when I’m not dealing with data during the work day, I spend time playing the piano.
So how can data compare to musical masterpieces (not mine, but in general)? Think of the symphonic sounds of an orchestra. An ensemble of trained musicians comes together with violins, flutes, saxophones, horns, trumpets and even a snare drum, piano and tambourine. All are led by a conductor who directs the performance and indicates when different sections should play their parts. Notes on a page form a score. This score is interpreted and played by musicians, who transform the sounds into the harmonious music we hear during a performance.
Like the musical note’s journey from page to stage, your company’s data needs to flow intelligently through your organization. It must be effectively understood, accessed and managed. One aspect of data can enrich and validate another – and key data insights drive critical business decisions. These critical business decisions determine the overall performance of your company, 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 strives to know a musical selection ‘by heart’, you should strive to understand your company’s data. This includes knowing the technical parts (and types) of your data, what the data means, what happens to data as it travels through your organization, and the resulting impact of data on your organization.
Many companies are trying to boil the ocean with their data governance initiatives in an effort to answer these questions – and this includes data quality, data lineage, and data flows. Successful companies are the ones that identify the correct “horizontal part” of their data processing environment get started of. This is the segment that will provide them with the greatest early return on their governance efforts. Whether it’s a bank, healthcare organization, or automaker, there’s usually a specific subset of information that can answer important business questions.
This information often follows a linear pattern that crosses many or all of the organization’s end-to-end data analytics systems — systems that help transform massive amounts of raw data into descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics.
From here, organizations get the actionable (and valuable) insights they need. Which subgroup of customers is most vulnerable to credit card fraud? How does a delay in the supply chain for a single component affect the production of a particular vehicle? Is there new customer buying behavior that we should “listen” to regarding a particular product line? Work on identifying that narrow (yet broad) part of your data analytics systems. How do you do this?
Let’s take a closer look at our orchestra. While there are several sections of the ensemble (woodwinds, brass, strings, keyboards, percussion), one section (strings) can carry the melody of a given piece. You hear these instruments and this section more than the others.
The same goes for your company’s data. Ask which decision maker speaks the most about a particular key business objective, whether it’s increasing sales, reducing fraud, or boosting partnerships. Chances are, the loudest person is also the one who potentially has the most impact on the business – if they can get the data they need.
Unraveling the business data “ball of string”
As you approach a potentially important piece of data, you’ll want to dig deeper into its source, quality, and lineage. This is like analyzing a musical composition and seeing which parts of the piece will be played by which orchestral section and at what tempo (adagio, allegro, vivace).
This close examination of your data helps you understand where to define the data and what stream to focus on when it comes to lineage. You may also see additional data sources, targets, and staging areas that need definition and continuity.
You can also think of your data as a ball of string. Over time, this ball will roll, collecting more yarn and getting bigger. The data in your most important segment can be wrapped in this string, in an endless number of complex systems, algorithms and processes. Before you can define, clean and improve your data, you need to unravel this ball to properly take stock of what you have.
As you unravel, you may see short pieces, long pieces, thin pieces, thick pieces, blue pieces, yellow pieces, and more. This shows, at both the macro and micro levels, the origin, path, sources, destinations of the data, where it is stored and where it flows. After this you can assess the quality and reliability of your data.
Ultimately, you want to provide your data professionals with the best data to quickly answer the questions that matter to your business.
Realize that data is your most important asset
The only way you can cultivate quality data is to respect its importance and invest in your data from day one. As you collect, enrich, and validate data, it becomes more intelligent (and therefore more valuable). Companies that buy, merge, and acquire other companies also absorb the different technologies, information, and even the personalities and culture for handling data associated with each company.
Just as data gains value, intelligence, and importance over time (and with more investment), so does music. At a basic level, music can exist as a collection of notes and frequencies. When we add, combine and rearrange these notes, we create a new composition. And when we combine different compositions, we can fuse different musical styles (jazz fusion, for example, is a combination of jazz harmony, rock, funk and R&B) for an incredible result.
Proper orchestration of data within your company is integral to making informed business decisions that will move the needle. The above guidelines can help you navigate your data journey to improve your company’s bottom line – and that’s music to everyone’s ears.
Ernie Ostic is SVP of Products at MANTA.
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