When companies ask me: "What should we do with our data?"

Posted by Q McCallum on 2022-12-07
Image of a child looking at a staircase.  Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash.

(Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash)

For all the press it receives, data analysis – everything from BI to ML/AI – is still a relatively new concept. So it makes sense that companies would be interested in using data, yet also unsure how to proceed. Which leads them to ask me:

“What should we do with our data?”

This is a great question. I get it a lot and I enjoy working through the answers. I find it interesting and rewarding to explore how using data analysis can support and improve a given business model.

That said, context is key. Prospective clients sometimes open an intro call with this, or maybe a colleague brings it up off-the-cuff in a discussion.

And they’re usually disappointed when I explain that we’ll need a deeper conversation.

You would think that the guy who’s been talking about “data strategy” for several years would be able to answer that question on the spot. But, realistically, I can’t. Every business is different. Even businesses in the same industry vertical may have different paths to follow on their data journey.

That means, to figure out what your company should do with its data, I would first need to understand:

  1. _What, specifically, does your company do? _ (How do you make money?)
  2. What are your challenges? (What would you like to be different?)
  3. Why are you unhappy with your current solutions to those challenges? (What have you tried thus far and why did that not work out?)

(Notice, I haven’t even gotten to “what data do you have?” because that doesn’t matter until we’ve addressed the three questions above.)

It’s not just that I can’t answer this question on the spot. Frankly, I’d be wary of anyone who claims they can. How could they provide an answer that is all of “specific to your needs,” “novel,” and “actionable” without knowing about how your business operates and what challenges it faces?

Using data in a company is an investment that often starts with a six-figure price tag and can quickly grow to seven figures and beyond. It is a tool that, when used well, can have a transformative impact on your business. And when used poorly, it can be a drain on your budget, effort, and morale.

This question therefore deserves more than quick, off-the-cuff tips. It merits research and exploration in the planning phases, then discipline in the execution.

That’s why my preferred answer to “what should we do with our data” is:

“I don’t know. Let’s work together to find out.”