What’s the easiest way to make sense of big data?

It used to be data collection that was the biggest pain point for businesses. But that’s now the easy part. The more difficult challenge is figuring out what to do with all of the data that you’ve collected in the first place.

Four ways to understand your data

If you’re collecting data without a plan for interpreting it, you’re living in a noisy space that’s probably overwhelming your organization more than anything. 

Here are a few useful tips you can use to reframe your approach to data management and analysis.

Set clear goals

It’s very difficult to have a robust data strategy if you don’t have clear and precise goals. In fact, data collection without goals is pretty useless. You’ll end up with enough information to overwhelm your team, but you’ll simultaneously lack the clarity to do anything with it.

As you develop a data management strategy, ask yourself this simple question: Why? In other words, why are you collecting the data in the first place, and what do you want to do with it?

Once you’re clear on your why, you can set the right key performance indicators (KPIs) and develop an approach that meshes with your desired results.

Develop a system

Any data strategy, whether it’s for a small business or Fortune 100 organization, needs a clear and documented system for data intake and organization. The exact details of the system will be dependent on your company’s goals. However, there are some universal approaches that tend to work well.

For example, almost any business can benefit from a product analytics approach. With this method, you gather raw data and turn it into a digital “storyboard” that traces their behavior and helps you answer questions like: Who are my most valuable customers? and What actions do those customers take? 

The goal (with any system) is to go beyond the simple vanity metrics that most organizations focus on. Because while page views, downloads, and other numbers do hold weight, they’re not the end-all-be-all. You need to dig in and figure out what’s driving these numbers.

Once you have the data, it should be organized in a way that makes it easily accessible. A rigid file naming system and organizational workflow are vitally important and will allow you to make informed decisions. 

Use the right tools

The good news is that you don’t have to do everything on your own. There’s a growing list of powerful tools in the marketplace that have the potential to streamline your data collection, organization, and analysis. It’s up to you to find these tools and put them to good use. 

Focus on data governance

In today’s digital landscape, you can’t afford to be lazy with your data. Collecting and storing data is a serious endeavor. Failing to do so properly can expose your organization to a host of legal and regulatory issues. This includes penalties, fines, and serious reputational consequences.

If you’re going to collect data, you better be willing to embrace proper governance. And if you lack the internal resources to govern your data, hire someone who can. Not only will you protect your organization, but you’ll also sleep better at night.

Shifting from reactive to proactive

Most businesses take a reactive stance to data. They use data to analyze past performance, but then fail to leverage the information they’ve collected to improve future initiatives. (This is usually because the next campaign or initiative is already in place by the time the data is analyzed and insights are gleaned.) If you want to be more pragmatic, you have to become more proactive. 

“Proactive analytics allow businesses to make changes that improve by seeing developments as they occur in real time,” Everthere explains. “This can mean taking advantage of a sudden surge in a specific products’ popularity or reducing production when sales decline as it happens instead of after. This method should be the standard approach of information gathering and subsequent decision-making.”

The hope is that the tips highlighted in this article give you the information you need to shift from a reactionary strategy to a proactive one that allows you to make the proper changes as you go. Use this information to tweak your approach and get more out of your data.

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