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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 workday, I spend time playing the piano.
So how can data be likened to musical masterpieces (not mine, but in general)? Think of the symphonious 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, signaling 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 at a performance.
Similar to the musical note’s journey from the page to the stage, your company’s data must intelligently flow throughout your organization. It must be effectively understood, accessed and managed. 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 company’s overall performance, much 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 thy data: Commit to understanding your data
Much like a musician strives to know a musical selection “by heart,” you should aim 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 throughout your organization, and the resulting impact of data on your organization.
Many companies attempt to boil the ocean with their data governance initiatives in their attempt to answer these questions — and this encompasses data quality, data lineage, and data flows. Successful companies are the ones that identify the right “horizontal slice” of their data processing environment to start with. This is the slice that will give them the greatest early return for their governance efforts. Whether it’s a bank, a healthcare organization, or an auto manufacturer, there is typically a specific subset of information that can answer key business questions.
This information will often follow a linear pattern crossing many or all of the organization’s end-to-end data analytics systems — systems that help turn massive amounts of raw data into descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics.
From here, organizations get the usable (and valuable) insights 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 we should be “listening to” related to a certain product line? Work to identify that narrow (yet wide-coverage) slice of your data analytics systems. How do you do this?
Let’s revisit our orchestra for a moment. While there are multiple sections of the ensemble (woodwinds, brass, strings, keyboards, percussion), one section (strings) may carry the melody of a certain piece. You’ll hear these instruments and this section more than the others.
It’s the same with your company’s data. Ask which decision-maker is most vocal about a particular key business objective, whether it be to increase revenue, reduce fraud or boost the number of partnerships. Chances are the loudest person is also the one who potentially has the most impact on the company — if they can get the data they need.
Unravel the company data “ball of string”
Once you close in on a potential key slice of data, you’ll want to drill down on its source, quality and lineage. This is like analyzing a musical composition and looking at 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 you need to define the data and which flow you should 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 tangled ball of string. Over time, this ball rolls, gathers more yarn and grows in size. The data in your all-important slice may be wrapped up 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 inventory 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 will show, at both a macro and micro level, the data’s origin, path, sources, targets, where it is stored, and where it flows. After this, you can assess your data’s quality and reliability.
Ultimately, you want to empower your data professionals with the best data to quickly answer the questions that matter to your business.
Realize that data is your most important corporate asset
The only way you can 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 becomes more intelligent (and thus, more valuable). Companies that purchase, merge with, and take over other companies also absorb the various technologies, information and even the personalities and culture for handling data that came with each.
Just as data gains 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 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 informing business decisions that will move the needle. The above guidelines can help you navigate your data journey to boost 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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