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Industry Voice: Why companies become data “pack rats”—and how to declutter your business

By Doug Kimball May 9, 2019, 04:38 pm MDT

"I really need a little more data . . ."

IBM research shows that every day, people, businesses and devices create 2.5 quintillion bytes of online data. Unfortunately, as the volume of data grows, a company's ability to make sense of it diminishes. Too much data turns results into data "clutter," and as we all know, clutter causes chaos.

Unwittingly, many organizations have become data pack rats, picking up every shiny new data set that crosses their path. So, in the spirit of National Pack Rat Day, happening on May 17, it may be time to consider how a good "spring cleaning" can get your data in order -- and help you derive greater value from your business's digital assets.

Too much of a good thing isn't so good

Clean, accurate data is core to a successful digital business strategy. However, collecting too much data without a plan for organizing it overwhelms, distracts and throws up barriers to productive decision-making.

In recent years, the growing number of customer and production touchpoints -- online, in-store, in the warehouse, or in R&D, to name a few -- have caused some organizations to gather more and more data, but most often without a plan for leveraging it. Like pack rats, they hoard data from suppliers, vendors, customers, and their assets. And one day, they find themselves drowning in an ocean of information, unable to reach the surface. Not only can this data disorganization cause growing pains; it can hinder good customer experiences.

I have firsthand experience with a company that suffered hiccups caused by a massive influx of data. As a member of the company's loyalty program, its website used to recognize me and knew my preferences anytime I called or visited. The company recently completed a merger, however, and now I'm prompted to enter my membership number and password whenever I use the site -- friction I didn't encounter before. The company has my personal data but lacks integration between their systems, negatively impacting the customer experience.

To avoid becoming overwhelmed by data, and impacting your valuable customer experiences, it's imperative to have a plan for cutting through the clutter -- and to create clear goals and objectives for your data collection without derailing your fundamental business goals.

Data professionals help the business prioritize their data

Business users can help identify the company's core challenges and the data needed to solve them. Data scientists and analysts have the knowledge and experience needed to help a company plan its data strategy. Together, these units can drive better data management.

This integrated team can define what comprises master data -- the business information that is most valuable to your company -- and ensure you're cleaning, deduplicating, enriching, tagging and storing useful data. You'll want to identify which data sets should be analyzed in pursuit of each specific goal and objective.

In addition, this team should consider regulatory requirements, traceability and expirations and set parameters for getting rid of data when it's no longer useful. For instance, if you manufacture a food product such as lunchmeat, it's critical to know the "good until" date. Maintaining that data allows food manufacturers to have traceability in case there is a spoilage issue or tainted product. But it's unlikely that that data has much value past six to nine months, as any negative impact would have already occurred. Keeping data on consumables long past their prime adds unnecessary clutter that bogs your company down. The same holds true for many other industries as well.

Decluttering data can make your company more profitable

Further, unnecessary data takes valuable time away from what you hired employees to do. You may have heard of the 80/20 rule as it applies to data: data scientists spend 80 percent of their time finding and cleaning data, and only 20 percent of their time analyzing it. Every minute spent muddling through a mess of data wastes time, productivity and money. Disorganization takes its toll as communication and innovation slows down.

On the other hand, organized, trusted data leads to increased efficiencies, quicker speed to market, stronger marketing efforts and improved customer experiences. It also helps you improve relationships with vendors, suppliers and customers, since data helps you better understand them. Analytics on clean, accurate data is one of the most powerful tools a business can yield, but when the data set has irrelevant data, the insights become much less impactful.

To illustrate, one of Netflix's most valued assets is its data-driven recommendation system. The company has successfully leveraged data insights to suggest TV programs and movies based on a user's viewing patterns. Netflix has distilled its data sets so well that it predicts what a viewer might enjoy watching. Viewers feel understood and enjoy Netflix's personalization.

The time for spring cleaning of your data is now

In summary, collecting things isn't necessarily a negative; some collections hold value. However, if your company stockpiles every type of new data that grabs its attention, while failing to declutter based on a data strategy, perhaps it suffers from Pack Rat Syndrome.

Your best course of action: enact a strategy for sorting and storing useful data and eliminate the rest. Start with the end in mind, focusing on the business outcomes you want from leveraging this data. Data scientists can champion the cause to clean and synthesize data and start your company down the path of collecting only useful information -- as orderly data helps sharpen your focus and can make you more profitable.

If you're ready to bring order to the chaos, consider investing in technology such as a master data management (MDM) solution to break down data silos and better organize your business information. Instead of procrastinating, let National Pack Rat Day inspire you to declutter your data and tidy up your nest. There's no time like now.

Doug Kimball is Vice President, Global Solution Strategy at Stibo Systems. Doug has been in the Consumer Goods Data and Supply Chain business for over 24 years, with experience in both the retail and manufacturer sides of the business. Leading the Solution Strategy team, he is responsible for developing messaging, positioning, and sales enablement for Stibo Systems driving our market penetration and revenue growth globally.

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