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Data is Power

Level 12

QuestionsDataAnswersSmall.jpg

You have the power right at your fingertips.

With access to the right data your fingers can make positive changes for your organization. Chances are high that if you manage databases, servers, and other IT services you have access to the data you need to make things better for you, your company, and your customers.

I talk with many people who believe they have no influence in their organization. They stare at grey and dreary cubicle walls. Endless meetings. Missed deadlines. And worst of all they have lousy, weak, corporate coffee.  They feel as if nothing they do matters.

But that’s not true. Every role has value. Good ideas can, and do, come from anywhere and anyone. The power to make these good ideas become real is DATA. And where does good data come from? From GOOD QUESTIONS.  Good questions require GOOD ANSWERS, and that comes from GOOD DATA.

Are you getting what you need?

When you ask for more of something from management, but management doesn't bite, do you know one reason why? Because you didn't bring the RIGHT DATA to back up your requests.

Requests like these:

• We need more people

• We need to “find a new home” for Steven and Brian

• We need more training / team members need more training

• We need to be involved earlier in development projects

• We need to consolidate / need more hardware / new software

• We need to virtualize

• We need to standardize more / less

• We need stronger control / more flexibility

What data would you want to see if you were the pointy-haired boss and got these requests? If you have tried to use data previously, did it work? If not, do you know why?  Update: Post your questions to the next post in this series.

All great questions, and all the more reason why data is the most important asset we have.

If you are feeling stuck in your cube, a gold mine is only a few mouse clicks away...data can transform your role at work or in your life.

53 Comments
wbrown
Level 13

Data is helpful but change often requires funding.

Many of us on my team have tried to get changes made using great data but have often gotten stymied when a price tag gets attached.

We've gotten around that sometimes by using phrases such as "unplanned [uber-critical app name] downtime may result if change is not implemented."

datachick
Level 12

I agree. Getting stuff approved is a zero-sum game when it comes to budget.  There's a fixed amount of money and the people who bring the right cost, benefit and risk statement are going to get to that pot of cash first.Having data to back up that business case really helps.

_stump
Level 12

+1. I hear from CIOs all the time that they'd love to invest money into good projects, but the technologists aren't presenting a good business case. Yeah, vSphere 5.5 is pretty sweet from a geek's point of view. But why should the CIO spend money on upgrading to 5.5 because it's cool? Where's the benefit to the organization?

I recently heard someone grumble that they asked for vCD but the request was denied. It turns out that the request was nothing more than "can we buy vCD?" Well of course the answer to that question (from a CxO's perspective) is no.

If you can map your technology wants with business needs, you're golden.

datachick
Level 12
If you can map your technology wants with business needs, you're golden.

Love this saying. I may steal it

sqlrockstar
Level 17

I agree completely with the idea that data is power. Taking the time to do the research to get the facts you need is important when making a case for any of your needs.

There is also a dark side here, and that is when people in power control the data you are able to receive.

datachick
Level 12

There is also a dark side here, and that is when people in power control the data you are able to receive.

Good point.  That happens on my projects when I have to do a database design, but don't have access to the databases under development to measure the impacts of the design or to help developers with performance issues and questions.

It is also a good thing to understand that we should collect our own data about our jobs.  Not customer data, but the metrics and data that we'd need to justify a decision. 

_stump
Level 12

Steal away! The truth belongs to everyone.

supermon
Level 10

Data is great, but to say management didn't bite because I didn't supply the right data is an oversimplification. I can provide all the data in the world to show if we do xyz our up time will go up. That doesn't mean it would necessary be worth the cost in time or money for an incremental gain.

datachick
Level 12

The people who bring the right cost, benefit and risk statement are going to get to that pot of cash before the people who bring no data at all.   Having data to back up that business case really helps.

The people I wrote about brought no data.

What data would you bring to get more resources?

sqlrockstar
Level 17

Management typically makes decisions based upon data, or based upon instinct (i.e., a "gut feeling").

I've presented data to management that was ignored for their gut feeling. Had I known in advance, I could have brought different data and achieved a different result.

datachick
Level 12

I think it's a bit of both, right?  Gut instinct and data.  That's why we have people making decisions and not just data systems.  I'm very much an intuitive decision maker. In the long run, that has worked out well for me. The hard part is figuring out what part of intuition is based on fear and which parts are intuition.

And excellent point that brining the right data for the right decision maker is important.  I had a boss whose biggest fear was looking bad amongst his peers.  So the data he needed was mostly about risk. Other bosses just wanted to use money efficiently. They lived in a fail fast culture. So the business cases I brought them were more focused dollars than risk.

Jfrazier
Level 18

I heartily agree data is power.  I've learned to include data with every request in the form of a business justification and ROI.
Granted it may be rather simple statement like "I know the training budget is low at the moment but we do have a need for more knowledge on advanced SQL queries.  I was thinking in the short term we could get this book for every team member to help us move forward until the training budget allows for a more formal training session.  It will help us to improve our productivity especially on this big customer facing project."

In other cases it is a more formal proposal that includes cost savings in person hours, company savings, etc.

Another area where bringing the proper data is when cluing in upper management to a problem.  Instead of just announcing "We have a problem", by having some aspects of root cause formulated, and some solutions ready, it gives them a better feel that you have things under control while reducing the work on the decision making.  They then make better informed decisions which saves the company money and time and looks good for everyone.

I've also learned that it is a workable plan to plant a seed of an idea and to come back and cultivate it from time to time allowing it to grow by feeding it data and concepts, ideas, and ultimately a proposal or request.

datachick
Level 12

Great examples.

I sometimes call this discussion with upper management doing the math for them.  I was having a discussion with a product manager.  He wanted a feature, that while technically feasible, was going to lead to massive growth of the database.  He had the authority to make the decision, but I was pretty sure the COST of that decision wasn't going to make management happy.  So I went to the whiteboard and did the math.  This number of users (300,000) * this many doodads (1000) * this many attributes of the doodad (1000) * this many changes to those attributes a year (25) = a lot rows.  When you start talking tables with a quadrillion rows.in a transactional environment, even upper management starts to wonder how well it's going to work. Especially when this feature wasn't even requested by the customers and wasn't going to earn any more revenue.

Up until then, no one had done the math.

Jfrazier
Level 18

Agreed, Doing the math is a big thing and can work for you or against you.  Reminds me of an instance where we were asked to change all of our servers from IP based to DHCP monitoring requiring a DNS query for pretty much every polling operation.  Their initial thought was it would save them some work in having to keep us informed of IP address changes.  So I did the math for them to show how much of a load it would put on DNS just for ICMP and SNMP based polling as it existed at the time...then extrapolated over the expected growth over the next 6 months.   They decided to do a better job of including us in those changes when the numbers appeared.

dcal
Level 9

The data you need is dependent on what you are attempting to justify.  You need data or background information on where you are today, data/information on what you can do better, data/information on what happens if you don't act, as well as data/information on how what you want to do to resolve the issue.  You should provide enough information so that management looks at your request and its a no brainer they need to act.

Radioteacher
Level 14

Many applications that are purchased are used for a single function.  Like document management.

I have heard "We bought the document management system to do the one thing (like contact management)."  So they do not even think about using it for other areas like purchasing documentation or inventory paperwork.  Too many people are change adverse which shocks me in this day and age.

It is like buying a sports car and only driving it 5 mph on dirt roads.

Fully using a system like document management for all documents makes data convenient and useful.

RT

matt.matheus
Level 11

Data is power.

As much as I want to believe, I just can't.  At least not in my current situation.

Here, we buy things with no data, deny things with no data, and make decisions based on someone's gut feeling... independent of data.  Smart ideas (with absolutely GREAT ROI) are turned down because something happened with a different system long ago, and the approver won't approve the new change until someone fixes the old thing (even though thing 1 and thing 2 aren't related in the slightest). 

As I've mentioned before in these sort of posts, having non-technical people be in sole approver position (or sole un-approver) results in fragmented systems that don't often interoperate very well.  That, and 1000s of person hours wasted doing redundant tasks that should have been automated (or trashed) a long time ago...

sqlrockstar
Level 17

I've seen that as well. The waste inside of IT infrastructure can be staggering.

sqlrockstar
Level 17

I think you and I must have worked together at some point...

datachick
Level 12

I so feel for you there, matt.matheusI've certainly been in those environments.  It isn't always the whole company; often it's just one really terrible manager.  I still encourage people to bring data to the battle.  At least when the auditors or takeover accountants show up, your recommendations will still look great on paper.

jmariano
Level 8

I agree. That's why most of the company here invested for data security, data loss protection and the likes. However, it's really hard to manage esp. if the assigned person has no proper training.

Here are some impact of Data Loss

•Cost: $6.3M per breach*

•Loss of customers/business

•Brand damage

•Stock price decrease

•Regulatory fines

•Legal defense

•Notification and compensation

•Public relations & security response

APA:

* Ponemon Institute

datachick
Level 12

Another great example of how to bring data - find industry data or sector data.  Then check to see how relevant it is to your environment. Put it in context.

tspwayne
Level 11

Data is all well and good as long as it is relevant that is brought to the table, and the right data, which is what many people on here have already discussed. Most decisions are made on the price attached, however if you can tailor the data to make it more crucial than the price tag you can get it to work for you. Usually this entails showing how much time it will reduce or efficiency is made are normally good ones rather than just looking at the price tag. I would say if you can hit two of these then you are on to a winner.

miseri_cheat_
Level 11

Lovely article. Data is truly very important in an organization. I'd love to see which apps slow my systems down.   I have really never thought of data like you talked about it today.

ctrader
Level 9

In my current, and past jobs, I've never had many issues getting things approved as long as I bring the right data.  As part of a company I need to keep in mind that my requests need to financially benefit the company in some way (reduced man hours, cheaper maintenance, reduced resource consumption, etc.).  In the end if my request sets the financial scale in the companies favor, we all win.  There are lots of "cool" things that my inner geek would love to get.  I just need to come up with the right financial justification, and if I can't then it means that it wouldn't really benefit the company.

datachick
Level 12

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  I does depend on management culture.  I specialize in helping troubled projects get back on track. I see a lot of dysfunction that leads to projects getting themselves down some rat hole.  Often, it's because management needs to micro manage technology and they lose sight of the business successes that change can bring about.  Data helps, but as others have posted here, sometimes data isn't enough. We've all seen corporate polices that cost millions just so a manager can enforce a policy.


Did I tell you about the weekend a few of us spent three-hole punching 25 cases of paper because pre-drilled paper wasn't on the official order list?  It didn't even cost more.  It just wasn't official.

cahunt
Level 17

Data is useless if it is the bottom line that matters... that is how you end up with sub-par/underdeveloped apps, or a bad SLA... because the bottom line was more important than the data that was presented...in some cases, not even understood. Applying that Business need as Mr. michael stump has stated, can be key in getting the tools that are needed, costly and time consuming.

Getting to the point where your "See Whoever Oh!" actually understands what you are saying and why you are requesting this software/tool that ends with 4 Zero's...

... why that is priceless.

cahunt
Level 17

some people say money is truth...<SWIPE>,  where's your wallet!?

cahunt
Level 17

I worked one place where everyone would look at each other at least once a month and say, "How the heck are we even still in business, as bad as we are?"

That just means that everyone else is Worse.

cahunt
Level 17

Sometimes it is how you present the Data... so having Data on your target audience is always key!  I made a point for dual display setups in years past. So after putting everything together my super's told me this is good, but "SHE" won't read this. Turned out our manager was not so much (if at all) of a technical writer/reader.

Funny how someone ends up taking over Telecom; but I changed my nice read into a simpleton's version of a comparison, and laid out the Benifits of having more visual desktop space. With the more visual readout, and easy to tie to which arguement reasons that I had carefully placed on each side of the middle of the page (can't have her thinking that 'Increased Multitasking abilities' is a drawback to having more than 1 display) I was actually able to get Blood from a Turnip...err, Money from the coffers.

You may have the Data today that gives you the Power tomorrow. Just remember, If Data is Power and Absolute Power corrupts, then All Data Corrupts Absolutely.

datachick
Level 12

cahunt wrote:

If Data is Power and Absolute Power corrupts, then All Data Corrupts Absolutely.

marc.coxall
Level 9

For me the key to good data is often good UI design. You need to prevent users putting garbage in.

kevincrouch4
Level 13

I like that as well

kevincrouch4
Level 13

we use data all the time. We're in manufacturing and we can tell you how many good products, bad, encoded wrong, how long it took... Just the other day my manager was on a rant about line endings and I was able to whip together a program that showed him I wasnt an issue for this. Proving when you're not doing something wrong or finding something thats wrong before it's a problem can be a big money saver.

I'm working on a presentation now about why we should standardize from having two formats (usually made for two differerent machines) into a "master" format and use a small utility that can spit out either of the other formats from the master in a matter of seconds. I've included some nice information about how 6 our of 9 issues in the previous year were due to small formatting problems that cost upwards hundreds of thousands of dollars and they could have been avoided.

kurtrh
Level 13

If it wasn't for Data I would not get anything. I have to present a whole case outline and with supporting data in order to get my Boss to bite on something I need. Sometimes it becomes a real headache at times.

I have experienced not having enough information when I presented my case, only to be turned away multiple times to get more information.

mikegrocket
Level 10

Having great data to back you up is always important and more often than not, necessary. What is important to remember though, if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, don't try to baffle them with B$. That usually will not turn out in your favor.

garetht
Level 10

$Deity save us from people who hoard information merely to make themselves important..

rhether
Level 12

Data is only half the battle.  With data you need to have tools to manage and most importantly create reports.

I've seen pools of data laying around and people don't know how to access it or what kind of reports they can create to show metrics.

If you got data, make reports, bosses like colorful charts with lots of pictures.

syldra
Level 12

I may steal that as well, but I won't ask you, as per michael's answer...

aaron.j.denning
Level 12

Data is great to have but if you dont have the tools and smarts to go along with it then your screwed anyways.

syldra
Level 12

ROI is the key here to unlocking purses, and I am blessed with a CFO that takes ballpark estimates and figures written on a napkin as valid ROI projections.

I have yet to see a project of mine refused because of the cost. But I am not greedy. Some IT department sketch up 1000 projects in the hope that 2 of them will get approved, I only ask for what is necessary and usually get it.

Bahlkris
Level 12

I have found that having data is only as good as it can be organized otherwise it can bury the person using it and become more of a problem then it is meant to be.

(sorry but this seemed like it belonged here)
http://cdn.themetapicture.com/media/funny-blond-girl-Lannister-Game-of-Thrones.jpg

byrona
Level 21

Our management team is completely data driven so I generally have not had problems getting access to the necessary tools to provide the data that they need.  Our largest challenge is making sure all of our staff is trained on how to properly use the tools to mine the data.  The training problem largely exists due to the lack of free cycles to learn how to properly use the tools.

datachick
Level 12

I've seen that.  Plus to train them on how to analyze the data and react to it appropriately.

byrona
Level 21

LOL, yeah from your response I can certainly tell you have been there and done that!  It's a very frustrating position to be in.

sevier.toby
Level 10

If I was the pointy haired boss, I would address some but not all of these questions:

• We need more people

No.  No wait, that is a good idea, how many offshore engineers do you recommend I hire to replace your team? 

• We need to “find a new home” for Steven and Brian

No

• We need more training / team members need more training

Yes, we need to ensure that each team member allocates/dedicates 1hr. a week to some type of pro-active training at least.

• We need to be involved earlier in development projects

I agree, that is a great idea.  Lets also think of a way to do this using team project sites or Sharepoint.

• We need to consolidate / need more hardware / new software

We need to pro-actively audit our DB's, performance tune, and take another look

• We need to virtualize

I agree and also would like to provide you with a dev network/duplicate Active Directory/VMs/cloud space to test

• We need to standardize more / less

I agree whole heartedly, provide a foundation or framework (including versioning and code repository) and put all existing code up against that new framework and then use the framework going forward and train new people on the framework - good luck, I wish you the best.

• We need stronger control / more flexibility

After audit, performance tuning, do your own testing, creating a standardized framework, you will be able to have more control and flexibility. 

jay.perry
Level 11

cool post! i like it.

jay.perry
Level 11

Data is raw power, i agree.

tallyrich
Level 15

Data is extremely valuable. However data without good employees loses much of its value. People are what make sense of the data and people are what make decisions from the data. As the world gets more automated this is shifting. So, in a data driven world how do we keep a focus on what is really important - People.

vinay.by
Level 16

Wonderful article

About the Author
Data Evangelist Sr. Project Manager and Architect at InfoAdvisors. I'm a consultant, frequent speaker, trainer, blogger. I love all things data. I'm an Microsoft MVP. I work with all kinds of databases in the relational and post-relational world. I'm a NASA 2016 Datanaut! I want you to love your data, too.