Where is your data hiding?

Author: Luc Machiels and Amélie Van Hoecke

It only takes a few hundred milliseconds to find information on the internet if you use a good search engine. However, finding the right data in your organization could be a very different experience. Research shows that more than 40% of the time spent on retrieving data is wasted on unsuccessful searches. [1] Thus, it is not uncommon for employees to spend several hours per week searching for and retrieving the data they need for analysis. Your company's data is an invaluable asset when it comes to making fact-based decisions — but it comes at a high price if you are not careful. The productivity of the data collection process is often quite low. Why is it so, and does it need to be that way? This is what we explore below.


Hidden data

It is a fact of office life that some of the most valuable information resides in the employees' heads. It is particularly true if you are looking for the spreadsheet's location that contains the figures so badly needed or the location of an important document. Data repositories (think the folder structure of a shared drive) are often poorly documented — resembling a thick book without a table of content or a library without an index. And one day, you'll find that the person you often contacted to help you to retrieve the information you needed has moved to another department or has left the company.


This can be changed. Several technologies and proven practices have emerged over the past decade to improve data management. Recently, we have accompanied our clients in their 'data transformation' — a program designed to boost efficiency through better data governance. However, the benefits of a 'data transformation' go well beyond productivity gains, as we will see next.


Recommending the right product

Your company may possess a wealth of information about customers, products, and market positioning; nevertheless, if analysts cannot retrieve the information, they won't be able to use it to improve the services provided to your customers. We have worked with our clients to create their organizations' data cartography — a tool that maps the data across multiple applications. With this cartography in their hands, our clients are equipped to design analytics systems that would combine data from various databases to create customers' micro-segments and suggest product recommendations that are likely to meet their customers' interests.


Meaningful dashboards

Modern management prides itself on fact-based decisions. The facts often come in the form of figures in a report. The misinterpretations of quantitative indicators can lead to heated debates during board meetings when the exact meaning of context is unclear. It takes time to understand the data correctly due to vague naming conventions, lack of definitions, two columns with the same name meaning different things in each department, etc.


We have helped clients better define the data elements critical to the implementation of their strategy. The definitions are then collected in a business glossary that can be consulted during the preparation or the consultation of a report. It removes the ambiguity and keeps the focus on the facts rather than the interpretation.


Reality check

The collection of the data available in your organization is often fragmented. Sales representatives collect it in your outlets or through forms on your website, or subcontractors who don't have the same data system as yours. Typical problems include incomplete data, erroneous data, or duplicate data. Given that advanced analytical techniques (such as machine learning) are susceptible to the quality of the data, many of our clients place a great emphasis on improving their data sets. We have helped them devise strategies to uncover the sources of data quality problems and have designed solutions to prevent the problems from reoccurring.



Today, more and more companies struggle with the challenges and the cost hidden data brings. For your data to add value, it needs to be easily found and trusted. Are you ready to find out where your data is hiding and tap into your full data potential? Don't hesitate to reach out to discuss how we can discover it together and improve your data governance!



[1] https://www.alteryx.com/sites/default/files/2019-09/Alteryx_State-of-Data-Science-and-Analytics-2019.pdf