In order to use data and analytics in your business, you need to have the right data.  But how do you identify what is the “right” data?  The one sentence answer is “start with the important questions or challenges your business is facing”.  In this post we’ll provide a general framework for thinking through what data to collect within your business.

1) Start w/ Business Questions

Whenever thinking about using data, you want to start with the business questions and/or challenges.  Data and analytics is most valuable when its helping address the most valuable questions and challenges in a business.  Even if you already are collecting a ton of data, trying to simply mine the data for insights is extremely time consuming and rarely yields valuable returns.

All businesses will have questions, concerns, and pain points.  Brainstorming a list of these items, without thinking through the context of data and analytics is best.  If you start by thinking about the data, you’ll be limiting the list to what can be done right away vs. what is most valuable to address!  Putting together this list and reviewing with others in the company will provide a variety of perspectives to ensure you’re not over focusing on your perspective.

2) Assess Current Data

Once you have your list of items you’d like to address, now you can start identifying if the data you’re capturing today can be used for your list of items.  A common mistake is to focus on perfection at this stage.  If you have data that answer half of the question, or data that will generally address an item on your list, make sure to note that!  You can now prioritize the list of items to determine which you’ll address with the data you already have.  These are the quick wins!

After this exercise, you’ll start seeing where some of your data gaps are.  Document these data gaps.

3) Address Data Gaps

Knowing your data gaps is a significant part of the data battle!  With the list of data gaps, start prioritizing these gaps.  Two important items to consider are the value closing the data gap would bring, as well as the effort required to capture the information.  Even if the data would be highly valuable to capture, if it is extremely expensive and difficult to capture, it may not be something worth addressing. 

Once you have prioritize the data gaps, you can begin updating process and implementing the necessary changes to collect this information.

In Conclusion

Each of these general steps will vary greatly between businesses.  Some businesses may already be capturing most of the data they need, however most likely won’t be.  Some businesses will have a lot of easy changes in processes to capture additional data, while others will have a difficult time and need to only prioritize a few updates.  In general, the goal for all businesses should be to use data to answer their most important business questions. 

Breaking up the process to start addressing what you can answer today is important.  It can take some time to update processes and collect enough data to do something with it.  So starting with what you can means you will start getting value out of your data sooner!

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