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The Dark Side of Data Pt. II

As a youngster, I was always afraid of the dark.  At night, I would lie in bed with covers draped over my head for protection.  One never really knows what lie lurking in the dark, beyond the safety of the light.  Today, we encounter many dark areas that mask the true nature of problems in every organization.  Often the solution employed is equivalent to throwing a cover over one’s head.  Instead of shining light on data, exposing myths and debunking falsehoods, issues go ignored.  In the following paragraphs we will address additional things that hide the use and interpretation of data.


Dearth of Data

There are so much, nay, too much data available.  That new reality leads to a two-fold question for organizations.  These questions are (1) How can important data be located? (2) How important data be transformed into information? 


Legality of Data (Data is not law)

One thing everyone needs to remember is data is not the law.  Data and the insights, gleaned from it at minimum, show us what has already occurred.    At best, many forms of data predictions simply estimate what will occur if the same pattern continues.  This is like using a rear view mirror to drive forward.  It’s not very helpful and can lead to disastrous results very quickly.  Historical data needs to be scrutinized at a deeper level before forecasts can be made from them.  Did any large unanticipated one-time expenditures take place?  Are things categorized in different places thereby causing projections to be over or under stated?  Data can be a dangerous thing.  Until it is understood they cannot be used properly.  Lastly always use common sense.  Very often within organizations a request is made and employee A simply prints out a system generated report and calls it a day.  However, I’ve learned the hard way that the accounting systems are not always right.  Always look at these reports with an eye of caution.  If forecasts are based on them, they should be looked at with an air of scrutiny.


Data Complexity

Finally, data is quite complex.  They are complex for a number of reasons.  Data is an independent thing, but an organism affected by its environment.  Outside variables have an impact on data.  These outside variables, called drivers, should be isolated and understood or the analysis gained from the data will not be completely understood. 


I share these insights to sharpen the scrutiny of data.  Believe or not data is dark.  There is more than meets the eye.


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