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Finding the Right Data at the Right Time (Part 1)

Sir Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, couldn’t form any theories or draw any conclusions until he had sufficient data. Data is the basic building block of everything we do in analytics: the reports we build, the analysis we perform, the decisions we influence, and the optimizations we derive.

Several years ago I came across a book called the Accidental Analyst

The book opens with the questions, “Are you drowning in a sea of data?

Would you like to take control of your data and analysis to quickly answer your business questions and make critical decisions?

Do you want to confidentially present results and solutions to your managers, colleagues, clients and the public?”

Written by two Stanford professors, the book explores how and why people become good analysts and goes into detail about how to approach analytics successfully. After reading the book I was inspired to come up with a way to teach analytics to college students and fresh graduates.

The core of both the book and my program hinges on the ability of an analyst to find the right data at the right time. The authors suggested that identifying your data is where it all starts. Identifying exactly what you need to address whatever it is that you need to report.

Back at Wells Fargo, the single greatest attribute that I had that made me successful was my ability to size up how long it would take to deliver something. Knowing what data I would need, where I would find it and how long it would take to analyze it to come up with something useful made me somewhat of a wizard in the minds of the team.

Finding the right data at the right time requires one to first know ends and outs of their data.

You have to know how the data is captured, where it is stored and how it makes its way to you. Knowing the data architecture in your business is the key. So you have to get to know the people who know where your data comes from and how it gets there. Learn from them. Partner with them. Buy them doughnuts.

A couple of years ago I came across an analogy being used to describe data in a business. That of a data lake. A data lake is the living, breathing, evolving pool of all the data in a business. If you have a good data architecture, and you can navigate it fairly easily, then you have a data lake. Ideally, your business has data structured in such a way you can live off it. Data to a business is like water to living things… it sustains life

So once you have the lake mapped out, then you have to learn how to fish it. Knowing where the fish are biting is another key. Once you know what data you need, you have to know how to get to it quickly.

Business Intelligence tools help us here. As does coding languages to extract data from a database. These are your fishing tools. You have to practice using them to be good at getting the right data at the right time.

Another way to optimize your data search is to save your work. Of as I call it leave yourself breadcrumbs. Save the query. Cut and paste the code into a document and save it. Write down the steps. Whatever you need to do to replicate what you just did so you can do it again in the future without starting over from scratch.

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