I recently called upon a senior manager to explore their data challenges. I politely introduced myself as a data expert and tried to encourage them to share their data issues with me. Before I could complete my sentence, a resounding 'Data is boring so why should I bother with it?' came out.
My instinctive reply was 'It may well be boring, but you still need to deal with it.' Now, this got me thinking about how data is perceived and what skills you really need to have for a successful data project.
Maybe the boring perception came from a great deal of manual data work or the benefits weren’t clear, however, a great deal of money continues to be spent on data projects. It seemed getting a real understanding of data projects was key.
Many organisations attach great value to their data and for most it's a cumbersome job to resolve all data-related issues. After all, it takes a great deal of effort to get data right and then it only degrades as time goes on.
The 3 Key Skills
Getting data right is an interesting mix of (i) Commercial Knowledge, (ii) Data Knowledge and (iii) Technical Knowledge. To find someone who knows all three disciplines is difficult.
Let’s assume we are deploying a new CRM application, and we come to the stage where the data needs to be consolidated, cleansed and made fit-for-purpose so our sales and marketing can flourish.
During the migration we will need commercial knowledge to work how accounts and contacts should be merged. For example, with duplicate accounts and contacts (a) which is the most recent contact, (b) pick the account that has generated most business, (c) pick the account with the most recent activity, and so on. The list of commercial decisions is specific to each organisation.
Cleaning data, removing duplicates, checking emails, creating business hierarchies, enriching data require data knowledge. You need the algorithms, methodologies and reference data to deliver all of the above.
Finally, exporting, importing and merging are technical procedures requiring technical knowledge. Depending on the complexity of your systems, a different level of technical skills will be required.
No wonder data projects can be difficult and time-consuming to resolve. Finding a natural home in any organisation isn’t easy.