Data by Design

This McKinsey article titled The expanding role of design in creating an end-to-end customer experience got me thinking. Dangerous I know, nevertheless this is what I came up with. 

I recently blogged about Leading through Complexity and spoke of the need for leaders to add to their business acumen with scientific method and a vivid imagination. With every second person talking about big data I thought it worthwhile applying this thinking to the world of data and I came up with Data by Design. 

Data by Design is about using your imagination to think what may be in the future, using your business acumen to identify opportunities (or risks) and using scientific method to identify the data you need to be either collecting, collating or curating now. That is not how it is done in many organisations. 


Collecting data is a no brainer. However, so often it is done without using the brain. While your imagination and your acumen may lead to identifying key data you need to collect, you may still have a gap. If you apply some science to your collecting you will identify additional data that is needed so you have definitive and repeatable results that can be relied on by decision makers. For example, you will be able to compare two different strategies to identify which one is most effective or has the best ROI. 


The current situation in many organisations is that plenty of data has been collected and projects are being established to buy or utilise business intelligence applications to see what the data tells us. Yes, plenty of interesting findings are made, however, often critical data is missing or there is a lack of understanding of gaps in the data or how it was collected. For example, a whole month of data may be missing because of a problem that month. A month that may have had very different results to other months. 


Another problem with data projects is the lack of curation of the data or the curating of data without the end clearly in mind. Curators in museums have two main roles. One is to keep the collection safe and preserved for future generations. The other is to design and deliver displays of the collection that provide insight and inspiration. And it should be the same for your data project!

What have you designed? 

The answer is the ability to create true business intelligence for decision making. However, it’s not as easy as buying the BI application. For starters you need to know the right questions that you want answered so you can collect and collate the right data. Then you need to understand the different analysis options for curation. Their strengths and weaknesses and how their different outputs can be interpreted. You should not be accepting the answer from a black box. 

Look at it this way. Your approach to data can either be more builder or architect. If builder, you take existing data and apply your tools of trade, your BI app, to produce results. If architect, you design your vision and then engage the builder.