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Scott Smith
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Scott Smith

Best Practices, Business Intelligence

Data Discovery: Because We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

Posted on Apr 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM

At a recent session introducing Business Intelligence (BI) tools to school district administrators, about 15 minutes into the presentation our team asked for questions and feedback. After silence for a few seconds, a comment came from the audience saying, “We have never had access to this much data. This is fantastic…but we’re not sure what questions to ask!”

This reaction is normal and expected as BI solutions are just recently being introduced to the public sector at all levels. It is a significant shift in thinking to go from gathering data (and populating spreadsheets or reports) for completion of a task to combing through data for discovering insight. Data discovery is a discipline that enables local government leaders to learn more about their own enterprise, identify opportunities for efficiency and ultimately lead more strategically.

It really comes down to being proactive rather than just reactive when accessing data for meaningful insight. If a BI solution is only used as a tool that helps one react to specific questions or requests, the real value of having relevant data at your fingertips is missed. Without question, there is great value in being able to query data very rapidly and deliver a solution to a particular need. But, because “we don’t know what we don’t know”, taking the opportunity to search through data proactively and find those telling insights could make a key difference in any decision-making process.

Employing data discovery shines a flashlight in those areas where there are potential opportunities to make changes for the better. The insight gained from this process may lead to several different outcomes:

  1. A decision that is part of a key action plan
  2. Critical decision support for a current strategy or solution
  3. No action but key knowledge to be leveraged in the future

When measuring the effectiveness of a BI strategy, the focus tends to be on how well the BI tools assist in the first two outcomes above. It is more difficult to measure the importance of the “no action but key knowledge” outcome but one could argue it is the most important. Organizations that put a necessary focus on spending time in data discovery mode are better equipped to make critical decisions in the future and are in a more credible position with stakeholders. Don’t be afraid of digging into the data without a specific purpose because remember, “we don’t know what we don’t know.”

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Scott Smith is the Senior Vice President of Sales and Engagement of Forecast5 Analytics, Inc. – a technology company focused on software development and data analytics for the public sector.  Scott has spent the past 10 years working with school districts and other local government clients with a focus on providing financial planning and data analysis tools. His prior experience in the private sector has enabled him to offer solutions that combine the bottom-line needs of corporate entities with the unique service-level commitments of the public sector.

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