A few days ago I wrote an article where I distinguished between data and information.
Later that evening, with my mind in freefall and a glass of red in hand I started to ponder just what data is.
When does “stuff” become data? If I tell you my name have I given you my data? After all, my name is now stored in your personal computer i.e. your brain. But as it’s in your brain only you can access it. So perhaps stuff becomes data when it is stored on media that allows access by other people. But then if someone else asks you what my name is then you could tell them then they have accessed the data in your brain. However this musing didn’t get me very far so I decided to dismiss the human brain as a usable media source and decided that data is “stuff” that is stored on usable media such as paper or a computer. Here it can be accessed, organised, and acted upon by other people.
But then I thought some more about what we mean by data and information and intelligence and constructed a very simple example to illustrate my ramblings….it goes like this….
A postcode is a piece of data.
A postcode combined with the rest of the address is information about someone or something.
Knowing how many customers you have within a particular postcode is intelligence.
Now this is very simple of course but I think it is worth bearing in mind the distinction between data, information and intelligence particularly when embarking on a data cleansing program. Prioritise activity to address those quality issues that are impacting on business performance. It may be easy to clean and standardise the customer telephone number but if you never contact your customers by phone then where is the ROI? This may be why some struggle to get support for data cleansing activities – they scuttle up to the boss and say “hey look what I’ve done”, expecting a pat on the back, only to recieve a “so what?” as a reward.
Data activities must be aligned with company strategy and must yield tangible business benefits by tackling real business problems.
Thinking “Data – Information – Intelligence” will help to focus on what is really important.