Data insight: don’t be data rich but knowledge poor

With the evolution of online trading, social media and other digital transformations, there is plenty written about the fact that “data is the new oil” – all helping to fuel this current evolution. Some would even say it’s a revolution.

However, at the recent FMI Midwinter conference in Miami, one retailer voiced the statement “we’re data rich and knowledge poor”. This isn’t the first time that this has been said and I am sure that it won’t be the last. There is more and more data available to us, but is it really providing insight? Is it driving any change or it is just creating more noise?

What use are data insights if not actionable?

The problem is that tools can only go so far in their ability to automatically interpret information and turn this into insight; and more importantly, into actionable insight. At S4RB we pride ourselves on doing this better than many because we bring specific domain expertise around private brands. Therefore, we know what insights to find that are specific to the needs of private brands, as opposed to what generic business intelligence tools will be able to provide.

Even if you have a grasp on the business needs of your particular industry, there is still a limit as to how much machine learning and intelligent models can derive the real expert insight. This is why, more than anything, we are huge advocates of working as ‘one team’, as you will have read in these pages before.

There’s only so much data one person can handle

There is only so much that any one person can compute and only so much time they have available to investigate. Tools such as Affinity will help make information more readily available and can even provide self-service access to information on demand (in retail this can be information such as customer feedback, benchmark performance or progress on new product development) - that’s an integral part of the ROI for an Affinity platform.

But you still reach a threshold where your team of, say, three quality managers, can only investigate so far. They will certainly prioritise looking at the large volume items, or the foreign object complaints but this will still be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Share data insights with the people who know what to look for

The issue with having access to more and more data is that, irrespective of more intelligent tools, there is no substitute for more and more eyes on the issue. If you have 3,000 private brand products and, say, 350 suppliers, using Affinity to bring everyone together to operate as one team means that you no longer only have three quality managers, you have 353 quality managers.

This is true because you share the information, in the right way, with the right people to get more eyes on the problem. Importantly, the right eyes who have the product expertise (the suppliers) means that suddenly the larger team is not knowledge poor but are in fact able to interpret the information and act. A benefit of this is that those three people at the centre of it all can now spend less time data-mining and more time acting on the knowledge to drive performance. 

Technology is an important part of the solution. Yes, of course I would say that as a technology provider! But more important is sharing the right information, with the right people, to work as one team. The computer systems that can match real domain expertise from a human are few and far between.

So, when next confronted by someone lamenting the woes of being “data rich and knowledge poor” ask how they can distribute that data to the people able to turn it into knowledge. Working as one team in this way means it is possible to deliver those actionable insights and from that, winning solutions.

James Butcher

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