Tell Me a (Data) Story

Sherlock Holmes was a fictional consulting detective who mastered the art of deduction and used data he gleaned from his close examination of trace evidence. He pieced together explanations based on the information and solved cases that eluded others.

I can only imagine how Mr. Holmes’ stories would have been accelerated if he had electronic data and enhanced forensic methods to arrive at his solutions. Perhaps the great mind of Colombo with the CSI team?

Data makes us smarter

The point is that these characters learned a lot about a situation based on facts or data they discovered in the course of their investigations. They crafted a story to illustrate a conclusion.  With the abundance of data in our own business operations, we can learn from these masters and create some useful stories about own companies – sharing important outcomes, monitoring trends for process improvement and predicting the future.

“By training, my goal is to find stories that can best be told through data which is not every story, but there are a lot of stories out there.”

–Robert Gebeloff, “Counting the Infected,” The Daily – a New York Times Podcast

Many of us have been glued to our screens watching the COVID-19 numbers rising and falling as various states have experienced success and lack of success with the spread of the virus.  It’s also a presidential election year – with pollsters providing data, and ultimately, predictions for our future leaders. So, we are also data-driven to some extent in our daily lives, albeit it is the data scientists who are digging deeper into the numbers to tell us more.

Your business can do that too

When we talk about information management – capturing content that is locked in documents and managing the data – we are making the assumption that the company has taken the step to invest in a content management platform, and strived to eliminate paper processes and paper archives opting for the digital world. This digital transformation has huge benefits in our current remote work environment and will enhance the eventual “next normal” when we are back to work.


            A short digression:

  • If you rely on processes where you physically hand off information to route it in a “workflow,” then you are stuck when working at home. But, a digital process allows for (1) automation, (2) easy workflow, (3) alerts and (4) escalations. 
  • If you need to rely on your memory to remember which document has the information you need versus being able to do a keyword search of your content – you are wasting time. Maybe, it’s even put off because it is a frustrating and arduous task. Again, digital documents enable you to search the content to find what you need.
  • Lastly, if you take in paper documents or even PDFs in an email – you still have to touch these documents to view, store, route and maybe even scan them to capture the content and get them into a searchable digital format. Now, not everyone can use e-forms, but even a town clerk can benefit from e-forms vs. paper forms for processing requests.  Think invoices, orders, applications, sign offs (like when you go into a doctor’s office) etc. for day-to-day tasks, and think about how easy it would be to archive those digital requests for record-keeping and information governance plus future archive searches.

The point of this digression is to be able to tell your data story, you need to be able to get the data, and that is only possible if your operation has implemented digital processes. You may not be there 100%, but if you have transformed some of your processes, you have data your scientists can work with.         


You are currently in a digital state

Manage your data.  We talk about capture, process and access as critical building blocks of a digital strategy, but measuring or evaluating how you are doing can only make your operations better. The value of a customer success story is not only what was done right, but the lessons learned, so everyone can learn what not to do.

I always look for metrics in a customer success story.

  • How much time did Company A save by automating their sales order process?
  • How much faster can a FOIA request be fulfilled now that the town is using an e-form for requests?
  • What problems did you uncover when you sat down and mapped out your onboarding process?

These are happy outcomes. But, looking at your process data can be a window into the future for your operations, and give you a head start in solving for a potential problem.

  • Why did my insurance team see an average increase in time to fulfill a request?
  • Why are we not seeing the efficiencies we thought we would with our new e-forms?
  • What is preventing us from moving the mortgage “processing needle” to 3x better?

Admittedly, evaluating metrics against expectations can uncover human issues, training issues, attitude challenges and simply imperfect pieces of a process because it is still manual.  Realizing the roadblocks, working to correct them and taking a step closer to your business can help you rectify an issue and address a correction for the problem.

This process alone means you are seeking continuous improvement and innovative ways to make your business better. Businesses that don’t pay attention fall behind: they lose a bid, do not reduce redundancy, fail to notice a solution that can fix a problem, and let others leapfrog over their business because they did not take the time to review their performance.

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Arie de Geus, a business theorist and former head of Royal Dutch, Shell’s Strategic Planning Group

Coupled with the metrics, it’s also a good idea to just listen. Your employees know the bottlenecks and probably wish they did not have to stop this to do that or exit from this and look up that. A year ago, there was no solution. But these days, with robotic process automation adopted for some human tasks, there might be.

So, learning more about the depth of your efficiency is only to your advantage, and using the metrics of your operations will give you what you need to drive improvement. At your next department meeting, have everyone share a Data Story or a Data Wish. See what you can uncover from the numbers and how you can craft your smart solution.

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Joanne E. Novak

Joanne E. Novak

is a program manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. and is responsible for program development with the company’s Business Intelligence groups, including the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) practice. Her responsibilities are to build sales and customer-facing educational and thought leadership insights as well as strategic initiatives for ECM.
Joanne E. Novak

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