Monday, 10 November 2014

Sock, Sex and the need for Strict Data Discipline

To appreciate data you have to understand what data is, where it comes from and what it can do. I learned that years ago, shortly before being accused of being a geek and the eyes of every acquaintance glazing over as I spoke.

Data is not sexy.

But it really ought to be. After all, how else are all those Nigerian millionaires going to track you down to pass on their wealth? Because we all need data to live, to exist, and yet we take it so much for granted, use it and abuse it, without giving much thought to the asset we hold in our hot little hands.
In my mind, data is information and information really is power. It is not only what you know, it is who you know. People buy from people and if you don’t know who the people are it is bloody hard to sell them anything. So, if you are ‘customer-facing’ at all, you need information. And quite a lot of that runs around in the head of people like me. Oh yes, we should all update the CRM system on a daily basis, but the truth is most of us don’t, do we? Be honest now.

Part of that is a natural feeling of vulnerability. If everything you know is written down, who needs you? And part of it is not valuing the information, the raw data. Because raw data is definitely not sexy. In sexual terms it is the removing of the socks bit. It is only when you put all the raw data together and turn it into a pretty picture that it starts to make sense.

Little things mean a lot to people. One of the best contacts I ever made was secured over me remembering that his father was dying of cancer. He was touched that I asked, and had dared to broach the subject, because so many people were too afraid to mention it to him. Do you put things like that in the CRM system? Well, I think there is certainly a place for the soft touches...the birthdays and the kid’s names. It helps people connect and once you have connected doing business together is more natural and much easier.

But what your data really needs is some discipline. Right from the start to the finish. Maintaining, updating and using the database ought to be central to every single employee. It should be part of the induction process, because it is much more important than where the toilet is or where you are allowed to park. The training in how to use it should not be cursory. It should be one of the most important training courses anyone does.

If you want proof of that, go to the ICO website and look at what companies get fined for doing with data. It is a long list. These are obviously the worst examples, but I will wager that every reader of this humble blog has broken the Data Protection Act in their time. From making unsolicited marketing calls without permission or checking against the Telephone Preference Service list to holding onto their customer data forever.
I bet you got away with it.

But my local hospital didn’t, one time. It cost them (well us, since they are funded by the taxpayer) £200,000 for throwing out some computers without checking that the hard drives would be properly wiped. No data discipline you see. Their employees cared so little for the data they use on a daily basis (in this case patient records) that they threw it away.

Whatever you do for a living, data or information is central to it, and if that data is undervalued it will not work for you. Worst case scenario that will be back to bite you in the bum sooner or later and that is much less sexy than taking your socks off.