It was a summer solstice the past weekend. The longest day of the year also marked the 'official' beginning of summer. It's school vacation time, which reminds me of childhood when we suddenly had these large blocks of time available.
What a luxury it was! My fond memories are of visiting cousins, summer festivals, watching movies, and fun summer camps. Let your kids make the most of this time.
This newsletter will take you about 5 minutes to read.
I. Spotlight: 🗝️What's the secret to finding hidden insights from your data?
“Can you find unusual insights from this data?” asked the technology head of a global pharma company. It was a hot summer day, and this was our first meeting. We sat in his office looking at a spreadsheet on his laptop.
This executive’s team managed the performance of strategic software vendors for the pharma company. Each of these vendors had contracts worth millions of dollars. The team ran internal surveys to get business’ feedback for all vendors.
This was the survey data the executive was showing us. At a few hundred rows, it was a fraction of the massive data warehouse his team routinely used.
The team had been creating descriptive summaries of the survey feedback for their quarterly vendor reviews. However, the dashboards weren’t very actionable. With the next review coming up in 2 weeks, the executive wanted to try something different.
Pointing to the spreadsheet, he said, “If you could do some magic with this data and discover unusual, actionable nuggets, we’ll work with your company.”
Those were the early days of Gramener. Data storytelling and analytics weren’t as popular nine years ago. Traditional BI tools from larger companies such as IBM were good at providing access to data, not to insights.
In a bid to win the client, we took up this challenge.
(Photo by Suhash Villuri on Unsplash)
To find unusual answers, you must ask unusual questions
You can’t unearth hidden stuff if you look in the same places as everyone else. You must come up with probing and unusual business questions. The answers will then reveal vital clues to help your users meet their objectives.
Here are the questions we asked:
What are the key attributes that matter most to your business users - ex. ‘value for money’, ‘responsiveness’? Which survey questions map to these attributes?
What’s the unusual rise/drop in ratings for these attributes? In such exceptions, what do the users’ textual comments call out?
What’s the relative ranking of a vendor on these attributes? Is it consistent over time?
While pivot-table summaries can paint the big picture, you need sharp questions to find what lies beneath the surface. However, not everything you discover will be an insight. Many will be mere facts.
How do you differentiate insights from facts? Here’s a litmus ‘BUS’ test you can use:
Is it Big: Is the insight numerically significant? Will it substantially move users towards their outcomes?
Is it Useful: Does the finding just inform the audience, or will it make them act?
Is it Surprising: Is it non-obvious? Even if it validates a gut feel, does it provide new proof?
We use this in our projects to pressure-test the insights by throwing them under the BUS! It works like a charm.
We went back to the pharma executive with the insights in 10 days. Soon he was firmly on board. These findings were the anchor point for their quarterly strategic review.
Sure, the insights caught the vendor teams by surprise. But, they led to productive discussions and healthy competition among vendors.
For Gramener, this project led to a strategic partnership with the pharma company. Today it is one of our largest clients.
Whether your data is big or small, it is always possible to find something unusual. Frame questions that are anything but ordinary, and your insights will be extraordinary.
(Photo: Sample survey insights - Check the full report here)
II. Industry Roundup:
1. Article: How SMEs can accelerate data strategies without hiring a CDO
3 minutes | Tech Republic | Mary Shacklett
If you’re a small or medium enterprise that can’t afford to hire a CDO, you can still become data-driven. Assess where you are in your data maturity. Start small and onboard data wranglers who can deliver tangible value in proven business cases. Secure C-level commitment through such quick wins and build up momentum.
2. Article: Cloud delivers early on but destroys margins as you scale
This article by the respected VC firm is kicking up a storm in the cloud space. Why? A16z says that cloud doubles infrastructure costs compared to legacy data centers, as you scale - an estimated impact of $500B for public companies.
I’ve seen striking parallels this has with machine learning (ML) platforms. The SaaS ML platforms are convenient and easy to integrate early on but can burn a hole in your budgets in the long run. More on this soon. Meanwhile, check out this important article.
3. Session: Infonomics book giveaway and Q&A with author
3 minutes | Privitar | Doug Laney
How can you monetize your data? What’s the intrinsic value of information? Should it be an item in your balance sheet? Infonomics is the discipline that lays out a structured framework to measure, manage, and monetize information. Registering for this talk by Doug Laney will also get you a free, author-signed copy of the book.
III. From my Desk:
1. Video: Why hiring a CDO may not improve your data maturity
5 minutes | Gramener
How should you use data maturity scores? They can be confusing and even misleading. In this whiteboard, I present three ways they can help your organization pick projects, track progress, and become data-driven.
2. Video: Low code data science platforms and my past life with chess
124 minutes | The Minhaaj Podcast
What are some practical challenges businesses face with data? How did the early days of Gramener look like? Apart from covering these aspects, this podcast episode digs into less-discussed stuff - my past life with chess, the solo backpacking trip in the Himalayas, and my anxiety when I see my kids get too comfortable with technology!
Worried about being judged by your Zoom background? Books by the Foot can custom pick a shelf of books that you can stack up behind you to impress colleagues!😁
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I’m Ganes Kesari. I publish ‘Data-Driven Future’ to help understand how data shapes our world, explore key trends, and explain what they mean for you today. I speak and write to demystify data science for decision-makers and organizations.