On data

In his blog post today, Seth Godin shared his thoughts on the cost of collecting data, specifically useless or bad data.

Here are his three rules on collecting data:

  • First, don’t collect data unless it has a non-zero chance of changing your actions.
  • Second, before you seek to collect data, consider the costs of processing that data.
  • Third, acknowledge that data collected isn’t always accurate, and consider the costs of acting on data that’s incorrect.

It got me thinking about the data that E&C professionals collect and I realized that we don’t always collect data on purpose. Some of the data collection “just happens”. For example, when we track online training completion, we want to know how many employees have completed the training. If we are not at 100%, we chase the laggards. But in the process, we also know where the laggards are (in what department, country, etc.) and what courses they haven’t completed. What do we do with this information?

Or think about the cost of collecting the data around supervisors communicating regularly about the importance of E&C. My organization has 25,000 supervisors. If my data collection process costs $40/year in person/hours for each supervisor ($10/quarter to report their efforts), this collection just cost my company one million dollars. Investing $100,000 in an automated platform that could collect the same information in half the time is clearly worth it.

Of course, I’m not advocating that we simply stop collecting data that is “too expensive.” Paul McNulty once quoted the Siemens’ General Counsel:

If you think compliance is expensive, try non-compliance.

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