22nd February 2019

There is a lot that we talk about, when we talk about data, but what is not often talked about is how opaque some people are when talking about data.

Try saying that fast three times.

Data is the building block of decision-making and information-gathering, yet time and time again, companies treat it as some sort of nebulous thing, or worse, an enemy that has to be vanquished so that we can all go back to business as usual. Take GDPR, for example – four letters that have come to strike fear in the hearts of any newsletter-owner, yet, the legislation itself was created to make life easier for both businesses and consumers.

Where have things gone wrong? And how do we keep our “house” in order when the data wolf comes knocking?

The first little pig built his house out of straw because it was the easiest thing to do

Some organisations treat data as a by-product of operations, not an asset. Sure, you need to know how much you’re making and how much you’re spending in order to fill out your tax return, but that’s as far as many businesses go. For a while, that works out – it keeps the lights on and the shop floor going, and you may even be able to set aside enough for a rainy day. But then you start dreaming of growth… and your structure can’t handle it.

Some people think data is so fragile, it’s best not disturbed. They won’t look at their accounts, or ask themselves where their customers come from, or what they could do to improve operations, or what their employees really think about the established processes, out of a fear that the slightest gust of wind will blow the whole thing apart. The reality is, data helps us know the business better, identify weaknesses, and strengthen the structure. To put it differently, if your employees are telling you something is unsustainable, or you get a bunch of clients from an unexpected source, pay attention.

The second little pig built his house out of sticks

Some organisations treat data as a problem. They understand its importance, but it’s more of a liability than any true support. You might recognise these organisations because they’re the ones demanding cookie consent and GDPR consent and privacy consent before they so much as show you their website… effectively denying you any kind of service until you sign off on personal data.

Why is this unproductive? Because it treats the customer as the problem for having data. It’s another way for the organisation to wrap itself in legalilities, when the whole point of GDPR was to make the process more transparent for consumers and to protect them from being exploited. Fact of it is, lack of transparency doesn’t endear a company, it just makes it suspicious. Data protection legislation does not hit companies immediately, and even if yours doesn’t get everything right in the first instance, it will be given guidance on how to make things right – before any fines or other consequences are imposed.

The third little pig built his house out of bricks

Which brings us to the first question again – how do we keep our “house” in order?

Good data culture is the first step – making sure we know what we have, where we have it, and what we can use it for. Building in safeguards for private data inside of that culture should be easy once the founding principles have been decided upon: namely, don’t gather personal data if you don’t need it, and tell them who can access it and why.

The most crucial step – and the most overlooked – is being honest and transparent about data. Don’t bury people in specialist terminology, and don’t over-complicate something that should be simple. Data is not about huffing and puffing – it’s about doing the best you can with the tools that you are given.

If you are keen to learn more about dealing with the ‘big bad wolf’ of data and how you can start to use it in your business strategies, get in touch with the team!