Saturday, August 29, 2009

Data Vs Information

Business Intelligence has come a long way but the essence of data and information remains the same. To understand BI and Information Systems, one needs to understand the essential difference between “data” and “information”.

I once remember having a debate with a CIO on all systems being called as “data systems” or “information systems”- I do strongly believe that it needs to be called as data systems rather than information systems. I also had a mental debate on google’s mission which is “to organize world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”- Ideally this is to organize world’s data.

Here is my disconnect- I don’t think so, in today’s dynamic world, we can actually classify “information”. All we are doing is to classify “data” and we never know when it becomes “information”. Its extremely dynamic!

I will illustrate with couple of examples but before going there, lets get in to the fundamental difference between data and information. Traditionally we all know that processed data becomes information- when does it become processed? Based on my know-how, data becomes information when we make a “decision”. Suppose I want to meet a renowned dentist in a new town, I surf the internet and get the relevant contact details so that I can meet that dentist- My decision here is to do a root canal treatment with that dentist and at that time the data on the contact details of the dentist becomes information. Till that time, its just raw data- When I don’t have to do the root canal treatment, I will be least interested in even getting to that data or looking at that data. Does that ring a bell?

Let me take another example- Suppose you run “pizza hut” in India. You get unique 200 customers daily and you store all their relevant details viz., first name, last name, wedding anniversary, birthday, what pizza they like the most etc in a database. Now in this list of details; which one is data and which one is information?- In my mind, all of it is just raw data. Suppose, I suddenly decide to run a promotional campaign to give free pizza’s for “x” number of customers whose birthday falls on some date, then that filtered data becomes information for me as I need to email all of them to come to my place. This decision of running a promotional campaign was all of sudden- I could have taken a decision to send free pizza for people who frequent my place all the time. I can’t document all the decisions that I take all the time as business is dynamic and so are decisions. My decisions are dictated by the dynamic nature of the business! That’s where the real catch lies on data and information. Don’t you agree? Based on my decision, the data that I have stored becomes information. If I don’t create large “data systems”, I never will be able to take information out of them.

Given this logic, I do believe that google is organizing world’s data so that it becomes information in the right time for people when they make a decision.

Business Intelligence all the time is grappling with this dilemma because we cannot document all our decisions based on past history. Based on my business need, my decisions become super dynamic and at that time I cannot be found wanting for data. So in my endeavour to ensure that I have all the relevant data, I capture everything because I don’t know what becomes information and when? I cannot control or tabulate all my present and future decisions but definitely I can invest on storing all types of data because it can become information depending on my need. Given this, real time business intelligence becomes an tricky challenge unless and until we document all our past, present and future decisions.

Don’t you all agree? I would love to hear your views about this…

Then comes the whole angle of “analytics”….Till then

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"You Know"- Is this communication's greatest filler or failure?

Imagine this scenario- A senior leader or a politician or a management expert comes in to speak and the topic goes this way:

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen- I came here to talk about green energy- What is green energy? You know, this is a……You know… has….. You know….blah…You know…blah…You know…blah… You know repeated 150 minutes over the next 10 minutes then moving on to infinity of “you know”’s.

In December, 2008, Caroline Kennedy used “You Know” 142 times – a lot of internet sites has that video; during that conversation, I am sure that all of us gave our full focus on the fillers and its appearance the next time. It’s more of predicting the occurrence in a speech rather than listening to that speech. Don’t you agree?

A lot of times, we inadvertently use the filler, “you know” while we communicate- There is no harm if it is used once or twice during a conversation. But it becomes super frustrating to understand someone’s thoughts if it is used throughout the conversation. Some of my preliminary studies on various leaders, various communicators indicate that they use this filler quite generously.

My observations indicate an alarming frequency of this usage- This one is for hardcore statisticians and for folks who like data; On an average, I have observed the usage of fillers some 150-200 times in a 15 minute conversation. “You Know” as the filler is the leader of the pack followed by “like”, “I mean”, “means”, “as in”, “huh” in some geographies. In other geographies, some other filler takes the place!- Somehow YW (shortened for “You Know”) has this egregious ability to penetrate all conversations and spoil the whole show. It’s like a virus that’s constantly spreading unless we consciously ostracize it.

I have personally experienced the ability of YW peeping in my conversations- Most of the times we never recognize its destructive ability until someone points it out. In your professional life, people rarely point out; sometimes people point out depending on the hierarchy level that you are in. The higher you go, the number of people who give you candid feedback comes down tremendously and you have to rely on informal sources. Interestingly, my wife pointed this all the time whenever I was giving a talk- I used to get all irritated when she used to point out but I never got angry on YW. I have consciously eradicated the frequency but it does take time when one is habituated to use fillers.

Based on my experience, I can suggest couple of measures to eradicate it:
• Please acknowledge that we use fillers
• Observe your speech- The best way is to listen a recorded speech as that has the best prophylactic effect
• If you don’t have the means to record your speech, have a neutral person outside your organization evaluate your speech – During that time, please ask him or her to note down the fillers
• Once you have done this, you can validate the annoyance of fillers in our daily speech
• If you have reached this stage, you have won 75% of the battle
• The remaining 25% is just execution- Consciously avoiding it, replacing it with silences- Sometimes a pregnant silences will do. 
• Once you have done it, re-record your present conversation and compare it with the earlier one- Then pat one on your back and reward yourself a “Hagen-Dass” ice cream or whatever “you know”! 

On one of my earlier listening sessions, I was hearing one of the senior leaders speak on one of the management sessions and the frequency of YW in a 10 minute conversation was 250 times. It was really an arduous task for me to segregate the real content after removing the fillers. The person really had great content but YW really made a mess of the content. The only thing that remains is, “you know”, I don’t know what to say!

In today’s world, communication has become the greatest tool for everyone irrespective of his/her designation- Communication coaches, advisors and mentors should definitely point this out to senior leaders today. It’s okay to use it but definitely not okay to overuse it- When someone does that, the real content vanishes and all it remains is the filler!

Although fillers are a good tool to create on the fly thinking especially when you are on the spot, or when you are thinking aloud or when you want to wing the conversation; this tool needs to be used sparingly!

Don’t you all agree? Would love to hear your views or your experience of fillers or your experience on listening to a fun-filled overused “filler” conversation?