How Leading Businesses Organize and Make Sense of Data

If you want your data to work for you, you'll need to understand which goal-setting methods, tools, and legal parameters can help get you there.
business organizations developing sense of data
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Two or three decades ago, gathering data was the biggest challenge businesses faced. Leaders craved more information and access. Today, these same companies are drowning in data. The challenge of today is organizing and making sense of the data.

4 Tips to Help You Make Sense of Your Data

With so much emphasis on collecting and accessing data, it’s easy to become so paralyzed by information that you fail to do anything with it. That all needs to change. Here are some tips you can use to make sense of your data, once and for all.

1. Establish Clear Goals

The problem most businesses have is a lack of clarity. They’re uncertain of what they’re collecting the data for, which limits their ability to collect the right data and apply it in a manner that’s conducive to getting results.

You need a better approach – one that’s clear on the why. For example, is your goal to innovate your product so that it meets more of your customers’ needs? Or are you trying to streamline efficiency in your organization to cut costs? Is the goal a stronger workplace culture that allows you to acquire and obtain top talent?

“You need to know how this is going to create value for your customers and for the company,” says Tom Harrison, chairman emeritus of one of Omnicom’s largest divisions. “CEOs today don’t have the luxury to go off on wild goose chases. Wall Street just doesn’t allow that. So everything needs to be focused on why the corporation wants to do this.”

This step can take some time. It’s not something to gloss over or hastily work through. All of the company’s leadership and decision makers need to be involved.

2. Develop an Organization System

On a very practical level, you need a plan for organizing data. And this plan needs to be very detailed – down to how you name and organize files. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Regardless of where the data is being stored – on a desktop, cloud drive, or in a specific software platform – you should have a hierarchy of folders to neatly organize files.
  • Naming files and folders correctly is extremely important. There should be a documented method of naming files and once you zero in on a method, it must be strictly followed. A failure to follow the right naming method allows files to slip through the cracks. (A useful naming method is consistent, meaningful, and allows data to be found easily and intuitively.)
  • So much of the stress stemming from data comes from confusion over what’s relevant. Archive and delete files that are no longer necessary, and you’ll make things easier on your team.

When combined with the right overarching goals, a detailed system like this can help you stay organized and avoid the overwhelm that comes with messy data sprawl.

3. Use the Right Tools

There are so many different tools on the market that promise to help you organize and systematize your data. The challenge is figuring out a way to leverage the right tool for your needs.

You’ll have to be the judge of what constitutes the right tool, but you should at least consider an intranet solution. An intranet, like Happeo, acts as a centralized portal for storing a variety of information, including forms, onboarding documents, meeting notes, company analytics, HR policies, etc. And with built-in collaboration tools, it’s easy to bring everything together in one place.

4. Get Clear on Data Governance

Data governance is a big deal today. Increasing regulations mean you have to be very clear about what data you’re collecting, how it’s being used, and how it’s being stored/accessed.

“Collecting and storing data, especially personal data, brings serious legal and regulatory obligations,” Bernard Marr & Co. explains. “Therefore, it is vital any organisation factor data ownership, privacy and security issues into their data strategy. Ignoring these issues, or failing to properly address them, could see data go from a huge asset to a huge liability.”

If you lack the internal resources to address data governance, hire someone who can help. This is not something you can afford to gloss over.

Finding Clarity and Direction

There is no perfect system for collecting and managing data. The process is constantly evolving, new technologies emerge on a regular basis, and it’s impossible to plug a system in and place it on autopilot. You’ll need to evaluate what’s happening, identify what’s working, eliminate what’s not, and continually iterate over time. That’s how you tackle your mess of data and begin making sense out of the information you have.

Larry Alton
Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.