Monday, December 30, 2013

Data Psychology

Is better data about data mining or people minding? As much as some people would like to believe that it is merely a technology problem - better data is, without a doubt, about much more than just a choice and implementation of hardware and software.

Better data is about quality, right? Well... what kind of quality?

Structural quality you say? well-formed? complete? concise? Interoperable? Well... does it matter? who cares? Oh yes - people care. Regulators, shareholders and let's not forget customers.

But hold on, this is true, but isn't data quality an operational thing? You know: timeliness, uniqueness, validity? True, but even if you ignore the structural quality people - what about the operators? People design, configure and maintain these technologies.

Ok, and what about functional quality of data? Things like fitness for use? availability? relevance? Those look at the applicability to business processes which people own and operate.

So yes, you can master your data, and you can interrogate the data to its tiniest bits, and you can draw beautiful models and flows. But, without spending a considerable amount of effort in understanding the psychology of data, in other words how the people around the data can and will behave around it - you are doomed from the start.

Let's take an analogy: You have been invited for the end of the year party. What will you wear?

Firstly you want to make a certain impression on the other attendees. You have an emotion attached to the event and this will influence your decision and behavior with regards to your dress code. This might be a more formal type of event where you want to impress people, or it might be casual, seeing old friends, where you want and intent to relax and enjoy quality time with these people. Or perhaps you are forced to be with people you do not really enjoy spending time with.

Secondly, the party may have a theme, or the crowd might have specific ethnic or religious views, which you need to consider. Perhaps you need to dress conservatively, or emphasize a certain identity? This type of environment specification will also influence your choice of clothing.

Finally, we get to the third and last factor. Resources. How much time do you have to find something to wear? Do you have money to buy something new? These constraints will ultimately influence your behavior further in terms of getting yourself ready for the end of the year party.

Going back to data management, people's behavior to come to the party (i.e. participate in a data strategy), will be influenced by the same exact factors. No, I don't mean what they will wear to your data management meetings, but rather the level and ways in which they might commit their participation.

People will always consider first their personal perspective in terms of their job, their personal and professional style and the impact of your data management efforts on their own world. Only then will they consider what actions would be acceptable, given their operating environment, for example how their business model, customers and partners might respond to any changes. Then lastly they will consider the resources they have available and the level of commitment they are able to provide you.

A defect in a record detail might frustrate or annoy the user, but the provider might have no interest in improving the data. A technician running a system may have a limited perspective and prescriptive operating constraints with no flexibility (or awareness) to measure or mitigate information risks. There maybe shortage of resources, under skilled workers or simply unmotivated employees - the scenarios are endless...

So what does this mean? I have given you a few examples and specific dimensions to consider in your approach to data management. You need to consider the technical aspects of system design and integration, but also take a closer look at the human dynamics which are a real success factor on your data management strategy.

Ask yourself this question: Is your team and strategy sensitive enough to consider the psychology of the data you are trying to manage? ... It might seem common sense, but I think in most cases - the answer is no.

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