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Good as Gold, Part I

Good as Gold, Part I

Buried under mountains of information? In today’s era of data overload, industry experts help make sense out of the critical process of data management.


It’s often been said that “data is king” and “the one who masters data will rule the world.” But with so much data now available at every turn and from so many sources, how do you prioritize which specific information to gather, what should be done with it, and who should be doing this job?

In Part 1 of this special two-part series, two renowned industry consultants who specialize in the gathering, management, and analysis of data offer advice on the need for good data, tips for prioritizing its use, and how to avoid missing important data in your business.

“The New Electricity”

“Data is the 21st-century oil and the enabler of the customer experience,” confirmed Mark Simoncelli, senior vice president, Americas Consulting at leading research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. “From driving efficiency gains and enabling IoT services to creating customizable solutions, processes, marketing, product performance, customer acquisition, and sales, everything will be built on a foundation of data,” he said. Once they adopt a business systems approach, he added, “it’s essential for electrical distributors to have a very good flow of data across all key business systems, from talent acquisition and retention to sales, the management of BIM integration and project/material data to optimize the flow of information in the CRM, customer pain points, project delays, product training, and so much more.”

Niraj Tenany, president, CEO, and co-founder of leading business technology solutions firm Netwoven, agreed that good data is critical. “Data is the new electricity and new business models are being built around data, as it can provide insights on how businesses can change and grow,” Tenany said. “Some of these new business models include Uber, which has no cars of its own but operates around the flow of data; and Amazon, which traditionally produced no physical product but successfully moves it around based on a wealth of good data. Ultimately, data provides insights on purchases, behaviors, and preferences, enabling companies to tailor offers to customers and make customized recommendations,” he said.

When it comes to determining which data is most important, our experts advise that all of it can be beneficial. “Today’s data comes from multiple sources and is growing every day in both structured and semi-structured/unstructured formats,” Simoncelli said. “These include documents and files (including streaming data, mobile app data, spreadsheets, logs, and social media), records, BIM designs, and BOMs (housed in a variety of databases/warehouses, business applications, servers, etc.), and streams (IoT, device data, sensor data, stream analytics, etc.).” While he noted that semi-structured/unstructured data (such as web/mobile data, logs, social media data, spreadsheets, streaming data, and IoT data) is currently outweighing structured data, “both are incredibly valuable to running your business more efficiently and effectively,” he said. “The bottom line is that all data has value.”

Tenany concurred. “As organizations begin to get a handle on how to collect, process, and analyze data, all kinds of data are important initially and will tell you stories that couldn’t be revealed before,” he says.

“There are so many sources of data today, including machine-level data, such as meters that can reveal insights into a building’s energy usage and drive more preventative decision-making, and marketing data, which enables insights into customer profiles, segmentation, demographics, and preferences.  Once a company has a handle on the various data,” Tenany says, “they can then prioritize it.”

“The Four Vs”

To ensure that essential data isn’t slipping through a company’s fingers, Simoncelli recommends focusing on the “4 Vs of Data and Insights.” “These are ‘Velocity’ (no ETL pipelines, immediate access to data through data virtualization, etc.), ‘Variety’ (accessing all types of data, both structured and unstructured, in one system), ‘Veracity’ (minimizing data errors in ETL pipelines but working with the data at the source and in real-time), and ‘Volume’ (scalable storage in HDFS architecture),” he explained. “The process needs to involve gathering data from all sources, storing it indefinitely, analyzing it, and seeing results with a feedback loop to iterate on these steps. The key paradigm shift is moving from data to insights to action.”

For maximum effectiveness, Tenany believes that the management of a company’s data should be a dedicated position. “Companies truly need to carve out a new role called the ‘Chief Data Officer,’ or ‘CDO,’” he confirmed. “This will demonstrate the company’s commitment to managing data while giving visibility and credibility to that job.” Based on the value that such a role can bring to a company, he added, “executives should consider incentives for people managing data successfully.”

When hiring talent for these roles, Simoncelli followed up by noting that a good data analyst will be “one who helps business users handle, analyze, and drive insights from data within the data warehouse or data mart environment and solve business problems by leveraging the data from the BI platform.” Those individuals should ideally have proficiency in programming, experience with data visualization development, an industry-specific business background, and a background in statistics or math. Other important roles within a company’s data team can include a business intelligence (BI) manager, data architect, business analyst, and extract-transform-load (ETL)/report developer.

Be Creative and Take Chances

Ultimately, Simoncelli said, “the immediate horizon needs to be about BI optimization, network/data security, and sorting out the gathering, storage, analysis, and action of all data. It’s also critical to invest in the customer experience and the interface of a workflow management solution that supports the construction jobsite with better visibility into material planning, inventory order tracking, stocking, and flow of materials based on jobsite needs.

In terms of final advice for distributors when it comes to managing their data, “we need to change the culture of the organization to enable for some experimentation and an openness to failure,” Tenany concluded. “The more established a company is, the more rigid their metrics often are. We encourage distributors to be creative, analyze some new data, and test a new promotion, for example. Don’t be afraid to take chances or try something new.”


Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this series, when electrical distribution industry veteran Maureen (“Mo”) Barsema discusses the importance of good data – and good data analysts.


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Susan Bloomis a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry.Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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