Can data show that 1 + 1 = 3?

Sat in a meeting with digital colleagues, our customer experience manager and our data scientist, as I listened to the conversation, as often happens, my mind began to wander.  Earlier in the day, I’d read a communication talking about who bringing two teams together is like 1 + 1 = 3.  It just sounded daft and clumsy, and was probably the wrong reference to use with regards explaining how the combined skills of the two teams can deliver a lot more value and impact to clients.  But as I listened to the conversation around data, and how various data sets need to be combined to allow for more complex experiments to improve the customer experience, I realised that there might be a scenario where 1 + 1 = 3.

Data is the fuel that powers most managed customer experiences.  Without it, we are unable to determine what our customers do or don’t do, and why they take their decision.  Data lets us compare trends and extrapolate patterns from historical information, and from that, with the right amount of skills, start to create predictive models.  Furthermore, it’s possible to combine different data from completely unrelated sources to make the overall output even more interesting and relevant.  It’s no wonder that data has become the most important business asset, and those who oversee, analyse and protect the data have become the critical hires of successful firms.

But data isn’t always easy.  First of all, you need to make sense of it, feeling confident enough to trust the output, avoiding the charlatans and false prophets who make wild claims on what your data means.  Added to that are the continued risks of securing and protecting the data, keeping compliant with DPA, GDPR and all the associated industry and country specific requirements and making sure that no-one (internally or externally) is using your data from inappropriate or fraudulent purposes.  For many businesses, it still feels too hard to harness the power of data, and so they decide to avoid it.

What surprises me most is who are the real data experts.  Big corporates with multi-billion dollar business still rely as much on decades old processes and data management approaches that are disproven and outdated.  Global consultancies sell the data dream, but are no more in control of their own data than the business they peddle their wares to.  Financial service, insurance and pension business fall behind almost all other industries, with creaking infrastructures full of hackable holes and poorly maintained servers.

It’s a bit of a grim picture, until you look at the tech start-up community – irrespective of industry sector, from the day of their inception, start-ups are much better at seeing the value of data and building their business around data.  They recruit the right data skills early on, and use the data to make data-driven decisions, wisely investing limited budgets.  However corporates still allow under-qualified seniors to make changes without measuring the effectiveness, meaning way more than necessary is spent (or wasted) in terms of time and money to effect small changes.  The small and nimble tech start-ups deliver far greater value per $ spent because of their clever use of data.  Those who thrive, not just survive invest in and leverage their data.

So sat in the meeting, discussing combining more data sources to run more targeted experiments to increase customer engagement, something really simple and obvious struck me.  When you take one reliable data source, and combine it with another reliable data source, you create a third reliable data source.  in other words, linking data with data creates new data.  Put another way, 1 + 1 = 3!  This is how the power of data grows, this is why tech start-ups respect their data, and this is why you need to value your data, and those who create it for your business.

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