Breaking Bad Data Habits

Don’t jeopardise your end goal of more effective, data-driven decision making by falling prey to bad habits. Drawing on some of the work they’ve been involved in, Assimil8 Director, Kevin Hurd illustrates how organisations can stay on track.

If you’re reading this, the chances are that you already realise the potential value of data-driven decision making for your organisation. In fact, you’ve probably already taken steps to embrace it, whether it’s through investing in new systems, or committing increased resources to data-related activities - or both. But here’s the thing: when it comes to generating, storing, accessing, reporting and analysing data, it’s all too easy to fall into less-than-ideal practices that can seriously hinder your ability to achieve that goal.

Of course, these bad practices are far from intentional. It may be, for instance, that your homegrown collection of data spreadsheets suited you just fine in your growth stage, but now that your organisation is spread across multiple sites, it’s no longer fit for purpose. Or alternatively, bit by bit, the ratio of time spent on data gathering as opposed to actual analysis has become seriously skewed in favour of the former.

From our experience, it pays to take a step back from time to time to see how things might be done differently - and better. With this in mind, here’s a few key challenges that we’ve helped our customers to overcome, which may resonate with your business today.

Too much ‘gathering’; not enough ‘analysis’

There are three potential pitfalls that can arise from committing an overly large chunk of your resources to the ‘legwork’ of data gathering.

1. Wasting valuable time and resources

Whether you’re a growth-stage company or a retail giant in the vein of DFS, the first - and probably the biggest pitfall - applies equally across the board. The more resources you commit to gathering data, the less there is to devote to what really matters - namely data analysis.

At DFS, the key sources of the company’s operational data were its core retail system and product catalogue. Hollie Haeney, DFS Head of Financial Planning & Analysis described how “getting the data out of those systems could take hours, and then our analysts had to manipulate and reformat it in spreadsheets to turn it into something useful”.

It was clearly wasteful, and as Heaney explains, “We were spending too much time on basic data gathering, which left us with little opportunity to analyse, understand and act on the resulting insights”.

You can find out more about how Assimil8 helped DFS to build a culture of data-driven decision making in our previous IT Insider blog.

2. Losing sight of the end game

The second pitfall concerns ‘cloaked inefficiencies’ – in other words, being lulled into a false sense of security concerning the value of the work your team is doing. It goes like this: you’ve identified data analysis as a business-critical task, and because such a big chunk of time is being devoted to something that’s ‘data-related’ (i.e. extraction, collection and collation), you blindly assume that this is time well spent. The danger is that you lose your critical eye and fail to recognise that those particular tasks need to be streamlined and focused if they are going to deliver optimum business value. Remember: data gathering is never the end goal: better insight most certainly is.

3. Focusing on quantity rather than quality

Finally, there’s the issue of quality. Assimil8 worked with business travel specialist, Reed & Mackay to update and replace its increasingly cumbersome homegrown analytics systems. Thanks to the adoption of a solution based around IBM Cognos Business Intelligence software, the company achieved its end-goal of a slicker, more automated process. IT Director, Matthew Everson describes how previously, “Account managers used to spend about 30% of their time just checking the data - whereas now, they have much more confidence that the results are accurate first time.

A lower level of manual input through automated data analytics solutions means that reporting is not only quicker, but also more reliable – accelerating and supporting key decision-making.

Settling for 'low-hanging fruit'

From buying patterns through to your supply chain spend, having access to the full picture is essential for truly effective decision making. The danger lies in cherry picking the data that supports the decisions you really want to make; or reaching for whatever sources of intelligence happen to be to hand and failing to capture and analyse the information that’s needed for a fully-rounded view.

DFS BI Manager, Steve Johnson, describes how team members are now much better equipped to see the full picture with the help of IBM Cognos Data Manager:People used to rely on whatever data they could get hold of easily”. He speaks of a “cultural shift” thanks to having the right tools in place: “because users know that they just need to ask the right questions, and Cognos will get them the answers they need”.

If your people are currently reaching for whichever spreadsheets happen to be available to support their strategies, it’s a sign that your organisation is in need of a similar cultural shift.

Failing to make the data usable

When Assimil8 worked with the Energy Saving Trust (EST), the organisation was faced with a big challenge: how do you take huge datasets and make that information not only accessible, but useful to the right people at the right time?

For all organisations, meeting this challenge means taking into account not just the volume of data, it’s complexity and where it originates from - but also the characteristics of the end-users. How can the data be best presented so that it delivers actionable insight to the people that need it? For EST, those end-users were certainly diverse - including non-profit organisations, businesses and government bodies. Thanks to a platform tailored around IBM Cognos BI software, the organisation found the solution it needed.


Assimil8 is a market leader in business analytics, financial reporting, planning and forecasting, and data warehousing. You can explore Assimil8’s solutions in more detail through its website or contact Kevin Hurd directly by emailing