Why Do Data?
Whether you are a tech immigrant (later adopter) or a tech native (given early access to technology), you have likely heard all about “big data”. Data collection systems and their purposes are talked about everywhere from the doctor’s office to the five o’clock news. Though it could be easy to take for granted that the question of “why track data?” isn’t often asked these days, as a nonprofit, government, and/or business professional, it is important not to skip right to the more complicated questions of what, who, where, when and how to track data (for more on those, check out my series “The Data Sweet Spot”).
Whether they are a part of your organization, your client, or the colleagues you interact with, chances are you will come across tech immigrants who still hold on to a simpler time when identity theft, five million usernames and passwords, and data breaches weren’t a regular part of our lives. Even those that are tech natives, are used to being asked everything from their name to their first pet’s name in order to buy some clothes online, can also be weary of sharing their personal information. Maybe YOU are the one reluctant to implement or use a data collection system in your organization. Regardless of who the hold out is, here are some things to consider when pondering “why do data?”
- Data collection (ie. recording personal information) isn’t new. In fact, societies have been keeping track of information about their rulers, citizens, etc. for thousands of years! Have you ever watched the show, “Who do you think you are?” where they trace the ancestry and personal details of celebrities back many centuries? Over and over again the ways they are able to track ancestries are through government census, military records, and parish records. Not only is maintaining record of personal information not new, concerns about the security of records isn’t new either. Just because something is written down instead of typed into an electronic system doesn’t guarantee its safety. Knowing what the safety risks are, how to best guard against them, and how to react quickly and effectively when a breach does occur is the best organizations can do, whether you are keeping your paper files in a locked cabinet or on a cloud-based system.
- You can’t stop progress. Ok, sometimes you can. But the use of expanding technologies to improve data collection truly is progress on the scale of what trains, cars and airplanes were for transportation. You can stubbornly refuse to use technology but really, who is going to do a cross-country trip on foot. The ever growing complexity of the world and business require you use increasingly digitalized and complex tools. You don’t use the appropriate tools, you risk being ineffective or, at worst, obsolete.
- Not all data collection has to be super high-tech. Yes, you can choose cloud-based, client information systems that interconnect with all aspects of your services. That doesn’t mean you have to. The options aren’t all or nothing, paper or web. What works for a global, multi-service company may (and likely won’t) work for a small, single service, one-site start-up. Using technology wisely is about finding what one tool or combination of tools fits your organization best. Your data collection system can be as unique as you are; take charge of it, it doesn’t control you.
- We all benefit from data. Really. Imagine going to your doctor for a chronic condition and having to explain your entire medical history to them. Every. Single. Time. Even if you live in a tiny town and only interact with the same few businesses and services, the people working in those businesses and services die, move, or take vacations. Records of transactions and services ensure you are given faster, more efficient, more personalized service. The client benefits from better service and, of course, the business owner or service professional benefits from having a better understanding of their service population, their needs, how to meet those needs, and how to do so in a way that keeps them in business so their clients can continue to benefit from their services. It’s a win-win.
Understanding the real (and valid) reluctance people have in asking others or sharing their own information in the name of data collection is essential to having an effective data management system. Your system will only be as strong as your sloppiest data entry person, so before launching into a new data management system, revising an existing system, or training new staff in your system, use these talking points to spend some time thinking and discussing why you are using these system in the first place. An ounce of thoughtful prevention will save you time, money and lots of headaches down the road.