Data Discovery: Sometimes You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I once had a boss who would start his regular interrogations of me by saying: “Look, I don’t know what I don’t know on this. You need to help me come up with some smart questions.”

It used to drive me crazy, but now I understand the wisdom behind that statement: “I don’t know what I don’t know.”

Some things you know. For example: you know you have receivables at your company.

You sometimes know what you don’t know. For example: I need to know (but I don’t) what the final receivables number was for last month.

This is typically what the standard reports in your company are designed to tell you–the things you already know you should know.

The funny thing is that some of the best questions are the ones you don’t know to ask yet. This is where Business Intelligence comes in. If reporting is about static information, like an Aged AR Report, then BI is about turning that static information into something dynamic. It’s about having your data become flexible so you can drill into it, down and across it. It’s about having quick and easy access to it so that you can ask questions of your data and have the answers revealed to you in the same moment.

Access to information like this drives good questions which drive good answers which drive better questions.

For example, your AR report shows that receivables have increased over the last 3 months. Well…why? You go to the BI tool and pull up the 10-worst performing companies on AR. Now let’s group them by category. It turns out 8 of 10 of these companies are in the purple widget industry. You didn’t really expect that and it makes you ask: ‘What’s been happening in the purple widget industry over the last few months?’

You now wonder what is happening with your entire group of purple widget company clients. Once you group them together, you see there is a 40% decrease in orders from purple widget companies year-over-year. This confirms the hunch, but why is this happening? You look at the order details from all purple widget companies and see a sharp decline in purple widget springs. Why is that? You fire an email off to the purchasing agent at ACME purple widget company and ask: “I see your purple widget spring orders have gone down significantly, why is that?”

As it turns out, there is a new low cost purple widget spring product in the market from a foreign competitor and everyone in the industry is switching over.

Asking better questions is the academic part of the exercise. What we are talking about now, my friends, is strategy. The old adage about turning data into information that can be used to run the company better has come true. Now we are making product decisions that are going to have a near-term impact to the bottom line. Clean, logical decisions based on the real data that you are compiling every day.

Your standard report leaves you with a hunch and a set of assumptions. Business Intelligence is a decision making process that takes just minutes from start to finish. Removing the uncertainty and moving faster than everyone else in your market–this may be the competitive advantage you’ve been searching for.

Have a set of questions you’d like to discover? Get in touch and we’ll show you how it would work for you.