Open Your Mind to all the Data

In technology discussions, we often forget who the big winners are. When you look at almost any technology market, if a vendor makes a certain amount, the systems integrator may make 4 or 5 times that amount selling services to configure and adapt the solution. Of course, the biggest winner is the company using the technology, with a return of 10X, 20X, or even 100X. This year, I’m attending Strata and trying to understand how to hunt down and capture that 100X return.

I’m not alone in this quest. In the past Strata was mostly a technology conference, focused on vendor or systems integrator return. But this year, it is clear that the organizers realized they must find a way to focus on the 100X return, as evidenced by the Data-driven Business track. If Strata becomes an event where people can identify and celebrate the pathway to the 100X return, attendance will skyrocket.

Most of the time the 100X return comes from using data that only applies to a specific business. If you realize those kind of returns, are you really going to come to Strata to talk about it? I don’t think so. So we won’t find sessions that provide a complete answer for your business. You will only get parts. The challenge when attending a conference like Strata is how to find all the parts, put them together, and come home with ideas for getting that 100X return.

My answer is to focus on questions, then on data, and then on technology that can find answers to the questions. There are many ways to run this playbook, but here’s one way to make it work.

Questions Achieve Focus
The problem that anyone attending Strata or any large conference faces is the huge array of vendors and sessions. One way to guide exploration is through curiosity. This maintains enthusiasm during the conference but may not give you a 100X idea. Another way is to begin with a predetermined problem in mind. This is a good approach, but it may cut off avenues that lead to a 100X result.

Remember: 100X results are usually found through experimentation. Everything with an obvious huge return is usually already being done. You have to find a way to be open to new ideas that are focused on business value. Here’s one way I’ve thought of, called the Question Game.

The Question Game is a method for aligning technology with the needs of a business. It is also a great way to organize a trip to a conference like Strata, where the ratio of information to marketing spin is high.

I came up with the Question Game while reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Two things struck me. First was the way that Jobs and Tim Cook cared a lot about focus. Jobs held an annual offsite attended by about 100 of Apple’s top people. At the end of the session, Jobs would write up the 10 most important initiatives and then cross out 7 so the team could focus on executing just 3. Both Jobs and Cook were proud of saying no to ideas that detracted from their focus.

Here’s how Tim Cook describes it: “We are the most focused company that I know of, or have read of, or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number, so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose, so that we can deliver the best products in the world.”

Because I focus most of my time figuring out how technology leaders can make magic in business, I was eager to find away to empower people to say no. At the same time, I wanted room for invention and innovation. Is it possible to explore all the technology and data out there in an efficient way focused on business needs? Yes, using the Question Game. Here’s how it works:

  • The CIO, CTO, or whoever is leading innovation surveys each business leader, asking for questions they would like to have answered and the business value of answering them
  • Questions are then ranked by value, whether monetary or otherwise

The Question Game provides a clear way for the business to express its desires. With these questions in mind, Strata becomes a hunting ground far more likely to yield a path to 100X ideas. To prepare for this hunt, list all the questions and look at the agenda to find relevant sessions.

It’s the Data, All the Data
With your questions in hand, keep reminding yourself that all the technology in the world won’t answer the questions on your list. Usually, your most valuable questions will be answered by acquiring or analyzing data. The most important thing you can do is look for sources of data to answer the high value questions.

The first place to look for data is inside your company. In most companies, it is not easy to find all the available data and even harder to find additional data that could be available with a modest effort.

Too often the search for data stops inside the company. As I pointed out in “Do You Suffer from the Data Not Invented Here Syndrome?” many companies have blinders to external data sources, which can be an excellent way to shed light on high value questions. Someone should be looking for external data as well.

Remember, it is vital to keep an open mind. The important thing is to find data that can answer high value questions, not to find any particular type of data. Strata is an excellent place to do this. Some sessions shed light on particular types of data, but I’ve found that working the room, asking people what kinds of data they use, and showing them your questions can lead to great ideas.

Finding Relevant Technology
Once you have an idea about the important questions and the relevant data, you will be empowered to focus. When you tour the vendors, you can say no with confidence when a technology doesn’t have a hope of processing the relevant data to answer a high value question. Of course, it is impossible to tell from a session description or a vendor’s website if they will be relevant to a specific question. But by having the questions in mind and showing them to people you talk to, you will greatly speed the path to finding what you need. When others see your questions, they will have suggestions you didn’t expect.

Will this method guarantee you a 100X solution every time you attend Strata? I wouldn’t make that claim. But by following this plan, you have a much better chance for a victory.

While I’m at Strata, I’ll be playing the question game so I can quickly and effectively learn a huge amount about the fastest path to a data-driven business.

By: Dan Woods, Forbes Blogger and Co-Founder of Evolved Media

To Learn More:

Optimize the Business Value of All Your Enterprise Data (white paper)
Bring Dark Data into the Light (infographic)
Benefit from Any and All Data (article)
To Succeed with Big Data, Begin with the Decision in Mind (article)

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