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Getting Data Fit

I was at the gym the other day when it occurred to me how similar it was to data within organisations. The more I think about this, the more parallels I see between getting the best results from fitness training and getting the best results from the data a company has; as well as the types of things to think about when approaching a data strategy or programme.

Can you use this analogy as a way to help your board, your peers, your teams understand why getting a handle on data is important? Read on and let me know!

Identifying goals – and what’s needed to reach them

First, you go to the gym to improve yourself. Your health. Your appearance. How you feel. Your performance: overall, or in a specific discipline. These are same underlying reasons why you need to use data. To drive some business improvement. Improve the overall health of the business. Make amazing customer experiences. Understand, track and manage your company performance.

In the gym there is an array of different equipment available to use depending on your goals. Improving cardiovascular performance? There are running machines, cross trainers, rowing machines, steppers. Trying to improve strength? Use the dumbbells, free weights, pulley machines, TRX. Then there’s always that new piece of kit that you’re not quite sure what it’s for too! And the combination of equipment is key to your own improvements.

Same in the world of data. There’s open source, startup tools, point solutions for specific use cases, vendors that sell everything, data platforms, data science engines. Everything you could need – but what combination is right for you and your strategy?

Approach and planning

Approaches to planning fitness training vary from person to person in the gym. Some people just rock up and decide what to do as they go through their session. Some have a detailed plan divided up by a 12-week horizon, broken down by day, with nutrition, duration and exercise types. Some people have an overall framework to work with, and then evolve their training depending on how they feel, their motivation, their results on each exercise. Some never record what they did, while others keep detailed notes of what they did along with their performance.

Spending time with organisations I see very similar variety in how people approach their plan for using data, and understanding the impact of their choices and actions when deploying data solutions.

Level of intensity

I also notice that even if you have the same mix of equipment and training plan as someone else, there are different levels of exercise depending on your current fitness level. The speed you run, the incline of the hill, the number of kilos on the bench press, the number of reps, the amount of rest in between each exercise.

The data literacy and maturity of a business helps determine a benchmark from which to plan around, and your ability to get to your goals. You can’t go from an unfit couch potato and expect to sign up to the gym and be an Olympic winning athlete within a couple of weeks. So is the same with data. There is an evolution and change required to improve your level, your maturity and your outcomes.

What are you training for? Just for fitness? Lose some weight? First fun run? A triathlon? Marathon De Sable? What you are training for will change the type, intensity and level of training you need to carry out.

Likewise, depending on what use-case you are trying to implement with data or analytics, there will be a different type of data needed, different speed at which that data needs to be available, and different amount of data needed. It will drive whether you need a simple metric to be reported, or an advanced deep learning algorithm.

Continuous innovation for optimum results

After a while of doing the same things at the gym, or with your nutrition, you can hit a plateau. What once got you great gains, or was dropping your weight or your BMI, is no longer reaping the same rewards. New ideas need to be deployed. You need to change the mix of your nutrition, add in some high intensity interval training, switch up the order of your training, look back and see what used to work.

In data, and particularly predictive models, the same can happen. The model becomes outdated, the algorithm no longer performing as it was. Your BI dashboards no longer give the insights and understanding aligned with where your company is at.

Time to switch it up, rework the algorithms, add in new data sets, present the visualisations in a way that engage people, run a show and tell to demonstrate what’s possible.

The only constant is change and you should own it rather than sleep walk into it, or even worse miss it.

I was cycling on the watt bikes at the gym last week. These are stationary bikes that can vary speed and power. It links via Bluetooth to an app on your smartphone and to a big screen in front of all the bikes. Through that you can set your training goals and monitor your performance in real time. It informs you if your pedal power isn’t high enough and you see the impact of pushing harder straight away. It monitors your pedal quality so you can adjust the push pull motion and assess improvements in real time.

These connected devices, fitness wearables and apps are the gym equivalent of the data and analytics assets needed in business. Real time monitoring of customer activity or trading results with the ability to make changes to your business and see the results.

Expert advice

Having trained at a few gyms over the years and from speaking to others, there always seems to be at least one person not getting it quite right.

The guy you wince at when you see him swinging the weights around – you think that there’s no way that’s doing any good, or worse: they may injure themselves. The one with the spinning bike set up so wrong you can’t quite understand how she’s even pedaling. You may be that person, or even just need a little direction. Fortunately in the fitness world getting a Personal Trainer or at least some guidance from gym staff is possible.

And from a data perspective, we at Cynozure act like your Personal Trainer, assisting with getting the right plan in place, guiding you through the multitude of technology out there, structuring systems and teams and finding innovative solutions to business issues.

A final thought is that results drive results with training. The better you get or the more your objectives are hit the more you want to do. People start noticing that improvements are being made “have you lost weight?”, “you’re looking well”. Wouldn’t it be great to get the same reaction from your data initiatives in your organisation?