Data – what is it and why is it important? According the Oxford Dictionary data is “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.” More simply put, data is the collection of information such as numbers, measurements, observations, or values. Data’s importance is in how it is used to help make decisions.
The sources of data are, at times, overwhelming in today’s world. Over the past decade the amount of data that can be gathered, stored, accessed and analyzed has grown exponentially. Data exists on nearly every aspect of business and human behavior – ranging from sales volumes to what is the most popular pizza. With all this data it is up to those tasked with decision makers to understand the data sources, which ones are important, where to find them and how to use that data to make decisions.
When using all the data available to make decisions it is important to recognize that data must be trusted. First, we must consider the sources of the data and the validity of that data – can it be trusted? Second, we need to ensure that the data is used in context of what it was originally collected. Third, we need to confirm that the data is current and relevant to the scope of the project. Finally, it is essential that that data used is sourced to ensure credibility.
Utilizing data to inform the decision-making process will assist in leading to an informed decision that is defensible. While we always want to be trusted in how we came to our decision, it is recognized that people want proof – they want to know why the decision was made. By using data from the appropriate source and in the proper context you are able to show how you came to the decision.
When you consider utilizing the available data to inform a decision it is also helpful to engage with others that work with the data, or information, on a regular basis. This will provide you with a resource to ensure that the data being used, and how it is used, is leading to the appropriate conclusion.