Data – The Foundation of the Internet Food Pyramid

Learning From the Past

I started working 20 years ago, and while times were very different (Internet access was pretty limited, with only 3 million users worldwide, and nobody knew what software as a service would really mean) some things haven’t changed that much.

My first job was with an engineering company, and one of the things that we did there was to help electric providers access and manage their data.  All of these organizations were responsible in some way for generating piles of data.  Not only the information about how their facilities were licensed and built, but notes, documents, specifications and every bit of information you could imagine related to maintaining, operating, and modifying the facility.

It was great, these companies had tons of data about everything they had ever done – they had the power of data (pun intended).  Well, in theory anyway. The problem for most of these companies was twofold.  First, most of them did not have this direct access to this data.  Even though it was about them, many times it wasn’t considered theirs.  The engineering and maintenance firms either considered it their own or convinced the power providers that they (the engineering companies) were in the best position to hold onto this data, usually in systems to which only the engineering firms had access.

At best the electric provider would have a room full of paper documents that reflected the work that had been done.   This made getting access to that information a time consuming, and sometimes frustrating and costly exercise.  This led to the second problem – this data was primarily at rest.  In other words, since accessing the data was time consuming and costly, no one had any incentive to use it to do anything until they absolutely needed to, so the data just sat there most of the time.

Some of our more forward-thinking customers leveraged our services to address these issues, building systems where they could capture; store, retrieve, and more effectively use all of this data.  That gave them real power.  They were in a better position not only to respond to both internal and external requests, they were also in a much better position to pro-actively improve their facilities and processes in a way that they had not previously had the stomach to attack due to the extra time and costs.

Apply Those Lessons Now

Everything happens in cycles, and looking at businesses on the Internet today we see some of the same problems.  Sure, we have widespread connectivity, new tools, high-powered servers and software capable of creating and churning through terabytes of data, but what is anybody doing with it?  Many companies out there find they are not in that different of a position than those electric providers from 20 years ago, collecting piles of data in any number of systems or logs.  But once it is there, what is anyone doing with it?  What are you doing with it?

Take Charge of Your Data

At some point in the lifespan of any company you need to be asking yourself about your data strategy.  You need to think about all of the opportunities that data can afford you, from providing a better service, to attracting more customers, and ultimately improving the bottom line of your company.  Chances are that if you are not answering these questions one of your competitors probably is giving it some consideration, and while I for one do not put much stock in the “competitor x is doing y, so I need to as well” line of thinking, ignoring your data strategy is doing a disservice to both you and your customers.

Today there are any number of tools and vendors out there that will tell you that they can help you with these kinds of data management and usage problems.  One tool that you can add to your arsenal for executing against a data strategy is a Data Management Platform (DMP).  “Great…” you are probably thinking, another buzzword and another vendor to worry about. “What is a DMP and how can one help me anyway?”

Pick the Right Tools and Partners

First, I would suggest that you do not view whomever you choose to work with as a vendor, but rather that you view them (and they view you) as a partner.  Now that we got that out of the way, I am going to ignore any number of the definitions that you might be able to find out there from vendor or industry sites, and I’m going to tell you what I think it is and what it can do to help you.

I view a DMP as a platform that helps you:

  • Determine how your customers or users interact with you through any number of contact points, including a desktop browser, a mobile device, or even other applications you may use in your enterprise;
  • Combine this data with data you may have from other platforms such as a CRM or POS or third party data;
  • Allow you to view that data in a way that makes sense to you;
  • Analyze and report on that data so that you can visualize the relationships between the various ways that your users interact with you;
  • Use all of that data information to create a better user experience for that user, whether that be showing them more targeted content, serving them a more relevant ad, or even provide them a better purchasing or call center experience;
  • Use the data any way you see fit – it is your data after all.

You may choose to use any number of those types of features in combination or note use any of them at all, but a DMP should ultimately provide those options so that it can support your organization as it grows and evolves.  Elaborating a bit from the points above, a DMP shouldn’t be a closed system that collects your data and just sucks it into a black box where you don’t get many, if any choice, of exactly how to view it or use it.  Instead a DMP should be an open platform that allows you to combine data from multiple sources, and allows you to use that data any way you want through APIs and integrations.  You don’t want to be one of those electric providers mentioned above that always had to ask the engineering firm permission to get their own data.  Instead you want to be that company that is in charge of your own data and strategy.   You should be in charge, and you should have options to control the data that is collected, the classification or categorization and lifespan of that data, and the use of the data.  A system that provides defaults for you is great.  But a system that has defaults and provides you the option of customizing them is even better.  One that offers all of that and is easy to use and offers some level of transparency into how the system works is best.

Remember Privacy

And let’s not forget the ePrivacy Directive in Europe, which makes ownership of all data emanating from a given site the responsibility of that site’s owners.  If you do not control your data, but cede even a small amount of control to other companies who pixel your site, the ePrivacy directive is clear – this will become your liability.  It is vital to understand all of the tracking on your own site.  Work with the partner you choose to set up a system to regularly monitor and audit all the code on your sites.  This is more than just a “cookie audit.”  Much of the tracking covered by the ePrivacy Directive doesn’t use cookies at all.  You need to know the actual scripts that run on your pages. If you haven’t obtained a full tracking audit recently, be sure this is your first step.  You’ll be surprised by the results.  Once complete, you’ll need to categorize each tracker as essential or non-essential, and then rank them on a scale of relative intrusiveness.  Bake this into your data strategy at the onset of your planning.

Put Your Data to Work

Once you have a data strategy and start working with a DMP, then you can put that data to work for you, moving from a state of rest to a state of competitive advantage.  Build a strategy, pick a DMP partner, and wow all of your customers through providing them great content, meaningful targeted ads that they are more likely to find interesting, or even person-to-person customer support.