/ The 7 Key Ingredients to Cooking with Data

There’s a scene in the Domopalooza 2021 opening keynote where Domo CEO Josh James walks through a chaotic restaurant kitchen because he’s trying to emphasize that data can be a lot like that very environment: a hot mess. 
 
I love that analogy because it’s so true. As someone who’s been working with data for more than 20 years—first at a software startup, then at Target, and now at Domo—I can attest that data can be difficult to get your head and arms around. Especially nowadays. It’s all over the place, there’s so much of it, and it can be raw, refined, or anything in between.  
 
But that doesn’t mean you can’t “cook” with data. You just need the right ingredients.

Based on my experience, the following seven elements form the ideal base. And if you are willing to stir them into your BI and analytics strategy, you’ll not only be able to leverage your data much better, you’ll start to experience what Modern BI for All truly means.

1 – Work to the same standards

There’s a funny meme on the internet with a picture of several half-peeled potatoes in boiling water below this caption: “I asked my husband to peel half the potatoes and put them on to boil. When I got home, this is what I saw.”

I think it perfectly summarizes what can happen when one person’s definition of something is different from another person’s definition. When working with data, that can lead to problems. The solution: Keep data definitions consistent so everyone’s on the same page and interpretations don’t vary.

2 – Cook with the eggs you have

Any good restauranteur will tell you: If one of my suppliers just isn’t able to deliver a certain product today, I don’t close up. I improvise, and I make do with what I have.

That’s exactly the mentality all data users should have. It’s easy to sit around and wait for the perfect dataset or perfect piece of technology to show up. The problem is, you could be waiting forever. You’d be much better off asking yourself, “What do I have? And how can I move forward and just start to cook a little bit?”

3 – Focus on the quality of your ingredients

This might sound contradictory to what I just said, but it’s not. Think of it this way: A good chef can still make a gourmet meal without the ingredients they may normally use. And the reason is simple: They still use quality ingredients. 
 
Again, you’re not always going to have the perfect dataset or the perfect piece of technology at your disposal. But you can—and should—always work with accurate data. Because at the end of the day, insights are only as good as the data that drives them.

4 – Make it as easy as takeout

We’re all used to buying something on Amazon in a click or two. And we’ve all placed our share of food orders online. Those activities are simple and convenient.

Self-service analytics has become attractive for the same reasons. Let people go shopping for the data they need, and make it easy for them to do so. That’s the kind of world we live in now. And there’s no reason for how we access data to be any different.

5 – Understand that a new gadget won’t necessarily solve all your problems

Just as a good chef doesn’t spend their time buying up every culinary invention being hawked on late-night informercials, no good business leader thinks they can just invest in all the latest and greatest tools and their problems will disappear.

The truth is, there is no data magic wand. In fact, sometimes the real sorcery comes from the simplest of projects. When I was with Target, one of those projects was setting up a message board where people could ask data-related questions. Those conversations not only led to answers, they prevented the company from spending money unnecessarily. 
 
6 – Talk more carrots 
 
Anyone who has a kid knows it’s not always easy to get a youngster to eat their veggies. Which is why there are so many tips on the web for how to overcome that parenting challenge.

A piece of advice that shows up often involves incentivization—or, dangling the proverbial carrot. That’s because humans, no matter their age, typically respond well to incentives. This ingredient is especially key to good data governance; act more like a shopkeeper as opposed to a gatekeeper, and the likelihood that people will buy what you’re selling increases significantly.  
 
7 – Know that cooking is a team sport 
 
In a professional kitchen, every part of the operation is important, from the executive chef on down to the dishwashers. 
 
Every organization needs to think of its data and the people who use that data as critical pieces of the modern BI recipe. To really “cook” with data, you need to carefully consider and genuinely respect every aspect of the ecosystem. It’s a construct that everyone can feed off.  
 
I went into greater detail about the seven key ingredients to cooking with data at Big Data LDN (London), the UK’s largest annual data and analytics event. Watch that session in its entirety.

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