The four uses of data (big or small)

The four uses of data (big or small)

Describing. Diagnosing. Predicting. Prescribing. These are the four main uses of data. As a consultant you need to understand the difference.

  • Describing is the use of data to set out what has happened – e.g. a website received 1,000 visitors in the first week of May this year
  • Diagnosing is the use of data to explain why something happened – e.g. 1,000 visitors came to the website on that week because an email was sent to 10,000 customers
  • Predicting is the use of data to define what will happen – e.g. if we send an email to 20,000 customers we will get 2,000 visitors to the website
  • Prescribing is the use of data to define what will be done – e.g. we will send a weekly email

Some further thoughts on the uses of data

  • Not all data is neatly structured – Data may also by quantitative and not necessarily structured neatly – an example would be interview notes taken during stakeholder meetings
  • Correlation and causation are not the same thing – try to be scientific in what you do
  • Provide comparison – a number on its own is of little use; provide meaningful and logical data points to compare against
  • Simplify your explanations – visualise, round numbers, arrange, tabulate, chart and do whatever it takes to help someone understand the data (Jon Moon’s book Impact is a great way to do this)
  • Value is found in prescribing and predicting – this is where actions exist; describing and diagnosing should be hygiene factors, i.e. things that are just correct
  • Not just a technology problem – technology is required, but more important is the ability to interpret and model data
  • 10% of the budget on tools, 90% on analysis – Avinash Kaushik said it

Let me acknowledge Harvard Business Review’s article on Smart, Connected Products for this article:


David Sealey is a trusted adviser to senior executives on getting the most from their investment in digital and data. David created Storm81 as a place to share his passion for business, digital technologies, multichannel marketing and everything else around these topics.

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