Don’t be a Bridge, Instead be a Lock

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time pondering my role in the world of data.  There’s this common phrase that we as data visualization and data analytics (BI) professionals hear all the time (and that I am guilty of saying):

“I serve as the bridge between business and IT.”

Well – I’m here to say it’s time to move on.  Why?  Because the bridge analogy is incomplete.  And because it doesn’t accurately represent the way in which we function in this critical role.  At first glance the bridge analogy seams reasonable.  A connector, something that joins two disparate things.  In a very physical way it connects two things that otherwise have an impasse between them.  The business is an island.  IT is an island.  Only a bridge can connect them.  But is this really true?

Instead of considering the two as separate entities that must be connected, what if we rethought it to be bodies of water at different levels?  They touch each other, they are one.  They are the same type of thing.  The only difference is that they are at different levels, so something like a boat can’t easily go between them.  Is this not what is really happening.  “The business” and “IT” are all really one large organization – not two separate, foreign entities.

This is where the role of being the Lock comes in.  A lock is the mechanism by which watercraft are raised or lowered between waterways.  And to a large extent it is a better analogy to our roles in data.  We must adapt to the different levels of business and IT.  And more importantly it is our responsibility to form that function – and to get the boat (more specifically “the data”) through from one canal to the other.

Even exploring what Wikipedia says about a lock – it fits better.

“Locks are used to make a river more easily navigable, or to allow a canal to cross land that is not level. ”

“Larger locks allow for a more direct route to be taken” [paraphrased]

Is this not how we function in our daily roles?  How fitting is it to say this:

“My role is to make your data more easily navigable.  My goal is to allow data to flow through on your level.  I’m here to allow a more direct route between you and your data.”

It feels right.  I’m there to help you navigate your data through both IT and business waters.  And it is my privilege and honor to facilitate this.  Let’s drop the bridge analogy and move toward a new paradigm – the world where we are locks, adjusting our levels to fit the needs of both sides.

How do you add value through data analytics?

I recently read this article that really ignited a lot of thoughts that often swirl around in my mind.  If you were to ask me what my drive is, it’s making data-informed, data-driven decisions.  My mechanism for this is through data visualization.  More broadly than that, it is communicating complex ideas in a visual manner.  Often when you take an idea and paint it into a picture people can connect more deeply to it and it becomes the catalyst for change.

All that being said – I’ve encountered a sobering problem.  Those on the more “analytical” side of the industry sometimes fail to see the value in the communication aspect of data analytics.  They’ve become mired down by the concept that knowing statistical programming languages, database theory, and structured query language are the most important aspects of the process.  While I don’t discount the significance of these tools (and the ability to utilize them correctly), I can’t be completely on board with it.

We’ve all sat in a meeting that is born out of one idea: how do we get better.  We don’t get better by writing the most clever and efficient SQL query.  We get better by talking through and really understanding what it IS we’re trying to measure.  When we say X what do we mean?  How do we define X.  Defining X is the hard part – pulling it out of the database, not as difficult.  If you can get really good at definitions, it becomes intuitive when you start trying to incorporate it into your business initiatives.

As we continue to evolve in the business world, I highly encourage those from both ends of the spectrum to try and meet somewhere in the middle.  We have an unbelievable amount of technical tools at our disposal, yet quite often you step into a business who is still trying to figure out HOW to measure the most basic of metrics.  Let’s stop and consider how this happened and work on achieving excellence and improvement through the marriage of business and technical acumen – with artistry and creativity thrown in there for good measure.

#data16 Day 3

Admittedly I’m jumping from day 1 to day 3.  I hit a micro wall on Tuesday.  But now that I’ve pushed through to Wednesday – it is time to focus on the amazing.

First up – paradigm shift.  I had a very novel vision of expectations and how to “get the most” out of the conference.  This involved the idea of attending several hands-on sessions and maximizing my time soaking in how others solve data problems.  The ‘why’ behind the initial decision: I have a particular love for seeing how other people pull apart problems.  I was once asked what my passion was by a colleague – I said that I loved understanding the universe.  Pulling apart anything and everything, understanding it, cataloging it, figuring out how it fits into existence.  So faced with the opportunity to see how others tackle things was something I had to do.

So what was the paradigm shift?  The conference isn’t just for seeing people solve problems.  It’s about seeing people communicate their passion.  And this happens in a million different ways.  This morning it happened with Star Trek and making data fun and serious.  Later it was 300+ slides of humor secretly injected with sage wisdom.  The word that comes to my mind is intensity.  I think really what I started seeking out was intensity.  And there’s no shortage.

My takeaway: Focus more on the passion and intensity from others.  Soaking this in becomes fuel.  Fuel for improvement, potential, and endless possibilities.  I can always go back and learn the intricate, well documented solutions.  I can’t recreate magic.

Second item – commitment.  Commitment is accountability, following through, sticking it out, dedication.  Commitment is daunting.  Commitment is a conscious choice.  I made a commitment to myself to be present, to engage with others.  Following through has been difficult (and very imperfect), but it has been unbelievably rewarding.  Thinking back to my day 1 thoughts – I fall back to community.  Committing to this community has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

My takeaway: Human connections matter and are second to none.  Human connections make all the gravy of data visualization, playing with data, and problem solving possible.  (Also when you commit to dancing unafraid at a silent disco, you end up having an amazing day.)

Final item – Try everything that piques interest.  (This one I will keep short because it’s late.)  If you sense something is special, RUN TOWARD IT.  Special is just that: special.  Unique, one-of-a-kind, infrequent.  I think the moments I’ve had while here will turn into what shapes the next year of my life adventures.

My love note for Wednesday – in the books.