Not all data is created equal. Some data points allow you to track your team's workload while others help you make budgetary decisions. Specific stats are for your boss, while others are just for you. Some information simply supplements your decision-making process.
At its highest level, asset, work, and resource data allow you optimize your operations while also making predictions about future financial or personnel resource allocations. Having used data to drive success throughout my local government career, I know the most important thing you can do is identify the goal of your data before you start collecting it.
OUTLINE YOUR DATA STORY
If you haven't decided what story you want to tell with the information your organization is collecting, stop right now and give it some consideration. What goal are you trying to achieve? What data points could help you prove or disprove that? Are you trying to show workload measures to justify team performance? Are you trying to provide actionable intel for your team to make multi-layered resource decisions? Or are you collecting all these statistics so you have them just in case?
COLLECT ONLY WHAT MATTERS
The level of data your team must capture vastly differs between those stories and uses. As such, your goal should be to only measure what matters. Otherwise, you could be placing a massive burden on your staff with little real value creation—and knowing that is a critical first step. Assuming you have already done that, or are past that point, the question then becomes what story can you tell with the data you currently have?
After identifying the story you want to tell or the ultimate goal of your data collection, make sure the facts and figures your team is collecting are accurate. This can be difficult as there are incentives to cheat or shortcut data collection, and those need to be minimized. Sometimes it's a system issue, sometimes it's a process issue, and sometimes it's a management issue.
An "I don't have time for this" mentality and performance goals can incentivize staff to find ways to sidestep good data collection. Automated data collection is preferred whenever possible, as it minimizes human input, and allows for deeper and easier pattern recognition. But establishing solid report protocols, expectations, and processes while helping staff understand why this information is important are essential steps to data collection success.
STRIVE TO PREDICT FUTURE OUTCOMES
Once you have accurate data and a clear story outlined, there is one other key opportunity to consider: can you use it for predictive, not preventive, decision-making? That's the holy grail of data collection: using historical asset, work, or resource trends to predict possible future outcomes.
For example, what if you could compare different resource impacts to determine the effects of your maintenance efforts before you ever went into the field? Or empower your leadership team to play out scenarios on how funding levels or targeted repairs would impact the community's strategic goals? How about share a 5-year pavement plan with elected officials and show them how much more it will cost if you kick the can down the road?
No matter what story you're trying to tell or what types of data points you're collecting, predictive decision-making unveils the unknown. It enhances recommendations and provides accurate projections that can revolutionize your operations and improve your community.
USE SMART TECH TO SIMPLIFY ANALYSIS
Predicting future outcomes used to involve a ton of manual work—extracting information from disparate systems and importing it into overbuilt Excel spreadsheets—with questionable conclusions generated by macros or Solver. Trust me, I created one in 2009 to help us predict the biggest bang for our buck, and every time a new data set was introduced, it required a massive rewrite—not to mention I was the only one with deep enough knowledge to use the spreadsheet.
While people loved the result of having some predictability from my overbuilt spreadsheet, it meant a lot of manual data entry, back and forth, and some long weekends trying to incorporate the additional redesign and renew the predictions for a meeting on Monday. Not an ideal use of my life.
But, back then, I had no choice. As a public works director, it was my job to provide leadership visibility into the community impact of funding decisions being made in a conference room somewhere and fight for the resources my team needed to accomplish its stated mission. Couple these predictions with accurate data and a thoughtful goal, and we could tell a compelling story. It just used to take a whole lot of effort to get there.
Luckily, today's organizational leaders can leverage powerful tools like Cartegraph Scenario Builder to maximize the life of their infrastructure, justify budget requests, build capital improvement plans, and prioritize projects with just a few clicks and a manner of seconds. Cartegraph rapidly analyzes your infrastructure data—such as install or repair dates, inspection results, degradation curves, costs, budgets, and planned work—and provides you with the interactive projections you need to make your case or tell your story.
There has never been a time in my career where having access to good, accurate, purposeful data didn't generate amazing results for my organization. I hope by using my lessons learned and best practices that you'll have the same game-changing experience and use that information to improve your community, campus, or company.
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