When Aristotle said "The whole is more than the sum of its parts" could he have perhaps been referring to the melding of seemingly worthless, decentralised and unwieldy text based data, into centralised, web application friendly SQL databases?
Seemingly worthless data is all around us these days - but could some of it just waiting to be presented in such a way, that it could very well transform our businesses?
In the mid 90s, during the visit of a telephone engineer to the IT room, I found myself curiously looking over the engineers shoulder as he configured in a few more extensions for sales on the companies ageing PBX system. To check that everything worked, the ’call screen’ was brought up, and this screen outputted (via Windows hyper terminal) lines and lines of neatly structured data records. Each line being the record of a call, from a number, to an extension, the start time and the end time. It was a logging system purely for diagnosis purposes. Not just for hardware diagnostics, I thought.
I quickly hatched a cunning plan in which I could finally take my sweet revenge over the dolts in sales.
Using what was essentially some market research survey software, I built up a ’survey’ which asked all the ’questions’ in order to match with the ’answers’ coming from the phone system. What is your telephone extension? What is the incoming call number? What is your outgoing call number, what time did you start your call? What time did you end your call? The phone system data was then dumped from hyper terminal into a text file and fed in to the market research software. The result... our survey said, was proof of some particularly lazy sales people!!! Nasty, I know, but I was young - and it was for the good of the company.
I can still remember the look on the MDs face, when I presented him with a daily breakdown of the telesales team’s phone activities & performance - showing calls by direction, local, national, international and mobile rates - by call frequency and duration grouped by sales team, then by extension. The data ended up transforming the running of the 30 strong sales department. It was extremely useful for the support department too.
So that there was a great example of a sort of data alchemy. Worthless