Find the Facts with Data Collection

Seven months ago, I left my Business Analytics team to take on the role of Strategic Initiatives Leader for technical professionals and services across IBM’s growth markets.  What I didn’t realize at the time, is that you can take the girl out of analytics, but you can’t take analytics out of the girl!

In this climate of rapidly advancing technology, in our business it’s essential that we equip our teams with the modern resources they need to be successful.  Recently our leadership group were discussing this very topic, with the specific desire to understand what technology was needed where and by whom.  After theorizing about which regions and teams might have various needs, my natural instinct kicked in – what does the data tell us?

Herein lied the first hurdle – there was no data!

There were a number of approaches I could take to get the information we needed:

  • I could ask our regional leaders to ask their managers to ask their employees to get some data – but that would require a lot of manual data collation which compromises the quality of data collected and insight derived.
  • I could ask my colleagues – but that would give me a skewed perspective based on my own personal network.
  • I could call the 1,800 technical professionals in our team and ask them directly….er, maybe not.

There was one stand-out approach to getting a broad perspective from all geographies and technology specialties, and that was to use a survey to poll the 1,800 technical professionals in our team to get input directly from the source.

There were a number of survey tools on the market at my disposal.  The challenge was the data being collected was sensitive and needed to be treated with the highest levels of security – I needed to be absolutely certain the information being collected was not going to be accessible to people outside of my immediate team.  This eliminated all but one, IBM SPSS Data Collection.

Whilst I had some experience with SPSS in the past, I had absolutely no experience using the Data Collection tool.  I knew it provided superior scalability, security and integration with the rest of the IBM analytics portfolio – but I had no idea how to develop or publish surveys, nor did I have the time to attend a course.

Fortunately, IBM provides SPSS Data Collection software as a hosted solution so I didn’t have to spend time procuring hardware, and installing and configuring software.  IBM also has an amazing network of SPSS professionals – one of which lent me an hour of his time to walk me through the basics of creating and publishing surveys.

And that, my friends, is all it took.  One hour!

In the space of a day, I had not only learned how to create quite complex surveys using a very simple, drag and drop interface, but had authored my first SPSS Data Collection survey.  One final call to my local SPSS expert to help validate I was ready to go and then it was published for all 1,800 technical professionals to complete.

One thing I loved about the tool is that I could very easily check how many people had completed the survey and how many had only partially completed it, or not at all.  Had I a call center and survey collection team at my beck and call, I could have created different variations of the same survey depending on whether they were accessing it via the Web, a mobile device, or even an old-school paper based survey!

Once the data was collected, the Data Collection platform allowed me to download it in a variety of forms, including as a SPSS Statistics file, or simple data extract.  Then it was back to my old habits, dragging and dropping the Excel spreadsheet into the IBM Cognos Insight desktop application to slide and dice the results to understand the needs of the business across various teams, geographies and technical specialties.

So what?

So now, our leadership team doesn’t need to speculate on what they “feel” the needs of the business are.  Now, we have the facts to support our strategic planning and can drive more effective change.

Analytics is not about the technology, it’s about the business results.  But the right technology can make the process of gaining insight timely and secure – giving teams the insight they need to make the right decisions at the time they need to be made.