The importance of data is easy to miss when we’re under pressure and trying to get things done. Most people are guilty of putting something into a system just to get their specific task completed; we all know it’s not the way to do things but it’s really hard to communicate just how damaging this is. There are so many reasons why we should get data right and even more benefits that can be realised from doing so.
The criticism that Robert Jenrick had regarding the speed with which building owners have responded to the Grenfell tragedy isn’t unfounded. From the perspective of the general public, it’s not acceptable to take years to get proven dangerous materials taken off their homes. Working in housing, we all know that it’s not as easy as the public think it is; there is a minefield which I’m sure most local authorities and housing providers have spent months wading through.
While I sincerely hope the tragedy never recurs, I’m sorry to say the effort we’ve all been through to get our residents feeling safe in their homes isn’t a ‘one and you’re done’ task. The world is ever-changing and with new technologies and advances coming into our homes all the time, the regulations that we need to adhere to will never be static, and rightly so. This has been made even more evident by the government’s introduction of the Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive, whom I’m sure will insist on new regulations.
We can’t wrap our homes in bubble wrap so there’ll always be risks and, as much as we don’t like it, there’ll always be another tragedy we can (sadly) learn from and protect our homes against. Ideally, we shouldn’t wait until the regulations are changed before we learn from those tragedies and should strive to make proactive changes.
However, to be able to react quickly we need to have the information we need at our fingertips. We will need to delve deeper into how our properties are built and what materials are used, but are you ready for this or do you even know where to start?
Building on your current data
You’re probably thinking, “We’ll never know what information we’ll need to look at next and it’s too hard to get all of it at once.” I get it, I do. If, every time you need to collect new data, you then have to confirm the data you already have, you’re doing twice the amount of work. However, always maintaining high quality, accurate data means that all you need to do is use your current data and expand on it to meet your new requirements. Which sounds great, but how is this achieved?
It needs to be a long-term plan with commitment and permanence, where good data management and governance are instilled at every stage of the building and maintenance lifecycle. Your data needs to be treated like the asset it is, make it work for you and reap the benefits of really investing in it. The success of every piece of technological advancement, software, process and decision is based on the data that it uses. If that data is wrong or incomplete, the decisions you make or the outcome of the process will also be wrong. Without the ability to wave a magic wand and get your data in a state of perfection, you need to have a logical and manageable approach.
Get your data basics right
Let’s start off with creating a good foundation, working from the basics up and knowing you can trust the very basic data you have. The database that you use to store the data is irrelevant; it doesn’t need to be the most expensive or the most powerful as long as the data you have in it is correct. That said, it’s prudent for your data to be on a database as opposed to a spreadsheet; this ensures that the data is structured and therefore easier to use and to maintain. Making sure that your data is accessible, understood and maintained appropriately is vital. All these things are covered by good data governance and making sure your teams understand the importance of your data as a strategic asset.
Unfortunately, you can’t just rely on a system implementation to address your data issues, it takes effort. Getting your data in a good state of cleanliness can be a time consuming and expensive task, so rather than thinking about it as just being clean data, consider it as an investment in good evidence-led decision-making, a greater chance of getting things right first-time and investing into future advancements.
Data as an asset
Making sure the people who use the data really understand its importance helps the data stay clean. Every time you have confidence in a data set, make sure your processes are working to maintain it and that you have the right methodologies to ensure it stays accurate. In short, upskilling everyone in your business to a higher level of data literacy is a truly worthwhile investment.
Getting the most from your data really does take a multifaceted approach because it can be complex and time consuming. Getting the right people involved to make sure your efforts are creating tangible benefits is vital. Making sure your colleagues understand the difference between including and excluding a basement in the storey count of a block actually has an impact on how other areas of the business function and the regulations that that building is required to adhere to, and therefore how we treat our customers. The data really is the foundation on which every part of the business is built and how we keep on top of the changing landscape.
Camilla Shrieve is a data consultant at Data Futurists.