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Key business decisions are only as good as your underlying data

Whether you’re happy about the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election or not, chances are you were surprised by the outcome. There are many post-election think pieces and mea culpas explaining how the bad polling predictions caused an upset. It will be months before we really understand what happened to cause the polls to wrongfully predict a Clinton victory. But this election was a shakeup to remind everybody that key decisions are only as good as the underlying data on which the decisions are based.

Consider Bloomberg View columnist and professor of economics at the University of Rochester Narayana Kocherlakota’s argument that polls are simply statistical forecasts. They “use available information to help us make better decisions when we can’t be sure what will happen in the future.” He refers to polling “as a guide to decision-making” when a campaign must make a choice because it has finite resources to use.

Doesn’t that sound a lot like what businesses do with forecasting, budgeting and planning?

Like political campaigns, businesses can’t tell the future either. So they rely on both internal and external data to build models to determine in what areas to grow the business, where to invest, and where to cut their losses. The data underpinning these forecasts are just as important as the analyses that goes into decisionmaking. What’s the likelihood of success if your data is garbage?

The most important component of ensuring the business has a strong data foundation is to invest in data quality. Why data quality? Because garbage in, garbage out. You can’t rely on your data to make critical business decisions if you know your data is full of duplicates, is disconnected because of data silos, or simply in the wrong format and therefore cannot be used. So as you’re planning for 2017, don’t forget to check in on your own data and make sure you can trust it.

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