Data vs. Information


When I take on any project that will serve data to multiple users, I’ve found that there are two inevitabilities (or eventualities, if you prefer):

  1. This app will eventually send email
  2. This app will eventually require reporting.

Granted, I’m a data nerd.  I love looking in piles of data for gold.  Virtually every time I’ve been given “good” data, I have been able to provide useful information about this data.  The client isn’t always happy with what the information tells them, however.  Regardless, there is almost always value in knowing instead of guessing.  

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.

Data is not always information.  Data can inform you, making it information (see why?).  It’s the reason C-Level leadership (most of the time) doesn’t want to hear about lists of stuff, they want the information so they can make a decision:

How many customers did we gain this quarter vs. this year?

How many XL units did we ship in Q1 vs Q4?

It’s that kind of thing.  It’s kept project managers employed for 25 years.  The good ones know how to ask the right questions, but we’ve all seen way too many PowerPoint presentations chock full of useless graphs like these.  

Recently we’ve begun building a fairly large app for a client in the drone space, that allows us access to a crazy amount of flight data.  The manufacturers probably just said:

“I have no idea how the customer might use this stuff, but since we have the sensors on-board, let’s capture it…why not?”

Temperature, barometer, altitude, latitude, longitude, speed of each prop, you name it, all captured down to the second.  All told, 202 distinct data points available to plot and composite down to the sub-second.  The funny part is that the metadata (all the stuff I just mentioned) was just icing on the cake.  The live video feed is the main feature we built, and certainly the “whoa, that’s cool” part of the app.  Having access to the sensor information that goes along with the video is cool in ways nobody has really thought of yet.

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