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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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#708: Consultants Must Understand "Big Data"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Clients are asking us to help them analyze large datasets of what traditionally would be considered peripheral data - the kind of data collected but never intended to be used. Is this something that other consultants are being asked to do and in which we should develop a capability?

The past few decades have seen an exponential increase in both intensive and extensive data collection. The sources of these data range from discrete business processes to consumer behavior to geographical information to global finance. The resulting aggregate datasets provide an unprecedented ability to analyze trends and patterns of complex behaviors in business, politics and consumer behavior. We have also developed prodigious new technologies to collect, store, search, visualize, analyze and share these data. With deference to privacy concerns, the ability to link these datasets to each other provides the analytical foundation to model and understand and predict future behavior of complex systems.

The term "big data" refers to datasets that exceed the capability of traditional commercially available analytical software. What could Walmart do with the data from 1 million transactions per hour? How about a marketer and millions of LinkedIn person to person connections? Consider the implications fro healthcare, finance, manufacturing, services, government and R&D, with estimates of savings from use of big data ranging into the hundreds of billions annually in the US alone. As companies are more able to collect and use larger data sets, consultants must be aware of the potential applications and the techniques available to them. A growing number of companies are specializing in big data service, whose activities ar a good idea to follow and whose services you could use to best serve your clients.

Tip: The McKinsey Global Institute issued a report Big Data; The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity That discusses these concepts and provides a good insight into where consultants are most needed.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting terminology  data visualization  information management  innovation  knowledge assets  knowledge management  trends 

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#653: Think Twice About Data You Use in Your Recommendations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2011
We are a quantitatively-oriented and capable consulting firm but not so much that we would be considered a heavy-duty analytics one. Here's my question. Our clients can vary considerably on the extent to which they are convinced by numbers. At the risk of sounding harsh, are those that discount quantitative analysis not being responsible managers?

We shouldn't be quick to criticize a client's reluctance to adopt our quantitative analyses. As much as fact-based decision making is a good practice, it implies that those decisions are based on valid and reliable data. Reluctance to base decisions on your data can be a competent approach by managers. Do your clients consider the data you use to develop your recommendations valid or not? Your analytical methods? Whose data and models should you, or your clients, trust?

It is widely accepted that data series used for public policy and private decision making are less than perfect. However, it is increasingly recognized that some of these data and the concepts on which they are based are fundamentally flawed. Research over the past decade shows several macro scale financial concepts (e.g., CAPM, VAR, shareholder wealth) fail to stand up to empirical analysis, despite still being taught in business school. At the national policy level, GDP has fallen from favor because it excludes the majority of asset value and infrastructure investment, compelling some countries like the UK to develop a replacement measure. The World Bank admits that 80% of the wealth of nations is left out of asset accounts, even as those flawed accounts are used for policymaking. The unemployment rate, used by economists and media to track the state of the job market, is understated by about half because it measures people looking for work who can't find a job, not real unemployment. See Shadow Stats as one of many emerging alternative statistics sources.

At the company level, executives complain about distorted financial and tax measures they have to contend with. An investment in training is counted, and taxed, as an expense not the investment it is, thus never shows up on the balance sheet. Uncompensated overtime by salaried employees is considered free labor. Data series, business concepts and tax laws all add to this distorted view of the world. As a result, portfolio managers and consultants are adopting ESG (environment, social, governance factors) triple bottom line asset valuation models, for which there is expanding evidence of being a better predictor of financial success than traditional models.

If you are trying to lose weight and the scale was off by 5 (or maybe 10) pounds in one direction (or maybe the other) every few days, to what extent would you base your diet on that scale? We ask our executives to make fact-based decisions but we also should let them be responsible for judging the validity of the data on which they make those decision.

Tip: This is a good reminder to review with our clients at the beginning of an engagement our assumptions about data sources, analytical models and philosophies, and the extent to which we will base our recommendations on analytical vs. other findings.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  analysis  data visualization  management theory  recommendations 

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#623: Use Data Maps to Understand Your Social Networks

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, August 3, 2011
I've let the results of my social media campaign get out of control. After building large sets of networks (e.g., Facebook, BranchOut, BeKnown and LinkedIn), it has become a long list of names and contacts and not something manageable. How can I get back some sense of order without trimming the networks?

In hindsight, this was inevitable. Building a network and connecting with interesting people was fun and productive at first. However, when it is possible to have downline network contacts numbering in the millions, it is no longer a human scale, manageable network. Sure, it is still a powerful resource for automated searches but if a network is made up of a lot of people we barely know (or never met in person) then it is hard to use.

Since this is a problem not unique to you, as usual technology comes to the rescue. LinkedIn, recognizing that many people had even second tier contacts numbering tens or hundreds of thousands, came up with a network data visualization tool in LinkedIn Maps. Go to this link, log in and generate your network map. based on how interconnected your contacts are, you can label the different colors and get some insights of how to better use your vast network.

Tip: Data visualization and segmentation for greater understanding can be done with 3x5 cards or a sophisticated tool, but this is a good lesson for us all to remember. With good structure and organization data can be transformed into information. However, without an evolving understanding and structure, too much information (contacts) can also devolve into less useful data almost as easily.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  data visualization  marketing  social media 

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#612: Use Technology to Organize Your Knowledge

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, July 19, 2011
We have a client who wants to communicate the diversity of its various offices, its supplier network and other stakeholders. We want to make this available on their website in an organized fashion but there are some areas with a lot of content and some with a small amount, and a hierarchical structure is too cumbersome. What is a good way to organize this kind of disparate content?

Your question is a consulting task itself rather than a consulting tip because answering it requires more information about content type and volume, marketing intent, web capabilities, how the web fits into overall visibility strategy), how viewers are to use the data, etc. However, you may find some new technologies applicable, and these may be useful to your own consulting practice.

The usefulness of content hierarchies depends on a balance of volume, richness, depth and usefulness of content. Asymmetric content like you imply does make traditional lists or folders unwieldy. An alternative, available over the past few years, is visual network applications. Displayed graphically, these networks allow the user to interact with a network diagram to drill down or reconfigure content. Examples are Pearltrees and Spicynodes.

Pearltrees allows you to organize web pages in a network, with one main site (node) in the middle and branches you configure to other, related sites (the content of which you likely do not control). Intended to show how you organize your favorite web content, Pearltrees is a browser add-on to replace bookmarks and folders and (here is the powerful part) can be configured to connect to Pearltrees of others, much like is possible through delicious.

Spicynodes is similar but has static content entirely under your control. It is a way to visually organize information in a way that mimics the way you browse for content by exploring across links rather than looking at a series of folders. Both applications have galleries of sample networks. Both may take some learning but for what you describe, both would be powerful and intriguing ways to array information.

Tip: Consultants should keep current with these technologies for visual display of information for both their own use and to give a potent value added for their clients. Consider the relative impact of a few dozen static web pages and a more visual, intuitively navigated display like this. These also could be used to display information related to your engagement findings and recommendations. Lots of possibilities.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting tools  data visualization  information management  innovation  knowledge management  networks  presentations  usability 

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#547: Use Data Visualization to Get Your Point Across

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Most consultants are familiar with Ed Tufte's work in data visualization but are there any tools for dynamic visualization to show evolving time series?

Well-designed data visualization techniques can vastly increase understanding of specific data sets, as Tufte so amply demonstrates in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. But in the hard work to design that perfect display that a deeper understanding can be created not just for the recipient of the display but also for the creator. We sometimes rush to display data without taking the time to really understand its nuances.

Take, for example, Gapminder World, the project of Swedish statistician Hans Rosling, who is committed to help people understand world (especially health) data through visualization. Gapminder shows how a cross plot of world data on economy, education, infrastructure, etc. have changed over time (e.g., child mortality vs. GDP per person). This kind of dynamic display provides insight that a data table never could.

Some other dynamic visualization tools are The Visual Thesaurus, Wordle (create tag clouds from text), and Flare (for advanced users). There are lots of applications.

Tip: Imagine how this kind of dynamic or interactive display could dramatically change your ability to get your findings and recommendations across to a client. Also, by working with visual displays instead of just data tables, you will develop insights you might never otherwise recognize.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  data visualization  learning  recommendations 

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