Some of you might have seen our CEO, Debbie King, speaking at ASAE Annual in Detroit this week.  If not you missed an inspiring presentation about building data analytics into your strategic plans and investing in a data guided culture.  Debbie was joined by Frank Krause, Chief Operating Officer of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), who offered brilliant insight and practical advice on making sure that association analytics are informative and actionable, not merely interesting.  At one point the evolution from static reports to data visualizations is compared to advances from film to digital photography.  This 35mm filmis a fitting analogy that makes the benefits hard to deny.

Think back to when you packed a bag for vacation and you took a 35 mm camera and 5 rolls of film.  Wait, that might not be enough, better bring 7.  You had to stop and think because you knew for a fact every roll is 36 shots, maybe 37 if you get the first 2 threads to catch.  Then you get to the end of the trip and you’ve loaded up the last roll and you want to make sure those shots count.  As a result, you realize you could miss a priceless moment.  So you consider the high cost of stopping at a local shop to pick up some more rolls of film, but then you think of the cost to develop them later. You decide to take a chance that you’ll remember to capture these special moments.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of similarities between film and having a traditional static report built for your association’s analysis needs.  In both cases you have the initial investment cost, time waiting on either IT for your report or the drugstore to process the film, and then determining what you’ll do with the output.  You can create a beautiful picture album to share with all your friends or you can toss the pictures in a shoebox.  The report will have actionable information like showing you event registration numbers are down over the past two years, but will it be too late by the time you discover the information?

And this is where we come to the digital era of instant gratification and why it can be advantageous.  First the digital camera, then nearly equal or better power in your smart phone.  Do you think twice before you turn on burst mode and capture 16 pictures in 3 seconds?  Get two or three bad ones, simply delete them and take more.  There is no upfront investment or limit to worry about and you could go so far as to say it is iterative; this is like an agile data analytics initiative.  You are able to build and rebuild a data visualization on the fly.  Sure, you can have instant access to ask and answer new business questions.  You can even test and experiment on the fly – something you’d never try with various lighting and a film camera.  Build and edit data visualization at at your fingertips.

The bottom line is that everyone wants and expects answers quickly. This allows us to maintain our connection to ideas and helps focus our thoughts to ask better questions.  So it’s time to put away your 35 mm camera and shift your focus to a digital data guided culture.