A current topic in the news in the United Kingdom relates to a report by the Mental Health Foundation about how modern life leads to people being more lonely and the physical and mental health impacts of this loneliness. In a radio interview today, an interviewee was heard to state that modern working life makes them more lonely, because they have to spend so much time entering data to do their jobs, that they can’t afford the time to interact with colleagues as part of their work.

So does this mean that data makes you lonely?!?

Although the interviewee held the view that “data” was a cause of loneliness at work, I would suggest that poor data practices may lead to this position and that good approaches to data should enable more communication and interaction with colleagues at work.

If most employees in an organisation have to spend the majority of their time entering data, then this suggests that there is continued creation of ‘things/events/people’ about which data needs to be recorded. Since the planet is not overflowing with these ‘things’, we are not all struggling to deal with these ‘events’ and the rate of population growth is not infinite, then it suggests that data is not really the problem. What is more likely is that employees are being required to re-enter data about things/events/people which are recorded elsewhere, which is a symptom of poor data practices. Employees should, once initial identification of the relevant subject has been established, only be required to record what is new or has changed.

So, to take an alternate view, should good data practices stop you being lonely? Well, clearly, there may be many factors that influence loneliness, so we should perhaps rephrase the question as “Should good data practices enable you to interact better with colleagues?”

In this case the answer should be “Yes”.

  • Good data practices should enable sharing and re-use of data reducing the time actually spent on data entry
  • Better quality data (or at least data of known quality) should reduce abortive work due to incorrect decisions and assumptions
  • Better quality data should improve the outputs of reports and analytics
  • Clarity on the definitions of data should enable less time to be spent trying to find the right data to use
  • Better structured and integrated data should allow more ability to develop and deliver new insights into the performance of an organisation

All of the above should mean that staff are not wasting time endlessly re-entering data and should have more time for meaningful discussions about their work activities. This in turn should help build team morale and lead to greater effectiveness. Sadly, the interviewee mentioned above does not work in such an organisation.

Does data make you lonely?

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6 thoughts on “Does data make you lonely ?!?

  • 25th May 2010 at 13:58

    I’ve had data entry jobs (going back to high school) and there surely aren’t “social” in nature. Of course, the technology those days was pretty laughable in comparison to today’s gadgets, apps, and systems.

    I can’t see data entry jobs as a growth area but maybe I’m missing something?

  • 25th May 2010 at 14:11

    Good point Julian. I agree, so many people are entering data already been entered somewhere else. That may be internally in a given organization but also if you look for the same data outside your organization. I think data may be divided into:
    • Global data that is not unique to operations in your enterprise but shared with other enterprises in the same industry (e.g. product reference data) and eventually the whole world (e.g. business partner data and location data). Here “shared data in the cloud” will make your “single version of the truth” easier and closer to the real world.
    • Bilateral data concerning business partner transactions and related master data. If you for example buy a spare part then also “share the describing data” making your “single version of the truth” easier and more accurate.
    • Private data that is unique to operations in your enterprise. This may be a “single version of the truth” that you find superior to what others have found, data supporting internal business rules that make your company more competitive and data referring to internal events.

  • 25th May 2010 at 14:27

    Julian, excellent post. Made me think.

    I agree with Phil, commenting on pure data entry, it is a lonely task. And Henrik was right about “entering data that was already created before” does bring to light we all are still taking the least path of resistance when it comes to data.

    But here is another view, my humble view. When you look at the act of entering data, what are you doing ? Are you enhancing, creating, correcting, or associating / dissociating relationships between data.

    There has to be some balance to seeking the right data vs. just creating it. Then the question of Trust / Source comes to view, and THAT IS WHERE THE COLLABORATION KICKS IN.

    Case by case, scenario by scenario, the balance moves from project to project.

    To put a lighter flair to it, when you have data quality issues, and conflicting business processes for data, there is a ton of collaboration, which in some cases, I think going back to Phil’s High School Job, just might be the best place to be 🙂

    Thanks Julian.

  • 25th May 2010 at 15:27

    Does data make you lonesome today?
    Do you miss your co-workers today?
    Are you sorry you’ve drifted apart?
    Does your memory stray to a less data-intense day?
    When you chatted and talked about an online shopping cart?
    Do the chairs in your cubicle seem empty and bare?
    Do you gaze at the break room and picture you there?

    Is your heart filled with so much pain,
    That you can never hit the enter key again?
    Tell me, does data make you lonesome today?

    I wonder if data is making you lonesome today,
    You know someone once said that the world is a stage
    And each one of us must play our part,
    Fate had you entering in data with all of your heart,
    Act one was when you met, you loved data at first glance
    You entered data so eagerly and never delayed the queue
    Then came act two, you seemed to change and act strange
    And why, data will never know,
    But maybe you lied when you said you loved it so,
    And data had no cause to doubt you,
    But it would rather go on hearing your lies,
    Than go on being entered into the system without you,
    Now the stage is bare and data is left stranded there
    With emptiness (and NULL fields) all around it,
    And if you won’t come back to data entry,
    Then make them bring the whole database down.

    Is your heart filled with so much pain,
    That you can never hit the enter key again?
    Tell me, does data make you lonesome today?

  • 26th May 2010 at 08:50

    Phil, Henrik, Garnie,

    Thanks for the comments. I am actually inclined to agree with all of you to different extents.
    * Pure data entry roles can be dull (when entering data that has not been computerised before), however, not all roles are data entry related
    * I have come across a number of roles where staff are required to re-enter data that already exists elsewhere, or where they are updating systems where they see no benefit or meaning in the updates
    * Data sharing internally is one thing, enabling this across organisations can be more problematic
    * Fully agree with the trust and collaboration angle – crack this and your data quality should improve and you will learn more about your processes and be able to identify improvement opportunities

    Thank you for your excellent lyrical input – it seems that all you need is a quick idea to get your mojo working!
    Your approach of treating data as a personality that you have a relationship with is an interesting extension of the idea of a “data personality” that we illustrate in our Data Zoo blog posts. It sounds a little like the seafarers of old who viewed their ship as a female personality and built up lots of superstitions around this.


  • 28th May 2010 at 15:23

    Data? Lonely? What? Just because I’m wearing a mumu and I’ve been alone in the house with sixteen cats, a case of Stroh’s and a bottle of Cheez Whiz does NOT mean I’m lonely. Hello Pumpkin! Hey, Fifi, get off my keyboard, now I’m entering some data…Kitteeee! Kitteee! Mommeee luvs you Muffin-Head!…I should really open the drapes….) Anyway, I lead a very full life, data or no data, thank you very much.

    What I’d really like right now is some Ritz crackers… What’s that smell? Hello? OH! The UPS man is here with a box from Home Shopping!! Strapping young man… Where are my slippers?…Gotta go! Bye now!

    Anonymous. (But very fulfilled. Really.)


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