Dan Murray is Director of Strategic Innovation for Interworks, a global IT services and business solutions provider. He is the author of Tableau Your Data!, and will be the featured speaker at this year’s Seminar by the Sea. We had a chance to talk with him about the data modeling ecosystem, and the value of an iterative process.
Describe your practice at Interworks.
Murray: InterWorks has a different model than most consulting companies —we aim to do high quality work, very quickly and then leave. Our consultants are good at translating technical needs into business cases. We also provide clients with thought leadership and project planning/implementation. Then we help them design dashboards that help them see and understand their data. We
have a broad skillset surrounding business information including data visualization, database design, extract, transform and load logic, hardware and network design to enable appropriately responsive data.
How did you get started working with data?
My first job was with a leveraged buyout firm. We bought bankrupt companies, looked at data, figured out how to make them profitable, and flipped them. That was better than an MBA – I figured out how to set up capital structures, leverage business assets, and drive profits. Over the last 30 years I’ve used data to solve problems, identify opportunities, and drive improvement. In the last seven years I’ve focused on teaching clients how to do this well.
What are some of the changes you’ve seen in your 30+ years managing data?
The proliferation of data bases – they are growing all the time. Many of our clients don’t have one database; they have a dozen and they can’t figure out how to get to the information. Our practice is built on helping companies bridge those gaps. And the tools are so much less expensive. Small and medium-sized businesses can’t afford to spend $1 million on toolsets to extract data and spit out multiple scenarios. Tools like Quantrix are dramatically lower in cost.
What else sets Quantrix apart?
Quantrix defines formulas the way that databases think – not by the cell, but by dimension. You can take a model with 4,000 formulas in Excel and do it with 40 in Quantrix.
You talk about the data ecosystem – where does Quantrix fit in?
At the center of everything is some kind of database. And Quantrix does something that no other tool does – it architects formulas in a very efficient and powerful way by speaking the database language at the data level, not the cell level. This means it can do powerful things with assumptions for predictive analysis. Factors that affected a business’s performance a year ago might not affect it a year from now, so you need to build a complex calculation that based on a sliding assumption. You identify the dimensions that are important to your business, and the assumptions that have worked in the past. With Quantrix, you can adjust the sliders to see if each factor will impact the future, by how much, and the outcome.
Give me an example of how that information impacts performance over time.
Today, most companies create a budget, and then re-budget every quarter. They take it for granted that they need to revise their forecast, but they are not using that information to refine their forecast. Quantrix can be the tool that you are iterating the potential future from. When you have new information, you should be populating the database with that innovation, and capture your assumptions. They are part of the innovation cycle. We tend to forget the bad ones and overemphasize the good ones – but with Quantrix connected to a database, you can see how good your assumptions were, and use them when you iterate. If we can reduce the time and effort required rebuild that forecast, then you can really advance over time.
What’s the bottom line for companies?
In the end, it’s all about data. Do you have it? Can you interpret it correctly? If you move the dial – which you can do easily with a Quantrix slider – did the expected outcome occur? That, to me, is what it’s all about. Drop the technology hurdle, expose the bones from the assumptions, and have a learning process where you get better over time. It is measurable. At some level, something significant happens – if you’re doing it right, the cumulative effect of the effort will help you grow.