What Can You Do for Data?

Vanessa   Lam
Vanessa Lam Director, BRSdata Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Vanessa Lam

Data is becoming increasingly important to daily business operations. It is used to track progress, make business decisions, apply for funding, review operations, and so much more. Data-driven decision-making is becoming a staple in many modern businesses, and most executives demand all claims to be backed by data. It's clear what data can do for you, but have you thought about what you can do for data?

Everyone in an organization has a role to play with data. Whether you do data input, data analysis, data-driven decision-making, or even just talk about data, your interactions with and feelings about data affect overall data integrity and culture. Even if your job does not include working with numbers, your actions still can have an impact on the overall data ecosystem.

So how do we make a positive impact on the data in our organization? This article will discuss different levels of data involvement and how you can make intentional steps towards improving data integrity and culture without becoming a technical or data person. These suggestions will start with the least involvement and scale up to the most involvement, providing a variety of ways to engage with data.

Attend Data Events & Read Data Announcements

If you currently are not very involved with data at your organization, start by reading any newsletters or emails that they send out. These will often tell you about what is going on in the world of data, both good and bad. Data teams may send out newsletters announcing new releases such as dashboards and datasets that are available to the organization. They may also email or message about any outages they are experiencing — things like out-of-date data or a known bug.

Data teams may also hold events or meetings to introduce people to their products. Be on the lookout for sprint review meetings, demo days, or office hours. At these meetings, you may be able to learn about more data assets and how to effectively incorporate them into your work. Being aware of what is happening in the world of data is a great first step to becoming more involved and making a positive impact on the data culture in your organization.

Ask Questions & Talk About Data

Once you have started to keep your ear to the ground about data news, it's time to start talking about data! Some examples of data questions to ask:

To yourself:

  • How can I use data to enhance my argument?
  • Does this data make sense based on what I know of the business?

To the data team:

  • How can I be an advocate for data in my department?
  • What data assets do you have that can help me solve this problem?

To non-data teammates:

  • How can data enhance this discussion?
  • How are you using data to help you in your daily work?

In addition to asking more questions, it is important to bring up data in casual conversation. Bringing data into business conversations will help improve the data culture across the organization, adding it to the toolkit of more businesspeople to help them in their work.

Learn about Data Assets & How to Effectively Use Them

Data assets can be things like dashboards, excel sheets, datasets, or tools to access data. Usually these are ways that you can self-serve data, using data to answer your own questions. Oftentimes data teams produce data assets for non-technical people through business-friendly tools. Learning more about these assets will empower you to draw data-driven insights or produce a report for the executive team without waiting for the data team to meet your request.

Be sure to learn from the data asset creator how to best use the data asset. There can be pitfalls and known errors when it comes to handling the data, and it is important that you learn about those before diving into self-service data on your own. Data asset creators may also be able to tell you more about how to efficiently use the tools, showing you hidden features, filters, and drilldowns that you may not know exist.

Get Involved with Data Communities

Once you have familiarized yourself with some of the data work and assets that are going on in the organization, it's time to get involved with data communities. Some organizations may have formal data communities to join, such as Data Stewards or Steering committees. These formal positions often put members in a position to help craft data governance policy, become a data representative for your department, or help build out the future of data.

In other organizations, data communities are less formal — people talking in the hallways to discuss the work that they've been doing or small meetings to show how they've been using dashboards. These types of communities are harder to find, but often a hugely important part of organic strengthening of a data culture. If you are not able to find any communities to fit into, you could even start building a data community yourself. Some ideas to get started:

  • Hold a meeting to discuss how you've been using data assets
  • Seek out other data-users in the organization and ask them about their data use
  • Meet up with other data-users for lunch

Even meeting up with data-users socially or in a non-data context gives you an opportunity to get to know them. It is helpful so that as your run into data issues, you have a community of people to call on to ask questions.

Improve Data-Related Processes

Now that you are involved in data, both using the tools to pull data and hearing about how others are using data through the data community, you are probably starting to see some of the issues that are arising. No data is perfect, but there are always ways to improve human-led processes that affect data. Some examples of these processes include

  • Data collection and entry
  • Storage of manual analysis (excel sheets stored on local computers)
  • Gaining insights from data tools

Humans are usually the drivers of these processes and, as with most human processes, each person has a slightly different way of doing things. Without some standardization, data can become messy and outcomes can become skewed as individuals take their own approach to these processes.

Non-data people are usually more empowered to influence these processes than data people, as they are often embedded within other business processes. Keep a keen eye out for any data-related processes that are in your domain and see if you can standardize and improve the way that data is handled across the organization!


If you are interested in getting more involved in data in your organization but do not want to get into the technical weeds, there are so many ways to do so! From asking more questions and talking to your peers about data to using self-service data tools and improving data processes, there are many ways that businesspeople can contribute to the overall data health of an organization.

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Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Vanessa Lam, "What Can You Do for Data?" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 24, No. 10, (Oct. 2023)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2023/c129.html

About our Contributor:

Vanessa   Lam
Vanessa Lam Director, BRSdata

As Director of BRSdata, Vanessa Lam created a division within Business Rule Solutions (BRS) to focus on data culture, data accountability, and business intelligence.

Vanessa specializes in building data-driven organizations where operations and leadership understand and trust the data, treat data as a resource, and use data to make day-to-day and strategic decisions.

Previously, she worked at Mastercard as a Manager of Business Insight and Productivity and Optoro as a Manager of Business Intelligence. In these roles, she created educational tools for the organization, fostered data communities, and ensured people used data responsibly.

Ms. Lam's popular articles on data quality and data culture are published regularly in the Business Rules Journal and TDAN (The Data Administration Newsletter). She is a frequent speaker at Enterprise Data World, Building Business Capability Conference, Tableau User Group, and Predictive Analytics World.

She has a Masters of Computer and Information Technology from the University of Pennsylvania and a BSc in Economics from the Wharton School. She was recently named a top influencer to watch in 2021 by IIBA. You can follow her at @Big_On_Data on Twitter.

Read All Articles by Vanessa Lam

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