Accurately interpreting and using data is essential for organisational success in a world dominated by data. However, when this critical task is left to those lacking the necessary skills, what emerges is often a distortion of what the data should represent. Dubbed ‘Franken-reports’, these documents are a result of combining ill-fitting data sets, leading to dangerous misrepresentations that can cause serious business miscalculations.
Much like Mary Shelley’s infamous creature, a ‘Franken-report’ is built from disparate parts, stitched together without proper methodology or understanding. Its creators may have the best intentions but lack the essential skills to create a coherent and accurate representation of the data. Instead of providing clarity, a ‘Franken-report’ confuses, misleads, and can guide organisations down misinformed paths.
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While the above examples capture the essence of ‘Franken-reports’, the recent data breach involving the Northern Ireland police also tells a cautionary tale of a workforce with deficient data skills. A lack of data skills can result in data leaks or breaches which have the potential to harm just as much as inaccurate reports. The Northern Ireland police data breach isn’t an isolated incident; it’s a warning siren highlighting the dangers of inadequately handled or misrepresented data. This incident serves as a reminder that data-driven clarity is crucial to any organisation’s operations.
Corndel’s Data Report 2023 reveals the scale of the data skills gap, with 90% of employees recognising a skills gap in their organisations and 82% unfamiliar with leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools. This deprived skills landscape exacerbates the likelihood of ‘Franken-reports’ emerging across all industries and business areas. While the advancement of AI offers enormous potential, it also raises the stakes, increasing the possibility of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. If the input data is flawed, AI will churn out results based on these inaccuracies, further magnifying the distortion.
Dr Joe Watkins, a seasoned data expert at Corndel, provides invaluable insight. “When you encounter a ‘Franken-report’, it’s usually a product of someone who may know what they want – a pie chart here, a table there – but doesn’t grasp the nuances and technicalities of data,” he explains. Watkins notes the frequent assumption among leaders that any data analysis is better than none, without stopping to question the quality or validity of the data itself.
- Poor investments: Businesses might invest heavily based on misleading data. This could mean sinking money into non-performing assets or ventures, expecting returns that will never materialise.
- Budgetary chaos: Allocations based on ‘Franken-reports’ can lead to underfunded departments or funds being squandered where they’re least needed.
- Misaligned priorities: A strategy built on flawed data may focus on the wrong areas, neglecting genuine opportunities and misinterpreting threats.
- Ineffective marketing: Misreading market data can result in targeting the wrong audience, pricing products and services inappropriately, or misallocating the marketing budget.
- Faulty supply chain decisions: Incorrect inventory data might lead to overstocking or stockouts, causing operational hiccups and customer dissatisfaction.
- Hiring imbalances: Misinterpreting workforce data can lead to over-hiring, under-hiring, or misplaced roles, leading to increased costs and decreased productivity.
- Loss of stakeholder trust: When stakeholders, from investors to partners, realise they’ve been presented with distorted data, trust erodes. Restoring this trust is often an arduous task.
- Customer mistrust: Customers depend on businesses to provide accurate information about products and services. If they feel misled, brand loyalty can quickly dissipate.
- Regulatory penalties: Inaccurate reporting, especially in sectors like finance, health, and the environment, can lead to heavy regulatory fines.
- Litigation risks: Misleading shareholders or partners can result in lawsuits, entailing financial and reputational costs.
- Misguided R&D: Research and development driven by faulty data can lead to products that don’t meet market needs or are technically flawed.
- Opportunity costs: While resources are wasted on misguided ventures, genuine innovative opportunities might be overlooked.
- Decreased employee confidence: A staff constantly guided by inaccurate reports will lose confidence in leadership. This can lead to reduced motivation and productivity.
- Culture of inaccuracy: Continued reliance on ‘Franken-reports’ might inadvertently foster a culture where data integrity isn’t prioritised, leading to a vicious cycle of misrepresentation.
In the words of Dr Joe Watkins, “The worst-case scenario is a leader so keen to get a result that they ignore how good or bad the data is.” But, as evidenced, the implications of ‘Franken-reports’ go far beyond a single erroneous decision. They can cascade through an organisation, eroding its financial health, tarnishing its reputation, and stymying its potential for growth and innovation.
This perspective is chilling when you consider Watkins’ mention of the industry adage: 80% of data work is about gathering and preparing data, while analysis is the relatively minor conclusion. It’s the rigorous groundwork that prevents a report from morphing into a ‘Franken-report’.
But there’s hope. With strategic skills development, employees, managers, and leaders can be empowered to prevent these disastrous creations from seeing the light of day. Leaders must have foundational data understanding to steer their teams correctly. “They should foster a robust framework, ensuring data quality and consistency,” Watkins advises. Blindly chasing results or forecasts without considering data quality can be catastrophic. Leaders must be adept enough to discern a ‘Franken-report’ from a genuine one.