Two groups of data professionals did a deep dive into the many issues surrounding the mining, organizing, and presenting data on February 24th at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information (the UT iSchool). Iron Mountain sponsored and moderated the event.
The opening panel on Data Wrangling discussed the “readiness” of available data sources and how to mine, format, analyze, and manage data. Offering their views were Dr. Byron Wallace from the iSchool; Abha Dogra, VP of Global Enterprise Architecture for Iron Mountain; Tyron Stading, President and Founder of Innography; and Chris McKinzie, founder of Enlyton (an IEI partner software company). They talked about the value of relevant data, the importance of keeping data extraction algorithms up-to-date, and trends in data management. Ms. Dogra stressed the difficulty of designing and implementing effective data management workflows.
The second panel, Harnessing Big Data, focused on data visualizations that allow people to “connect” with data. Speakers included Dr. Unmil Karadkar from the iSchool, Fuyu Li, Earth Scientist from Chevron; Cynthia Mancha, Analyst from Tasktop; and Beth Hallmark, Travis County Deputy Chief of Communications, Public Outreach and Open Data. Dr. Karadkar opened the discussion by admitting that data comprehension can be difficult, so it helps to use visual surrogates to get data into a person’s head. He joked, “think of Oprah with the cars….everybody gets a visualization.” Dr. Li from Chevron, who works with meteorological, seismic, oceanographic and other scientific data, disagreed with Dr. Karadkar’s stance on aesthetically pleasing graphics, preferring to focus on simplicity. “The purpose is to answer a specific question. Make the visualization simple enough for the audience to understand.”
Cynthia Mancha looked at data from the project manager’s point of view. To her, visualizations are a necessary management function. They provide insight into where valuable time is spent, but, for a visualization to be helpful, “familiarization with data and context is critical and the team member must be intimately involved.” Dr. Li echoed her perspective by pointing out that detail-oriented quality control is key with data used in visualizations. A good visualization will only serve to spotlight underlying bad data.
Last to present was Beth Hallmark, responsible for making data on Travis County’s 90 billion transactions a year both accessible and understandable to her audience of budget writers and the general public. Beth shared the difficulty she had finding someone to manage her county’s visualizations. The perfect candidate had to be both tech savvy and able to illustrate a story. In the end, she chose someone with a journalism background who fit the bill.
Key takeaways both groups emphasized included the importance of knowing your clients, and the need to define customer requirements early on, even if it takes outside guidance.