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Conversations on the Art and Science of Information

Measuring the Value of Information, Part 1 – The Content

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Whenever you spend money on anything you always should ask yourself a few questions, the first one being, “Is this worth the money?” I am sure many firms consider this and many other questions before making the decision to invest in something. Ultimately, this decision should be based on more then money. It should be based on the relationship they have with a firm. In the first installment of this series, I want to examine what clients are really getting when they purchase data-related products. To do that, I have to start with the fundamentals – the content.

As we tell our clients, Onboard Informatics collects data from a myriad of sources both, public and private. We do not divulge many of those sources as this information is proprietary knowledge and sensitive. But let’s say we do discuss a few of those sources that are public. It is no big secret that we get some of our information from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, US Postal Services, US Census and the FBI. And anyone can go to these places and get this same data that we do. We don’t encourage our clients to do this – clearly – but not for the reasons you may think. There should be a distinction made between this data and the content that we provide our clients.

What raw or public source data represents:

* Public data is “dirty” in that it is not gone through and cleaned up from syntax to number of decimal places to address format consistency
* Each reporting jurisdiction may publish its own format, meaning that for a single data topic there can be scores (or hundreds) of different feed formats to analyze and account for
* When there are standard formats, they are seldom adhered to. The number of exceptions that must be handled is high
* The information is very simple and plain – typically raw numbers without analysis or context
* Little if any connection is made between topically different data sets – does crime rise when income falls? Do local housing prices really correlate to school district affiliation?
* There are often “holes” in this data that don’t account for many parts of the country, time periods, or
* Public data is aggregated – or organized – to different levels and geographies. One source may use ZIP codes, another MSA’s, and another some proprietary or one-off standard such as FBI jurisdictions.

What separates content from data is the following:

* Clean, uniform data that looks the same whether it be Springfield, NY, IL or CA
* Aggregation to a geographical structure of choice that meets clients’ needs be it zip, neighborhood, place (city), proximity or other custom geographies
* A robust data set that benefits from the combination of multiple sources leaving very few gaps of any sort in coverage
* Analysis and context, such as trending over time, that turns the data into content that is understandable and applicable to specific questions and presentations
* Content and profiles of areas that merge many topics and sources to the OnBoard Content framework, allowing clear comparisons between disparate data sets such as school performance and neighborhood demographics
* Geocoding information (latitude, longitude) so that areas can be easily plotted on a map
* A partner who takes ownership and responsibility for the content so that you can focus on your business and minimize support and liability issues

When you take all the facts into consideration, the value in properly handled content is the analysis and maintenance; not the raw data. This value far outweighs the cost of identifying, acquiring, processing, standardizing, documenting and merging just a few of the many sources used. Add proper analytics, context and geography framework plus maintenance and updates, and good content pays for itself fairly quickly.

To look at it from a different perspective, you could “save money” and do your own taxes rather than pay a professional. But doing so exposes you to the risk of either not maximizing your value (getting all of the refund that you are legally entitled to) or significant liability (risking an audit). Add to that the true cost of your time and that third party professional might just be the best way to protect your bottom line.

Conversely, you could go with one of those low cost tax places you see advertised on television. I have personally fallen victim to the sirens of discount, low cost provider. When I wound up having a problem since the papers weren’t files right they were no were to be found. The next year I had a real professional take a look at my prior year’s filing and after all was said and done I re-filed them to the tune of a much larger refund then I originally got with my “bargain” provider.

Takeaway: you get what you pay for when it comes to brainpower.

– Patrick Healy, Sr. Relationship Manager
– Peter Goldey, Chief Knowledge Officer

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Written by Patrick Healy

July 21, 2008 at 11:41 pm

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