Data, Data and More Data
A client once told me, “Justin, you think like a spreadsheet”. With a smile, I took that as a compliment and replied, “I excel when I get positive feedback”.
The upside to “thinking” like a spreadsheet is that thoughts may appear organised or sequential. The downside is that on the surface, a spreadsheet is two-dimensional, which is somewhat limiting.
I have a friend whose thinking is anything but two-dimensional. He is creative in a way that I am not. He sees things I can’t imagine without standing on my head to get a different perspective. I often wish I could add some magical thinking to my spreadsheet thinking.
Over time and with lots of brute force, mentoring and coaching, I have developed the skills to apply some creative thinking to several data sets. It is immensely rewarding to discover some helpful insight from a data set and share it with others.
This week a client sent me a file containing two gigabytes of data. With a twinge of anxiety and a double dose of excitement, I poked around and explored.
Contained in the file was an Excel spreadsheet of procurement data going back to 2019. The Excel file consisted of approximately 167,000 lines of data.
Dates, product numbers, supplier codes, costing references, packaging expenses, freight costs, you name it, it’s buried in the spreadsheet.
The task is to explore and discover what can be learned from the data. Ultimately, the intent is to find efficiencies. Can the cost of sales be reduced? Is there anything to be learned about the freight cost? How do product volumes impact supplier pricing? These are just a few questions to be asked of the data.
It’s time for pivot tables, SUMIFS and XLOOKUP. How exciting!
While a spreadsheet appears two-dimensional, consisting of columns and rows. It is anything but. A well-organised data set can be seen in the context of a rubrics cube with the potential for many combinations and outcomes. A slice of that magical thinking is handy to unlock insights from the data.
The data has already produced some valuable nuggets. But more importunately, the data has revealed several new questions that need answering to understand the human behaviour that the data has recorded.
Manipulating and changing numbers on a spreadsheet is of little use if the insights are not translated into a change in human behaviour. Ultimately, the procurement team needs to be able to use the insights from the data to develop and implement a new buying strategy.
Next up, is revenue data. Let’s find out if the customers are buying SUMPRODUCT().