In my previous article on price versus value, I covered two of four reasons why the value of IT is hard to measure, namely the link to corporate strategy, and the balance between financial and non-financial benefits. In this article, the role of data culture and visualisation are up.

“In God we trust; all others [must] bring data”

This memorable quote is a neat summary of what any sensible business decision should be based on. Sure, a bit of gut-feel and intuition, but principally facts and data.

And yet… it was only last week that a colleague — chief of staff to the global chief executive officer of an accounting firm — mentioned to me her despair at how board meeting discussions in her business mostly revolved around chats and anecdotes. Perhaps, I suggested, auditors have enough spreadsheets and P&L to look at all day long, so they need some fact- and data-free release time when the executive committee meets.

So, whilst it’s become a cliché to say that all companies are technology businesses now, a more interesting point, to me at least, is that all companies are data businesses now. Not so much in the sense that you can monetise data (although that is true as well for many organisations), but in that instilling a data culture among all your staff is a brilliant way to run any organisation more effectively and efficiently.

In a recent article using the insight of a range of leaders, some McKinsey colleagues remind us of the importance of data culture in improving the way the business runs — whether media, banking or a baseball team. It helps us make better decisions, it helps us learn how to do our jobs better, and it also helps us understand the business. Again, not just in the boardroom, but in the field, too (literally in the baseball field in the case of the Houston Astros).

Not everyone, by the way, needs to be an expert in data analytics. Data dexterity, as one of my colleagues calls it, is enough.

The answer is a cloud-based dashboard that leverages data platforms through APIs. Now, what was the question again?

Of all the tourist destinations around the world, Venice offers arguably the ne plus ultra in rip-off opportunities: 51 euros for two Bellinis on the terrace of Florian at the Piazza San Marco being the most strident example on that last stay of ours. But we were happy — almost — to be ripped off. The Campanile, the Palazzo Ducale, and it was pomegranate not peach Bellini … so romantic.

When it comes proving value, well-meaning IT teams often fall into the trap of rushing to procure a special new data visualisation tool. This action is sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes encouraged by software-as-a-service vendors keen for a sale. The proposed new shiny service will bring just the right combination of great dashboard formats, drill-down capabilities, roadmap functionalities, multimedia asset addition, mobile and tablet compatibility, etc. It’s your Florian Bellini: you probably don’t need it.

Frankly, a simple Microsoft Excel sheet will do, certainly to start with. The first version of my public sector client’s dashboard has 18 KPIs and just under 30 data points. (We could not quite get a baseline for all the metrics we wanted to share with the board.) It fits on five slides. Version 2 will include 26 KPIs and take seven slides. My other client’s dashboard has 23 KPIs — they fit on one slide. Granted, it’s best seen on an A3 piece of paper.

Back to our anniversary weekend in Venice — what hotel did we choose then? Having discovered at the last minute that a friend of a friend owns an apartment in the Dorsoduro, which she was happy to make available to us, we did not cross the canal to stay at the Hilton. “Free” is a hard price point to beat. But maybe next time. We understand from the most recent TripAdvisor comments that turndown service and chocolates are now available.