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Data Management: Tales from a Race Director

November 01, 2016 | By John Donlon

  • Data issues abound, even in relatively small data sets – growing data management proficiency is critical
  • Focus on several key areas: process, interlock, skills and roles, measurement and culture
  • Join John Donlon and Steve Silver at the SiriusDecisions TechX event in Austin this month

When I’m not busy with my day job as a research analyst for SiriusDecisions, I act as the race director for the 3 Beach Minimum Half Marathon, an event held once a year in my town and two neighboring towns. Since we started the race three years ago, we’ve sold out every year because it’s such a gorgeous course and we work really hard to make sure the runners have a great experience.

Part of the reason we sell out is that one of the towns the race passes through limits the number of participants for the race – they’re sensitive to inconveniencing their citizens by clogging up the roads. So with a smaller race, you would think data management would be a piece of cake, but in the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Even with just 300 or so runners every year, I get registration forms with misspelled emails, fields completed in all caps, and variations on town and state spellings, and this year I even had some register as “UNKNOWN UNKNOWN.” Seriously?! This is self-reported info, and it leverages pick lists – it’s supposed to be pristine!

Then to top it all off, the wrinkle I added this year was to give a special award to anyone who’s completed the race three times (either a customized “3-Time Finisher” Headsweats hat or a similarly customized bottle opener). You can only imagine the effort involved in combing through past finishers, matching them up with this year’s registrations, and then preparing a list of potential award recipients (Hint: people change their registration email address year-over-year, and sometimes they get married and change their last names. Fun.).

Well, all this is to say that if I – a guy who deals with his clients’ data issues every working day – has trouble wrangling a relatively small data set, then surely there are some big, ugly data issues sitting out there in the b-to-b marketing arena.

But we knew that, didn’t we? The question then is, “How well equipped are you to manage the data at your organization?” At our Technology Exchange event in Austin this November, Steve Silver and I will be giving a presentation on “The Not So Basic Rules of Data Governance,” with a particular focus on auditing and improving your level of data management proficiency.

Join us to find out how to assess your level of competence in these five areas: process, interlock, skills and roles, measurement and culture. We’ll be providing case studies of clients who’ve done an excellent job of improving their work in each of those areas, so you won’t want to miss it.

I’ll look forward to seeing you there, and oh—if you have any tips for helping me keep these runner names straight for future “3-Time Finisher” awards, please leave a comment!

John Donlon

John Donlon is a Senior Research Director for Marketing Operations at SiriusDecisions. A recognized thought leader in marketing operations, he has over 20 years of experience in information technology, process improvement, and measurement and reporting. Follow John on Twitter at @SiriusJD.