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What’s Good in Data Management

I recently read the book Factfulness, which highlights ten things about the world that are better than most people think. (The book is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it. In fact, I think it should be required reading for all high school students!)

This got me to thinking (naturally) about the things in data management that are better than perhaps many of us think. Here are just a few examples drawing on my experiences as a database manager with my past association employment:

  1. Event registration is easy, instantaneous, and requires no staff. When I managed a customer service team back in the mid-’90s, prior to online registration, I had a team of five staff processing over 3,500 event registrations annually. Registrations came via the mail, fax, or phone. The customer could expect to receive confirmation of their registration within a week or so.Of course, now, that same customer can go online, 24/7, register for the event, and receive confirmation within a few minutes. All with no intervention from staff.
  2. Directory information is immediately accessible and requires little staff management. In the early ’90s, one of my primary responsibilities was producing a printed directory of my association’s membership. This directory was critically important as it served as a “buyer’s guide” for my industry. The directory was printed only once every two years, because it took six months of intensive production time to collect, format, and print the data in the directory. (The directory was so good it won an ASAE Gold Circle award!)Of course, now, that same data is managed in the association database, it is connected directly to the association website, and the customer can update their data at any time. Almost no staff time is required to manage any of this, and the data is far more up-to-date, and far more accessible to more people, than it ever was as a printed directory.
  3. Online learning has dramatically increased the reach of associations’ educational offerings. Going back to point 1, that association offered about 30 in-person events annually. In order to take advantage of that learning, an attendee had to physically attend the sessions, which might require travel and lodging, and at the very least, time out of the office.Of course, now, much (but not all) of that learning can be offered online and on-demand. Now the customer can choose when and where his or her learning occurs. Actual staff time may not have decreased, but the audience reach for the educational offerings has increased dramatically.

These are just three quick examples of how technology has dramatically improved how we manage data and share information. The changes have been dramatic and quite positive.

But it’s too easy (especially for those of us who have been around a while!) to fall back into our old beliefs and mindsets. To fall into the false thinking of “Things are a mess.” This isn’t to say things are perfect. Far from it. But to paraphrase from Factfulness, things are better AND there is still a lot of room for improvement. As we manage the data day-to-day, it’s important to keep both those things in mind.