Published by Pasquale Grippo at


Chicken & Egg – data or question?


Let me start with some basic questions in order to find a good entry in this topic:

Q: Why do we start talking about data?

A: The answer is, because we want to get a value out of the data!

Q: Why do we want to get a value out of the data?

A: The answer is, because we want to derive information out of the values, which are important for us!

Q: Why do we want to get information out of the values?

A: The answer is, because we had a specific question and the information will give us the answer to this specific question!

Intermediate conclusion

“The reason when somebody starts talking about data is they want to get value out of the data. Values in this context means designed and interpret information related to a specific question. In a nutshell, the questions are the primary trigger when somebody starts talking about data”

The following figure illustrates the dependency from question to data according to the conclusion (from above) and the fact the starting point is the question.

Q: Why generally the starting point are the questions?

A: Without a question, you can’t design and interpret an information, which is depended on values, which will be found in data. You would even not be able to know where to find the information and values and which data to take.

Exactly because of this dependency not systems or technologies which collects and provides data gives more business insights. Systems and technologies are just supporting you in this process. The approach of how to find the right questions is important! 


“(Big Data or Business Intelligence) Systems and technologies do not give you more insights in your business. The most important point here is to start with the questions and to establish the right approach to find the right questions!!”

Well, from my experience this is exactly the point where business departments struggle most. In the past, I was asked from customers many times about, which KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), PD’s (Performance Drivers (PDs) or measures, prediction models should be used in order to improve their business and to get better insights.

They wanted to know, which are the best of breed KPI’s, PD’s and measures etc. from other customers in the same industry? They expectation was, if they have more of these they can better monitor, manage and predict their business and achieve better results.

These customers made two fundamental mistakes?

  • These customers wanted to start from the information and value layer and not with the questions! Even if you as an industry expert would provide new KPI’s, PD’s, measures and/or prediction models you need still to explain, which questions are going to be answered and check whether they are important for them or not.
  • When you start proving the importance of these new KPI’s, PD’s, measures and/or prediction models you will notice they have already a bunch of these and just in a few situations you have provided new usable information to them, which from an experience do not have this big impact to their business.

But let’s assume you will get the questions first, then you should be able to present new and useful information to them, which would have a bigger impact for their business.


But what if they can’t design new questions anymore, since from their perspective they have most/all of them already identified.

The key words here are exploration, laboratory and industry subject matter expertise.

So, let’s forget for a second all the stuff I tried to explain to you about questions are all the time the starting points.

Since a couple of years, you might have heard about exploring the data. What does it mean exactly?

It means person with and without industry subject matter expertise are taking the data and putting into cutting edge and innovative charts to identify new and not known patterns. Exploring means also to find correlation between entities outside and inside the company. This approach is more a laboratory iterative approach since no results can be defined upfront.

Intermediate results out of the exploration in conjunction with the business department knowing their business best, can derive new important questions!

Final Conclusion

“(BigData or Business Intelligence) Systems and technologies do not give you more insights in your business BUT THEY can help you to find new questions if they support exploration. Start exploring the data to identify new important questions, once you have already defined the known questions about your business.

Exploring Data and designing Questions are both valid starting points following different approaches with the objective to find valuable insights for the company

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