As an IT Leader, you will be awash in data. Data swirls all around. From your systems. From the business. From your team. That data is full of information that you need to manage the department.

Learn how to harness it.

First, you need to understand what you have. In your position, you have access to more structured and unstructured data than anyone in the company. That’s a bold statement, but I believe it is true.

You (with help from your team, of course) have access to virtually all the data in all your systems. Finance and Human Resources may limit access to confidential data. But, generally, you have access to most of the data in the company.

Portions of this article are excerpted from my book, The I.T. Leader’s First Days, available from bookstores everywhere.

Besides the data stored in application databases, you also have access to usage information that tells you how the company is using the systems. You have access to log files that may show transaction counts and related information. Think of these things as metadata that tells you how the systems are being used.

For example, you can pull usage information from one of your large systems. Usage is useful for determining exactly who is using the system. It can tell you who the heavy users are. It can tell you adoption rates on changes your team rolls out.

Your conversations with other leaders provide context to the data. The leaders provide goals for metrics. They are the ones pointing to areas that need to improve or express concern about trends. With this information, you have additional insights into what the data means.

Unstructured data, like priorities, external trends, and internal improvements, also provide critical context to the data. Others in the company have similar access to the data and the context, but they may not have the same level of data sophistication that you have.

Next, spreadsheets are your friend, get good at them. Know how to do lookups and pivot tables. Understand how to create useful graphs quickly. Practice. There are enough internet videos to get you going.

You will often just need to do some quick analysis. Being able to pull data in, do a pivot table, and draw some conclusions in just a few minutes is a skill that will benefit you time and time again.

Don’t aim to be an expert at spreadsheets. Aim for getting fast at a few simple tasks that let you pull meaning from data.

Finally, understand the limits of the data. Being data-competent is critical. Being data-exclusive is a bad thing. You will always need to understand the context and limitations of the data you are looking at. Not everything can be explained by data.

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