Swiping the Data Credit Card

A few months ago, my family of five was out to eat at my daughters’ (we have three) favorite chicken wing restaurant. When the check arrived at our table, it was a little higher than I expected it to be. No big deal, right? Even my middle daughter knew how to solve our immediate need. “Dad, you can just use your credit card!”

Now, a little bit of background: My family uses the budget system known as the envelope system. If you are not familiar with this system, it works by allocating cash for categories and keeping an envelope with you for each category. When the envelope is empty and the cash is gone, you should wait until the next pay period to fill it back up. This plan usually helps stick with a budget and avoid overspending.

My daughter was right. We could use the credit card to fill the immediate need we had. Maybe I ordered an extra beverage. Maybe the kids got soft drinks instead of water. Maybe we all ordered a meal instead of sharing. Whatever the case, we worked ourselves into a jam and needed a way out. We had two options:

  • Option A: Stick to the plan, use the existing cash from the Dining envelope and take the rest of what was owed from another envelope like Clothes, Groceries or Allowance.
  • Option B: Use the credit card and pay for it later.

This time we ended up using the credit card, but it gave me an opportunity to talk to my kids about how credit cards work. They assumed credit cards were as magical as a unicorn. They assumed that we had this amazing piece of plastic that could wipe away any and all debts. So, we talked about how our budget and credit cards fit together:

  • We have a budget because our family does not have an unlimited supply of cash.
  • We must meet about the budget to review it, change allocations and see how we are progressing regularly.
  • When we use a credit card, the balance should be paid off at the end of the month.
  • This means money eventually must come from some other allocated category, or we should spend less in the Dining category the next month.
  • Credit cards allow you to pay a minimum payment and carry a balance, but interest will be applied, which then can take up to 20 years to pay off.

Our companies and organizations face a very similar problem when working with data and we can easily get stuck by only considering the short-term benefits of our data analytics while forgetting about the issues it will cause down the road.

For example, we might keep the data we need for a dashboard in a spreadsheet because it’s easier to spend time updating this every week, month or quarter than working with a database administrator to have an aggregate table created. We might be the database administrator that creates a quick transformation process to cover up the fragmented source data. We might be the boss that just needs to see the viz by the end of the day tomorrow, regardless of how it must be put together. Or, perhaps we need to make some modifications to a fact table, but do not have the time to rebuild the load or staging tables needed.

So, we swipe our data credit card with the promise of paying it off later. There are some correlations between the conversation I had with my family and the conversations I have with clients. Take a moment to think through these questions:

  • How is your data budget (data debt and resources) allocated?
  • How often do you meet with staff to discuss the data budget?
  • If you have data debt do you have a plan to pay it off within the month?
  • Is your data budget agile?
  • If you are paying the minimum payment on your data debt, can you see how quickly the interest is compounding?

What are your thoughts? Overwhelmed? Need help with a plan? Need to make a few tweaks? Whatever your situation is, the right data solutions company can help.

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