Data is essentially useless if it’s not normalized. A great example of the power of normalized data can be found in urban-infrastructure systems. Modern municipal water and power systems contain a tremendous amount of data that can be used to more efficiently manage operations—as long as the right people are able to access key data.
Normalizing data from multiple disparate systems transforms key data points into an easily understood and integrated format. Data accessibility and usability is essentially the result of mastering three key IT points:
- Know what data is available.
- Have the best format to present that data.
- Be able to extract insights from the data as it is presented.
While many infrastructure managers may be wondering how other cities are monitoring and managing their multiple disparate systems, the truth is that many of them simply aren’t. Even with the buzz surrounding Big Data and its seemingly endless applications, many cities are still tracking critical data in lists and spreadsheets sprawled across the various departments. Those lists and spreadsheets contain a treasure trove of information that could result in more efficient and effective management if only the right people knew what was available.
Hiring a third-party IT services provider to assess current data-collection practices and provide a system that organizes that data is likely a worthwhile investment for utilities looking to better understand the insights offered by their existing data.
A knowledgeable IT services provider will be able to help an organization identify the questions it wants to find the answers for, and then identify the best format to present that information. This is where normalizing the data comes into play. In order to create actionable information, the key data points have to be transformed into a format that can be better integrated and correlated with other data and systems. Operations are certain to become more responsive when it is working within a format that makes the right data easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to act upon.
This leads directly into the third key point regarding the importance of integrating multiple disparate systems into one holistic view. In other words, all that data has to be combined into a common format so that organizations can extract meaningful insights from it. Anytime your dataset is more than you can manually handle or understand, it’s essentially Big Data. Getting valuable and complex insights from these datasets is an infrastructure manager’s next big challenge.
At a time when it seems like every industry is obsessed with how to make better use of Big Data, the actual process of organizing, normalizing and extracting meaning from data can still be extremely complicated. Cities can be generally well-served by working with a provider who has expertise in these areas to help them figure out how to tackle this process from the beginning, instead of spending precious time and large portions of their budgets trying to get it right on their own.