By Katherine Matthews

Much of the general conversation around data is about how it can be used to shape or shift the subject’s behavior. I would argue that we should be expending as much, if not more, effort in interpreting the data and using it to shift and shape our behavior to better meet the needs of our members and customers.

We’re seeing an interesting co-evolution presently – consumers are becoming more comfortable with (or, perhaps, desensitized to) sharing their data with companies, but they are simultaneously expecting that we are doing something meaningful for them in exchange. I think this is perfectly fair! After all, if we aren’t using this data, then why are we collecting it in the first place?

In my current role as Manager, Data & Analytics, for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, I am deeply motivated by our organization’s strategic goals: Facilitate Licensure, Foster Collaboration, Maximize Value. In the previous iteration of our strategic plan, we included a goal to “centralize credential data”. When we updated the plan and removed this goal, I was delighted because it demonstrated a deeper understanding of the purpose of data – not to collect it for collecting’s sake, but to incorporate it into everything we do in order to better accomplish our goals. In support of this, we are very fortunate to have a Chief Information and Innovation Officer, which I like to think of as a “designated visionary” for NCARB. Our culture very much centers around finding ways to eliminate friction for our members, volunteers, and customers whenever possible.

One of the projects that I see incredible potential in is our “Licensing Manager” application. We’re developing this web-based application for our boards to use to issue and manage licenses. And data stewardship is at the core of the project – we’re integrating the tool with our in-house system of record to keep records in parity in both systems; we’re migrating the board’s data to a relational model that will be better suited to analytical uses; we’re using industry-leading security and privacy practices so that these jurisdictions can confidently assure their licensees of the safety of their information. One of our primary goals with this product, and with all new tools we build and deploy, is to have the system be conversational instead of simply available. By that, I don’t necessarily mean chatbots (though we’ll certainly get to those!), but rather that the information is always at-the-ready so that questions can be answered and decisions can be made in the flow of a meeting or conversation. We’re shifting the paradigm from asynchronous research to a collaboration between the business users and the relevant data. My hypothesis is that making this shift will ultimately help demystify data – if we are consistently incorporating data as part of our day-to-day, then we won’t think of data as a megalithic resource requiring special skills.

Internally, we’re beginning a project to dig in deep on our helpdesk information. We’ll be looking at shifting patterns in contact methods (less phone, more email) and any trends in the types of questions being asked. The critical piece of the project will be facilitating access to the information in a structured, accessible manner so that leadership can begin monitoring it continually instead of relying on periodic, large scale research projects. Of course, the other piece of the puzzle will be trying to solve or ameliorate any common pain points we find. (Perhaps this is where the chatbots will make their debut…)

For nerdy data evangelists like me, these are exciting times. I am encouraged by the growing community in the association space of people who are embracing their data and iteratively taking on new projects. We can start with solving common challenges faced by our members and customers and build towards tackling challenges for the industries they represent. In the data lake, a rising tide lifts all boats.

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