In business circles, the conversations about “data” seem to be all the rage these days. Whether the topic is big data, data analytics or data mining, it is easy to get the impression that more data is better. With the right software tools, meaning can be derived from any data easily and quickly. Voila! Undoubtedly, information technology has allowed great advances in data collection and analysis, but to use some ideas from the knowledge management discipline: data without relevance or purpose is not information, and information without context and meaning is not knowledge. So where do context and meaning come from, then, to allow knowledge? It is simple–they come from humans. Data without human knowledge to make sense of it is just data. Even powerful data analysis tools and algorithms need human care and feeding in addition to thoughtful interpretation of results.
At AMTR, every audit begins with an examination of client shipping-related data. This data comes from many different sources, including client TMS systems, payment files and invoices. At first blush, the data itself often looks good, and in many cases, it has even made it through the “tolerances” set by precursor systems. However, when our auditors further examine the data using their knowledge of transportation laws, client shipping patterns, common information system errors and past auditing experiences, the data “reveals” knowledge that would not have been obvious to the casual observer, hence the “essence” of our Smart Auditing® approach. David McCandless, a self-labeled data journalist and information designer, has been quoted as asking, “Data is the new oil? No: data is the new soil.” At AMTR, we agree with this sentiment as we know data alone is not the new “holy grail,” yet it allows fertile ground for those who can understand and exploit its potential using human interpretation and application.