Data science and analytics – an active buzz-phrase and hot topic in all kinds of industries, at all organization levels, and all around the world. For some, analyzing data is a career centerpiece and for others it is an intermittent activity to check the box on a routine performance report. In the first extreme, one may spend years learning methods and techniques for data collection, analysis, and interpretation. But the truth is, if you aren’t a professional data analyst you’ve probably had very limited training or formal instruction. And, if you are taking the weekend-warrior approach to analyzing data, you are just like I was at the start of my career. But as I became exposed to the world of data science & analytics and with the help of digital reporting tools, I learned how to ace the art of “pulling numbers.”
My entry into the working world was no different from most. I was fresh out of college, working in a field outside of my educational background and eager to prove my worth. As an analyst reporting to the Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) Site Manager at a large manufacturing facility, there were all kinds of tasks thrown my way. I developed a valuable relationship with Google and taught myself the EH&S basics. Yet, by the time my manager asked me to compile a trend analysis of 2008 EH&S data, I was still naive enough to accept the job with a smile and a promise for a quick turnaround.
The mission: find the data and determine the trends. Now, the good news is that I knew where to find the data. Our site used Gensuite as an EH&S and Sustainability Compliance Management System and I became familiar with the various cloud-based applications that housed our injury reports, audit findings, training records, and more. But with little background in the organization or the EH&S field, the trend identification was a bit trickier. So, I started by running reports and extracting every recorded data point into Excel – which was a lot of data for a site with over 7,000 employees. I spent days, nights, weekends and even some of Christmas vacation doing guess-and-check work to pick up on some themes. I ended up with a few impressive charts and some bullet points with key takeaways for the year’s EH&S performance.
Now, after countless hours of sifting through data and a few more years in the marketplace, I have a better relationship with data mining and trend seeking. I’ve learned more about the world of establishing processes and systems to extract knowledge or insights from data. What I didn’t realize at the time about our EH&S Management System was the wide range of prepackaged reporting, charting and trending tools already available. Since then, Gensuite has developed even more tools for uncovering risks and identifying program gaps.
Implementing a great digital system for collecting and reporting compliance data gives you a huge analytics advantage. Here are a few other things I learned – that I couldn’t glean from a quick Google search:
• Know where your data is stored and what extraction methods are available to you. Do you have a corporate compliance management system? If so, is data for all your various process housed in that system or are there multiple places you need to check. Can you get the data exported to you in Excel, if needed? These are all important questions before jumping in. Implementing an integrated solution for data collection might be the most important analytics step you take.
• Analyze and discover collaboratively. Even if you are the resident expert, you will benefit by asking your peers for inputs. If you are new to the game, don’t be afraid to ask questions and find out what trends have been discovered in the past. A few important questions I learned to ask: Are there some trends common to the data set? What metrics are typically used in your organization? Are there certain things leadership will be looking for?
• Look for cross-trends to see the big picture and get predictive. If injury rates are high in a department is there a correlation with poor training attendance? If there were multiple housekeeping inspection findings could that have anything to do with the number of slips, trips and falls reported? Think critically about data points that might interweave and you’ll likely discover cause and effect relationships.
• Don’t confuse metrics for insights. High-level metrics look good on a dashboard, but they won’t always help you make a decision. When you aggregate data, you lose the ability to drill down and see outliers. Make sure your reporting model and analytics practices are flexible enough to give you quick metrics as well as educational indicators.
I have learned to love “pulling numbers” and finding new insights. Data mining is a practical and necessary part of managing risk. You are the investigator on a mission to find the safety hot spots and you never know what you mind find hiding in all that data. As a result of data mining, we gained invaluable insights about hand injuries and a correlation between inadequate or improper glove use. I found that there was an injury spike in the 4th Quarter and found a root cause in job transfers related to vacation and holiday time off. These were both logical conclusions, now backed up with data!
I also learned that there are some analytics methods and technologies that find more meaningful insights faster. Gensuite tools are what helped me discover the different ways to see Data Science and Analytics on a higher level, utilizing digital reporting to do jobs efficiently and effectively. In the realm of EH&S, Data Science and Analytics helps you learn about risk and gather proof to enact change. It can enable EH&S leaders to prevent the next major incident, reduce exposures, improve process efficiency, or avoid fines and penalties, resulting in big savings. Data mining may not seem like an exciting job, but when accomplished with productivity software like Gensuite, it becomes an efficient process… and more than just a buzz-worthy phrase.