Editor's note: This article ran in the Nov. 30 edition of Dairy Exec e-newsletter, published by Dairy Herd Management.

Data are only valuable if you use them to improve your management. Otherwise, they're just taking up space on your computer or in your mind and not doing your dairy business any good.

According to Steven Stewart, and Paul Rapnicki from the University of Minnesota and Steven Eicker, Valley Agricultural Sofware, there are 13 keys to better data management.

“While the presence of sufficiently complete and accurate data is important, possessing data alone is not sufficient,” Stewart explains. “Data must be properly placed in a well-designed framework and utilized in pursuit of a specific inquiry. Additionally, analysis without decisions or actions serves little purpose.” 

Therefore, consider these 13 keys to gain more from your data collection: 

  1. Have a clearly stated reason (question) that determines the data to be collected (i.e., they do not collect data solely for the sake of collecting data).
  2. Recognize data may come from a variety of sources, not just computers.
  3. Understand the differing data and reporting needs of various audiences.
  4. Place focus on the current daily work-processes rather than solely ultimate outcomes.
  5. Place great emphasis on capturing required data.
  6. Use data and reports in a proper manner for motivation.
  7. Recognize the difference between the level of proof needed to begin a management investigation or change and the required level of proof for scientific certainty or actual field research trials.
  8. Recognize improper interpretation of records can lead to two types of mistakes — inappropriate action or inappropriate inaction.
  9. Carefully select monitoring tools (metrics) that possess certain characteristics. 
  10. Do not confuse precision with accuracy.
  11. Do not have increased trust due solely to the complexity of the underlying mathematics.
  12. Recognize the possible existence of systematic errors in common calculations.
  13. Are careful when using benchmarking against other herds and do not use it as the primary means of judging their own performance.

Finally, keep in mind that there is a tendency to dismiss any data that did not come from computers as unimportant or non-objective. While it is true that a manager likely will not succeed if all decisions are based on unfounded feelings, data sources such as visual observations and input from supervisors and labor are extremely valuable and should not be viewed as completely subjective, the experts note.

Download the full paper.