Thursday, July 24, 2008

Forget the Data. Eat the Ice Cream.

It’s summer and time for vacations. Even so, it’s difficult for a data-centric guy like me to shut off thoughts of information quality, even during times of rest and relaxation.
Case in point, my family and I just took a road trip from Boston to Burlington, VT to visit the shores of Lake Champlain. We loaded up the mini-van and headed north. Along the way, you drive along beautiful RT 89, which winds its way through the green mountains and past the capital - Montpelier.
No trip to western Vermont is complete without a trip to the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream manufacturing plant in Waterbury. They offer a tour of the plant and serve up a sample of the freshly made flavor of the day at the end. The kids were very excited.
However, when I see a manufacturing process, my mind immediately turns to data. As the tour guide spouted off statistics about how much of any given ingredient they use, and which flavor was the most popular (Cherry Garcia), my thoughts turned to the trustworthiness of the data behind it. I wanted him to back it up by telling me what ERP system they used and what data quality processes were in place to ensure the utmost accuracy in the manufacturing process. Inside, I wondered if they had the data to negotiate properly with the ingredients vendors and if they really knew how many heath bars, for example, they were buying across all of their manufacturing plants. Just having the clean data and accurate metrics around their purchasing processes could save them thousands and thousands of dollars.
The tour guide talked about a Jack Daniels flavored ice cream that was now in the “flavor graveyard” mostly because the main ingredient was disappearing from the production floor. I thought about inventory controls and processes that could be put in place to stop employee pilfering.
It went on and on. The psychosis continued until my daughter exclaimed “Dad. This is the coolest thing ever! That’s how they make Chunky Monkey!” She was right. It was perhaps the coolest thing ever to see how they made something we use nearly every day. It was cool to take a peak inside the corporate culture of Ben and Jerry’s. It popped me back into reality.
Take your vacation this year, but remember that life isn’t only about the data. Remember to eat the ice cream and enjoy.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer. The material written here is copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Sarsfield. To request permission to reuse, please e-mail me.