Data management lessons from Google


In a previous post, I explored the data-management strategies that companies can learn from Amazon. In short, there's a great deal to admire about how Jeff Bezos, et. al, manage ungodly amounts of data.

Today, I'll turn my lens towards another big data heavyweight: Google. (You may have heard of it.)

A Truly Data-Centric Business Model

"Data is a tremendously important corporate asset."


How many times have you heard a CXO say something to that effect? I'd bet quite often. Most of the time, those words fall on deaf ears. That is, an organization's actions betray its credo. Put differently, there's a world of difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.

Not at Google. If anything, the company might be too good at the data game.


Your Google search results may very well be the same as mine, even if we search for the same term. Six years ago, Google began personalizing everyone's search results. Google knows me well enough that, when I type in "Rush", I mean the Canadian power trio—not the talk show host.


What do I search for? How frequently do I search?

In many organizations, answering questions like these require calls to the IT department.

That's so 1998. Why not give users and customers the ability to fish for themselves? To explore? To discover nascent trends? (These are key points in The Visual Organization.)

Again, this is exactly what Google does. Any user can view how he or she uses Google's search engine in a very visual way:

Consistency and Simplicity

In January of 2012, Google announced that it would consolidate its 60 different privacy policies. We can debate the merits of those policies ad naseum, but at least those policies are now consistent. This is why you might see ads for golf clubs in Gmail after watching a video on how to cure your slice.

Contrast that with how many organizations handle their information. A bouillabaisse of disparate applications, Band-Aids, and systems often make it difficult, if not impossible, to determine a single version of the truth.


When was the last time that you went to a Google property such as its search page, YouTube, or Gmail and saw the following image? (Forget for a moment problems with your ISP.)

I'm guessing never—and this is no accident. Google invests billions of dollars in its software and data centers. Is it being charitable here? Hardly. Google is a for-profit company, not a government utility. The company's search algorithm, PageRank, actually improves over time. Being able to quickly and effectively process more data means better search results and, ultimately, more money for the company.


Throughout the organization, employees at Google understand that "data" is inherently dynamic. This is why PageRank has not remained constant over the years. Most recently, the company has updated its algorithm to prioritize mobile-friendly sites. What worked very well yesterday may not work tomorrow.

Simon Says

Of course, Google doesn't bat 1.000. There's a great deal to glean from the company about what not to do, but that's the subject of a separate post.

For now, suffice it say that many organizations manage their data poorly. Google isn't one of them.


What say you?


About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

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