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Home » Race to the top: Better data improves everything

Race to the top: Better data improves everything

man wearing a cycle helmet with a lake in the background
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By Matthew Fraser, Socitm technical consultant

At the end of April, I completed Etape Loch Ness, my first long distance cycle event. It was 66 miles (106km) on closed roads, around one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland.

Since then I’ve had the same conversation with most of my friends. First, they ask: ‘How did it go?’

I tell them it went well; that the weather was good – albeit a little cold to start – and the whole event was organised well.

When they ask: ‘How long did it take?’ I can give a very precise answer. Thanks to a timing chip provided by the event, I know It took me 3 hours 59 minutes and 31 seconds.

For those who were only being polite, these two questions are sufficient. But others – mostly those I’m cultivating for future cycling events – follow up with: ‘Is that good?’

Now, that is a really tricky question to answer. After all, what constitutes a ‘good’ time? I know that the event organisers weren’t packing up when I crossed the finish line, so that is a helpful indicator – although perhaps that only means that they expected some to be hopeless.

However, I do have some experience objectively determining what ‘good’ should be. In my work with the Socitm Improve service, I’ve spent the last year developing online dashboards that allow organisations to easily compare how ‘good’ they are. So, it made sense to apply similar methods to my finish time.

(I should disclose that, due to my exertions, I lacked the physical capability to get off the couch at this point, so doing anything more productive was impossible.)

Fortunately, I have two friends (we’ll call them Dave and Dan – because those are their names) who also completed the event. If I knew their times, it would tell me if I was ‘good’.

Dave finished in 4 hours 12 minutes. I tell him that is a good time, while inwardly congratulating myself that I’ve beaten him by a massive 13 minutes. Dan’s response provides another emotion, he completed the course in 2 hours 56 minutes!

I was instantly deflated, perhaps Dave and I were amongst the slowest on the day. But then I remembered my work with Improve: we regularly stress that you can’t base your assumptions on just asking a few neighbouring organisations.

Despite being friends living in the same town, Dave, Dan and I are quite different. Dave is now over 50 and did little training; but he’s a former Royal Marine with an active job. Dan has a desk job but is in his early 30s and took his training very seriously. I’m somewhere in the middle.

Whether you are comparing ICT services or athletic prowess, more data provides a better conclusion. Turning to the Etape website, I found I could view all the final times. Here was the data I needed.

The website also had results for the last four years. However, unlike Improve – where you can now compare over a decade of data –  it wasn’t possible to combine the different years together to build a massive dataset.

This year’s results revealed that out of a field of 4,341, I finished in 1401stplace. After my earlier despair, this was pleasing news. I’d just squeezed into the top third.

Of course, my overall position only tells part of the story. I don’t know how many of my fellow cyclists were slowed by punctures, or the desire to take lots of the pictures (I only took the one above).

We overcome this difficulty in Improve by having regular workshops where participants can openly discuss the reasons behind their relative successes and failures. But I think organising something similar for 4,000 cyclists might seem a little excessive (and involve getting off the couch).

Another comparison that we encourage and facilitate with Improve is to compare against yourself. If you’ve taken part in Socitm’s previous benchmarking services, you can quickly see where you are enhancing your service.

Applying a similar approach, I looked over my past data (fortunately, I record all my cycling data using an app on my phone). It reveals that the Etape was my longest ride in both distance and duration. It was also one of my fastest.

After considering all the above, I now have an answer to: ‘Is that good?’

My time was ‘reasonably good’. It’s possible to go faster but I didn’t embarrass myself. I shouldn’t rest on my laurels, but neither should I throw out the bike. Thanks to all this research, if friends question me further I now have the figures to justify my answer.


If you were asked if your ICT service was ‘good’, what would you say?  Do you have evidence to back up any feelings that you are already excelling, or could do with better funding?

Socitm’s Improve service can help you compare the size, performance and cost-efficiency of your ICT – helping you to concentrate your efforts for improvement or make a case for improved funding.

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