Data can come from all types of sources and piles up in our dashboards and can be of great help or hindrance to the achievement of our goals. If the data isn't managed properly you can make fatal errors that can destroy your business or cost you a lot of money down the road. Because research is expensive most people rely on secondary sources. Secondary sources are cheap but do require a level of care to ensure the data is saying what you think it is saying.
Let us start by saying that secondary data can be expensive! There is a reason why secondary data makes more sense versus inventing and conducting your own research. It can be expensive and time consuming to create new studies. If you don't have the expertise in your business you will likely need outside consultants.
Those businesses that rely on secondary data may want to consider a few issues.....
1. Make sure the data fits your purposes. Secondary data may or may not meet your needs. Just because someone counted the amount of cars it may have no relation to the type of radio those cars use.
2. Check the sources of data. Yes...you need to read the fine print! How the data is collected, organized used and managed is key to deter validity for your study.
3. Look for similar type studies that may support or not support the data collection methods of the study.
You would be amazed but there are times when studies look to create a biased result. This can often happen in political or corporate arenas where a specific outcome has consequences. Academic and government data is more likely to be non-biased when compared to corporate research.
4. Look for non-profits, government, and others who collected data and have a stake in accurate information.
Sometimes the secondary sources are not enough and you must try and build your own knowledge on an ideas. Surveys are often used to help gauge opinions about services and needs. While surveys are generally easy to build if you ask straight forward questions there are all types of caveats and mistakes you can make when you don't have "in house" scientific knowledge. The best bet is to use experts when you plan on using the information for significant investments.
Here is a little advice when determining in house or secondary sources. First try and use secondary sources that provide contextual information about the problem. If there the available information doesn't necessarily answer your question consider an in-house study. Be very sure the answer is worth the time and expense. If you are gauging your customers opinions in a small business just ask them what you want and take notes. If you are poling 20K customers you may want to have someone look at your survey and delivery methods before proceeding.