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5 things every SME should know about data

Jason Turner, December 2020

Much has been made about the importance of data over recent years. ‘Big Data’, ‘Data Centricity’, ‘Data Analytics’ and latterly the resurgence of Data Protection via the GDPR are all terms that have become common place. However to many SME’s, data and more importantly, how they can exploit it, remains a mystery. Whilst research continually trumpets the opportunities and potential that data can bring, many SME’s simply don’t know where to start.

We’ve compiled a list of the top 5 things that SME’s need to know about data.

YOU AREN’T USING WHAT YOU HAVE

Research estimates that over 80% of business data is going unused and that business decisions still rely on perception rather than data driven ‘facts’. Most SME data is often in the form of management accounts or management information, which by its nature, is historic. Having up to date, accurate data that is being regularly reviewed, creates immediate opportunity and less surprises. Lets explore some examples where SME’s can use data more effectively:

Customers: Customers largely determine business success yet how much time is spent looking at their buying habits and service experiences? Buying habits have changed tremendously over the last decade as we all adapt to new products and services. Likewise service experiences have changed forever. Whilst traditionally businesses were compared to the offerings of their competitors, these experiences have been reset. The digital giants such as Amazon, Apple et al have reset service expectations for all. As a result, customers want to do it easier and faster and if you don’t keep up, they will find someone who can.

With this in mind, every interaction should be an opportunity to collect and analyse data to help you. The data will create valuable insight into how customers feel and use your services. In addition with the development of ‘off the shelf’ CRM tools, the ability to capture and analyse these interactions has never been so easy and can create real benefit.

Process Efficiency: Businesses depend on processes and controls to support the delivery of their strategic objectives. However how many of those processes and controls are being supported by accurate, up to date, data sets? Without accurate and timely data, leaders cannot ensure that expectations are being met. The consequence is operational inefficiency which drives up costs and reduces quality and value.

IT’S ONLY AS GOOD AS THE QUESTIONS YOU ASK

In its natural state, data is pretty useless. Only by combining it with other data do you start to see benefit. But the data alone doesn’t create value, its the questions posed to it by leaders that makes the difference. But what questions to ask?

If in doubt, start at the top. Each business function is driven by the strategy it supports so start there. If the strategy is for high quality products and services, then the function should have data to support this. So if in doubt, be clear on the strategic goals. Most goals will include financial, quality, time and customer metrics which can be measured. Make sure you then have accurate data sets to support these. You will be surprised by what you find when you start to look!

IT’S A GIFT FOR ALL

Often information is seen as a management tool which is strictly guarded and rarely shared. This ‘knowledge’ is often only wielded when problems arise and solutions are demanded. This is counter productive to an effective performance management culture.

Data has a clear role for everyone in an organisation. Giving individuals clear objectives and reporting functionality will allow them to manage themselves more effectively. Sharing data on operational processes and controls will also drive curiosity and innovation.

NO DATA? NO EFFECTIVE CHANGE

Much is made of the impact of digital disruption yet we forget that we are well accustomed to living with change. However now more so than ever, data is at the heart of that change.

Any change programme should measure the before and after state effectively. Only then can you be assured of a benefit which is ultimately the key driver. Lets look at the rise of CRM’s for example.

The benefit case for an effective CRM solution is often based on increased sales and efficiency. This benefit should exceed the implementation and ongoing costs. Poor implementation, engagement and ownership all often lead to low levels of adoption. This means that the system is under utilised and the original cost/benefit expectations are not met. This ultimately creates further operational inefficiency and potential compliance risks. The outcome to this is often to shelve the system and buy another!

Looking forward, we are living in a world where Artificial Intelligence promises much. It is clear that it brings significant benefit to business. However its whole being is centred on the ability to use data. So if you aren’t accurately and efficiently capturing and using your existing sets, where does that leave you?

YOU NEED TO PROTECT IT

Data is THE greatest asset for most businesses. Not sure? Ask yourself this. ‘Without any type of data, could we actually function?’ Removing all personal data means no employees, customers, records nor governance. Pretty clear how important data is!

Despite this, most businesses don’t think to protect what they have. Poor infrastructure, ill conceived solutions, poor people practices are all common place. Yet the ramifications for miss use can be catastrophic for most.

For personal data, failure to comply with the GDPR leaves businesses open to significant fines. For other business data, the consequences are just as severe. In the wrong hands, data can create significant harm.

Businesses should take steps to protect data as they would any other asset. Clear strategies and structured policies supported by staff awareness and training is critical. Afterall people are often the greatest risk to any business.

Data is here to stay. For those leaders that can learn to understand and exploit it, the future is very bright.

Want to know more? Get in touch….

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    DATA – THE OIL FOR 21ST CENTURY BUSINESS

    We’ve all heard the analogy and most agree, its big business, data.  Everywhere you look, businesses are being sold the benefits of being ‘data centric’ and as individuals, we are all becoming acutely aware of the value of our own data and the risks to us if businesses mis-use it.  Yet for many businesses, it remains a mystery and an untapped opportunity.

    At a recent business networking event, we caught up with Jason Turner of Data2Action., an operational performance and privacy consultancy who specialise in helping businesses drive value from data. 

    As a former director of Bloom Procurement Services and the BGL group, owners of brands such as ‘Compare the Market’, Jason Turner is very experienced in the commercial use of data and more importantly, how to turn this important asset into real value.

    Here Jason gives his views on the importance of data to modern business and some simple steps organisations need to take to leverage the value from this asset.  

    “The growth of data is nothing short of phenomenal.  The availability of data has exploded over the last decade and with every new application or software product, we create more and more.  In fact, it is estimated that over 90% of the worlds data has been created in the last 2 years alone yet despite this, 80% of business data is actually going unused’ explains Jason.  ‘However using data in its raw state provides few benefits, like oil, it’s the processing of data and using it effectively that provides businesses with unique opportunities. Research highlights that those businesses that put data at their heart ie are data centric and continually process the data available to them, are smarter, more innovative and more agile. In todays digital world, this processing activity provides insight and wisdom and combined with an effective data strategy, presents real and tangible benefits.’

    When asked why businesses seem to be slow to embrace the benefits that data can bring, Jason is clear ‘Both in my career and also through Data2Action, we have worked with many businesses on their data journey and there are a number of reasons why they seem to be slow to embrace the benefits that data can bring:

    • Knowing where to start.  In our experience, most recognise that they have lots of data and the value this could bring but don’t know how to leverage or process it to achieve value. Businesses are constantly being bombarded with promotions offering the benefits of big data, digitisation and digital transformation but what does this all mean? In most cases this links back to the sale of technology which often promises much and delivers little, in fact, a significant proportion of ‘data projects’ actually fail to deliver. This, in turn, creates distrust and confusion around the subject.   
    • Heavy reliance on perception.  Perception is a tricky subject for most. Perceptions are emotion based and have their foundation in old facts and previous experiences.  Effectively we are using the past to shape our future and whilst perceptions definitely have a place in our decision making, this is often at the expense of actual data. The challenge is that in our digital environment, every single vertical is being disrupted and the need to move quickly to deal with change is now critical. Yet as leaders, are we challenging our own paradigms and personal biases and effectively using the data being presented to us to help identify the new requirements as the emerge and mature?
    • Speed and Agility. Speed and agility is a critical skill in todays marketplace.  It simply doesn’t matter how big your company is, if you can’t spot a changing market soon enough, then you are destined for trouble.  History is littered with high profile failures where the new appetites and desires of consumers where being missed by businesses who didn’t use data effectively to spot these emerging trends. In addition, whereas previously data used for management information was backwards looking ie what has happened, the advancements in technology and data science means that there are many tools out there designed to accurately predict what will happen.  This is a game changer for business leaders.
    • Regulation. Unfortunately, the recent changes to data protection and privacy regulations have served to confuse and concern businesses.  Rather than being a catalyst for driving trust and loyalty with your customers, personal data is being treated with concern.  The regulations were never intended to restrict business use of data rather ensure that they were demonstrating that they were being accountable for the proper use and care of this asset.

    So what should business do if they want to leverage the benefits that data can bring? Jason explains ‘There are a couple of critical things that every business should look to exploit:

    • Create a data driven culture.  Like most things in business, it all starts with the leadership team developing a view of the future and supporting this with clear and tangible actions to drive cultural change. Without a vision and plan, you can spend an awful lot of time and money going nowhere fast.. Once you have are clear, it is imperative to engage and enthuse your teams to this vision so they can contribute and keep the journey energised.
    • Understand what data you have and what you need. Seems simple but its staggering the amount of businesses that simply don’t know what they collect and what they use.  Not only does this present a potential regulatory problem (if its personal data) but without the availability of pertinent and accurate data, businesses are back to relying on perception.  Simple tools such as user experience diagrams and operational process maps are invaluable at identifying what data is available and also whats required.  Once gathered, businesses can explore the relationships between data sets and thus create information and wisdom.  
    • Visualise it. There is no point having tonnes of meaningful data if you cant see what its telling you.  Data Visualisation tools and skills are vital at bringing the relationships and stories that data tells, to life.Visualisation helps inform and educate leaders and decision makers and timely visualisation can be used to empower change.
    • Above all, start small. In our experience, a big bang approach, rarely works.  Find a topic (increasing sales, increasing loyalty etc) and start there.  Create your vision, collect and identify data, fill any gaps, enthuse your teams and above all start to measure your progress through great visualisation.  There is an old saying management ‘you manage what you measure’ and this is still true. 

    With data highlighted as the very foundation of any change program, its effective processing becomes vital.  The ability to recognise and process data effectively is a much a skill as it is a technological development and this all begins with a common denominator, Leadership.

    Data2Action have a long pedigree of leading businesses through significant change.  Our team of friendly, knowledgeable and operational  practitioners can seamlessly support businesses with a wide range of services including: workshops and staff awareness training, full project management support, independent review of your processes, systems and plans.

    Whether you want a friendly ‘sounding board’ or more detailed support, Data2Action can provide it

    Contact details info@data2action.co.uk or ring 0333 202 6397

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    Data drives Directors in a new direction

    Data drives directors in a new direction

    A PAIR of directors who swapped the insurance industry for the tech sector are reaping the rewards with the continued expansion of their fast-growing start-up.

    Jason Turner and Sarah Burns launched Data2Action in 2017, having worked at insurance giant BGL Group as operational directors for a combined total of nearly two decades.

    Originally working from home, the pair launched the business by combining their extensive operational and business transformation experience to provide support to companies wanting to grow and improve their operating performance.

    “Initially, we provided operational and data protection services to a number of large clients spread across the country,” Jason said. “Then, we started to see a real rise in demand from companies in the North East including those in the tech sector.

    “Having both held senior positions at BGL Group, the parent company of Comparethemarket.com, we’d both witnessed first-hand the importance of using data effectively to drive operational performance.

    “With the ever-present advancement in technology and the desire for most organisations to optimise their performance, many are looking at ways to transform what they do in order to future proof their business.

    “Whilst buying technology goes someway to help that, creating a data centric culture is paramount to success and we believe as a centre for excellence, the North East has great potential.”

    Data2Action

    The introduction of GDPR last year had a huge impact on the business world, harmonising data privacy laws across Europe and ensuring businesses give greater protection and rights to the individuals whose data they capture and store.

    Jason added: “It’s a commonly used phrase in the tech industry nowadays that data is the new oil, and it isn’t far from the truth. The value of data has risen massively in recent years and with the introduction of GDPR, it has become as important as ever for businesses to not only protect their data but also to maximise the effects of it.

    “Research shows that up to 80% of business data in the UK actually goes unused, and by working with businesses we can leverage value by working smarter not harder. We help businesses understand what they have and work with them to improve the way they collect, store and utilise their data. This helps give leaders a better understanding of not only their business but also their customers, driving real organisational results.”

    Data2Action helps companies understand, use and protect their data, increasing the value of this important asset and enabling them to gain a predictive insight into not only business performance but also into identifying opportunities for innovation and product development.

    The company, which is based within a co-working facility at the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), has grown rapidly since its launch two years ago – employing seven highly-skilled associates alongside Jason and Sarah – and has ambitious plans for the future.

    “We can’t believe how fast we’ve grown over the last two years,” Jason said. “We now have a team of seven experts on our books, alongside Sarah and myself, and plan to continue growing this number as we look to the future.

    “We’re currently looking at investing in a new office at the BIC, which will allow us to not only better serve our clients but also to bring all of our team together to think about how we can continue to improve our service going forward.

    “It will also mean we’ll be located right at the heart of the North East, giving us easy access to our clients across the region as well as being able to tap into support from the local authorities, universities and of course the National Innovation Centre for Data at Newcastle University, which was a huge draw for us choosing the North East. Add to that the rapidly growing tech scene and it was a no-brainer.”

    Donna Surtees, Centre Manager at the BIC, said: “We were delighted when Jason and Sarah first came to the BIC to hotdesk and are incredibly proud of how much they’ve grown in such a short period of time.

    “To have already created seven highly-skilled roles and to already be looking at larger office space is testament to all of the hard work the team have put in over the last two years and we wish them all the best going forward.”

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    CRM Tools: A Friend or Foe?


     By Sarah Burns, Director

    ‘Data? I don’t need help with that. I have 4 CRM’s’

    This was feedback from a networking group we recently attended.  Whilst its easy to jump to conclusions re the effectiveness of such a strategy, the simple fact is that managing a customer relationship across 4 separate and I suspect, unrelated platforms is littered with issues and I was left wondering how effective this approach was in driving an insight into the customer experience and influencing their loyalty.

    Data2action are invariably presented with a variety of CRM solutions engaged by todays businesses. Whether we are being asked to help improve operating efficiency, drive customer loyalty or help understand and mitigate privacy risks, relationship software has found its niche in most modern businesses and the numbers are truly breath taking.

    As a concept, Customer Relationship Management has its roots in Marketing back in the 1980’s.  With the explosion of the digital economy,  Forbes now estimate the CRM market to be worth over $120 billion and with hundreds of different solutions on offer, it has helped transform the relationships between buyer and seller.  Improved sales and service processes, increased value and greater insight into customer behaviour are all benefits that CRM solutions can bring.  According to Nutshell:

    • The average return on investment on CRM software is $8.71 for every dollar spent.
    • They can help increase sales by up to 29%, sales productivity by up to 34%, and sales forecast accuracy by 42%.
    • 47% of users said that their CRM had a significant impact on customer retention.

    It’s a business case that seemingly writes itself but does the implementations actually guarantee success?

    All that glitters….

    A quick search of the internet highlights the plethora of solutions promising significant return on investment but look more closely, there are also cautionary tales. In a 2017 blog, Intelestream pointed to research that highlighted a failure rate of between 47% and 63% for CRM solutions. They are not alone.  Gartner have also previously reported failure rates of 50% which should make Leaders nervous as to the potential returns. Our own experience highlights solutions that have failed to live up to expectations.  We commonly see poor adoption, lack of clarity of purpose, and questionable data as areas that are common place and in todays market where data privacy is a key concern for most businesses, a sub optimal solution may actually present unnecessary risks.

    Before you ‘plug and play’

    Its easy to be seduced by the ease of implementation and attractive business benefits that an effective solution can provide. However before you ‘plug and play’ here are some common themes we often see with our Clients:

    Lack of clarity

    Ask yourself, what exactly do you want the system to do for you and what are the specific benefits? Are you clear as to the measurable outputs you expect to attain in terms of your own business model and does the solution you are looking to engage deliver that?  We often conduct customer experience mapping exercises with Clients and its clear that much of the data that needs to be captured, simply isn’t there. Our experience highlights that a ‘one size fits all’ solution rarely satisfies the unique needs of a business and whilst its easy to be consumed with the ‘glitz and glamour’ of what the system was designed to do, have you a vision and the clarity of the expected outputs?

    Cultural engagement

    As with most digital transformation and adoption, engaging the key stakeholders in the business is key.  Implementation alone never drives success if the people that are to use it are simply not engaged and it cannot be easily integrated with your existing systems and processes. All too often such systems are driven by IT procurement when deep organisational value is derived when all stakeholders including end users and customers are engaged from the outset in the design and delivery. The value of the system is derived from the activity and data it produces and poor adoption and integration will create reduced buy in and reducing returns as alternative solutions are sought.  This can often lead to a cycle of switching CRM products creating more cost and anxiety.

    Use and protect the data.

    The effective analysis and use of the data that a good CRM solution provides will invariably help enhance your decision making and achieve your expected outputs.  However poorly structured, out of date, irrelevant data will reduce engagement and increase privacy risks. Not only will the benefits be hard to come by, in storing unnecessary, poor quality data you may run the risk of breaching the current privacy legislation. Understanding what you have, why you need it and who you share it with are all prerequisites when dealing with data today.

    Data centricity – the new advantage.

    Having a fully adopted and functional CRM solution can be a powerful weapon to any business.  The effective use of data in todays digital economy ca create significant value and competitive advantage and the successful adoption of a carefully considered CRM solution is key to much of that success.

    Back to the 4 CRM business.  After a coffee and a chat, we set to work and they now have a coherent approach to maximising the customer data in their possession and are seeing real benefits in driving efficiency and effectiveness.  Oh and they have saved money with a single solution provided by another provider who received clear instructions as to their needs a built a solution to match.

    www.burnsandturner.co.uk