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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