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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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    Data2Action Blog

    Everyone’s digitally transforming their businesses… aren’t they?


    By Sarah Burns, Data2Action (Apr ’19)

    We frequently get asked by clients to help with their ‘digital transformation’ programmes, sometimes at the outset as they work out exactly what such a programme could or should include and some, at the point their programme is deemed to have failed.

    Many start out with a strong view that to achieve future success they must ‘transform digitally’ but when we dig a little deeper and ask exactly what they mean by this they struggle to give a direct answer. Some confuse digital transformation with digitalisation. Others feel they’ll be left behind if they don’t have digital technology in their business or they feel they need such a programme as ‘everyone else’ has one, haven’t they?

    Well yes, that may be the case for both points and admittedly, ‘digital transformation’ does seem to be one of the current buzz words in business with benefits to business being widely reported.

    However as we explain, it’s much more than just about new technology solutions and more about a whole business transformation, a complete programme of change geared around the organisation strategy and goals and which creates a fundamental new business model. To add further clarity, we explain the difference between digitalisation which is more akin to updating existing processes with a digital solution and digital transformation which is fundamentally doing something different.

    Alarmingly, whilst many seem to be undertaking digital transformation programmes, a recent survey by Forester shows the majority (over two thirds) state they had failed to realise their business objectives. Only 16% in fact claim to have realised improved performance and more importantly, sustained improved performance.

    So why might this be the case? Well, our experience shows many organisations approach digital transformation on mass and very often from an internal perspective. They implement new digital technology solutions that address an internal challenge, for example, to automate processes and cut costs, or because it’s the latest technology and it’s perceived to have worked for other businesses. That may well be the case however, all businesses are different, and its important to implement change that fits each business and more importantly is aligned to outcomes to improve either products or services for customers.

    Taking a more external view such as a customer led approach, is much more likely to yield greater value. We’ve experienced situations where organisations have developed a new app for their customers or implemented an online chat solution into their service proposition. Both may well be game changing developments however this will only be the case if the solutions have been created from a customer (external) perspective. Just because you have new digital technology solutions available for your customers doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll automatically see any value and hence use the new solution as you expected.

    Taking an external view will ensure your customer needs and experience are carefully thought through, before deciding what new technology is right to meet their needs. Taking this approach where customers are at the heart of the solution will result in greater usage, an improved customer experience and in turn improved business results.

    So, if it’s about adopting an external view and truly understanding the needs of customers, how do you go about creating a digital transformation programme and what are the core components that will achieve your digital organisational strategy and goals?

    From our experience, such a significant change programme must be created, led and supported by the Leadership team, but with input from employees and customers who hold vital insight into what is working now and what needs to change. This data and insight more often than not sits within your business. Do you currently measure your customers experience, or do you measure retention rates for example, if so, then this, amongst many other sources of data and insight, will lead you to understand what and how to transform, be it a change to a product or the service you provide.

    Furthermore, creating a clear company communication plan that sets out the vision for the change will engender employee buy in and trust rather than fear and resentment. Hand in hand with communicating the vision is to develop a digitally savvy work force. This may mean upskilling current employees and/ or attracting new skills into the business. And finally, equipping your digitally savvy workforce with digitally enabled tools to do their jobs, and empowering them to think and work differently from more traditional methods, all of which will create a mindset and cultural change to achieve improved and sustained performance.

    To find out more about how we can help with your digital transformation please contact us at info@data2action.co.uk