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.
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