You’re the expert on your enterprise, but we tend to get so caught up in the day-to-day details of making it work that we all lose sight of the forest for the trees. Even Small and Medium-Sized Organizations have access to a wealth of data. But there are three main challenges to making it useful.
1. Recognizing what is data, and what is useful data. We have data about costs and revenues, storefront traffic, marketing campaigns, employee behaviors, and a host of other things — and those are just the obvious sources within our enterprises. There are also many potential data sources that we don’t see as such: observing customer and employee behavior, informally asking targeted questions of both purchasers and those who choose not to, or company documents are just some of the potential windows into our operations that we tend to overlook. And there are excellent external data sources, often collected by government agencies and trade or professional associations, that can provide community, market, and other contexts for your business operations.
2. Making the data usable. Our data come in many forms, and they don’t naturally go together. But there are many tools we can use to simplify data collection and tracking. A Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice Calc spreadsheet can often do the trick, and there are a growing number of simple digital platforms that automate much of the process and return easy to understand graphs and metrics. You want to focus as much time as possible on your core operations, so data collection and analysis needs to fit seamlessly into your business processes.
3. Understanding what the data say. Most of us aren’t exactly comfortable analyzing and interpreting data. If we were, we’d have gone into a different line of work. We want to focus on our core business processes and messing about with data just seems too far off task. But the right data can help us see patterns we would otherwise miss: Are most of our customers new or returning? Are there cycles for particular products? Is it easier to cross-sell some items for some types of customer?
Just a bit of time and effort to think through your data processes can generate impressive ROI. Better data helps us break out of what we think we know about our businesses. Better data is surprising and useful. It just takes a fresh perspective on the trees we face every day.
So look around your enterprise and ask: What questions do you keep asking yourself? What problems do you keep facing? Then consider: What would you need to know in order to have an actionable answer? How can you most easily get the data you need to keep answering that question in a changing market? The key is to start looking at the world as data — everything is potentially data! The answers are often in front of you, with just a little shift in perspective.