Every day, businesses around the globe are facing pressure. Pressures such as how to increase sales, how to improve efficiency, how to improve utilisation, how to predict future demand and trends, even just working out how to keep the doors open.
There is a tendency when times get tough to just work harder, to just do more (hey, after all hard work got us here, right?). And putting my hand up, I have been guilty of exactly the same thing over the years. But I want to propose a different strategy - understand where your people and systems are helping you (and conversely, where they are getting in the way).
Let me give you an example. Every company stores its business information in a system of some sort, and these systems change all the time (and they need to - staying stagnant is a risk in many industries), some are cloud-based, some are in large business information systems (ERPs) while others exist in spreadsheets. I have not walked into a business yet though where there is a single system that stores all the data and information. And to make this worse, in more than 90% of businesses this data and information is not integrated.
“So what!” you say. “I can still access the data!” “I can still bring reports together.” Absolutely you can, but do you? I say this not with contempt, but with the harsh reality of running a business. For instance, take your CRM and your billing system. You “know” that if the pipeline is not full, that future work may not come in, which will lead to less orders to process. But do you know the connection between your pipeline, the type of clients, the state of your pipeline and the profitability of orders? In half of business there is not this degree of connection. In the other half there is the connection, but it requires someone spending hours pulling together data, looking at the data, analysing and then making decisions. And truly, that is half the battle: realising the importance of what your data can mean to your business’ potential.
And this is what I mean by “does your data even matter”. If you can’t collect and analyse it, what is the point? Sure there is the future potential of the data (and there can be real value here), but what time and effort are you spending collecting it, and then not using it?
But let's take this one step further, you are collecting your data (great!), someone is spending hours pulling it together each month, reporting, and then analysing (not so great). You do this monthly for management/board reporting packs, the data gets viewed two to three weeks after it was generated, decisions get made and then everyone reacts. By this time, the data is up to 8 weeks old. That is a lifetime in some industries!
This is terrible, people, this is what we call lag indicators (i.e. they happen after the event, they are indicators that report the past), and to make it worse, they are lag-lag indicators because the information is not even timely!
So what do you do to fix this?
First off, automate your data collection and reporting across all systems, not just your main one. This is a minefield, one where we spend most of our time helping our clients, bringing systems together (we will have an upcoming article about this topic soon). Next, get the information and analysis flowing in real-time. And I don’t mean daily, I mean hourly or better! At least then you have current data to work with to make decisions.
So now you have all this data, it’s flowing at you so thick and fast that you get into what I call “analysis paralysis” (or as I like to call it, the act of getting so overwhelmed by all the data you never make an actual decision about it). Now we implement exception reporting, that is where the data is outside of normal parameters and need to alert someone to act on it. This enables us to remove all the noise from reporting and concentrate of the exceptions to the rules. This is not easy. In fact, proper exception reporting is hard because it needs to link intrinsically to the business, enter your business strategy, and from there we sort the wheat from the chaff with your systems.
So many software and technology companies will give you a real-time reporting system (most of which don’t integrate with your other systems - hopefully this trend will change over time), a few even give you exception reporting (but normally only out of their system - same issue and argument as before). What very, very few do ... and this is really important, is to integrate your business strategy into their reporting systems. Do you know what happens when real time reporting and business strategy don’t meet? Nobody uses it! To give you an example, what is the point of measuring cleaning costs, when your focus this quarter is on defect rates. It doesn’t make sense! A tool is just a tool unless it is focused, implemented and more importantly, gives insight to business goals!
There is also another extension of this reporting called “predictive analysis”, where we turn those lag indicators into lead indicators, which I will write more about in a future article.
“Right Dan, you’ve shown us what we should do, but how do we do it?”
1 - Talk to your software company about their reporting system and how it can integrate with your business strategy (but in most cases you will need to lead this conversation as many companies only have generic templates they reuse), and push them to how they can integrate your other systems.
2 – Recruit. You may need to get a few people though or find a generalist (data analysts / data scientists / data engineers / business advisors usually specialise just like other professionals do). The trouble is that especially in regional areas, these skills are hard to find. And if you have enough work for the team, they are expensive.
3 - And obviously there is an easy way, which is to shoot me and my team an email (firstname.lastname@example.org or book a meeting here: https://www.pt20.com.au/book-an-appointment). We have a team of geeks, boffins, scientists and analysts that work together to help small and medium businesses on this very journey. We also have a team of people who are focused on business advice to help align the strategy to their systems, not the other way around.
People and change
The harder topic in this process is not the data nor is it the analysis. It’s the people and more specifically, how the team copes with the changes from the analysis.
Any insight and analysis process is only as good as the team you bring along on the journey.
Often we need to marry up insight with strategy. As a result, people will need to change their mindset about the information that is derived and how to utilise it effectively in the organisation. For instance, if we are able to derive an efficiency but half the staff need to change a certain function they perform, then everyone will need to see not only what is in it for them, but also how it matches with the “why” of the organisation. In all projects we ensure that not only do we engage your team, but also utilise change management practices to help get the most out of your investment. We will even bring in external parties where necessary to ensure that change is managed effectively.
Make your data matter. Make intelligent business (not data) decisions. Make them in real-time, or even better, in advance.