We hear a lot of talk about businesses being driven by data. If you look it up, you’ll find definitions that talk about making strategic decisions based on how data is interpreted.
That sounds good, but what does it mean in practice? And how is that relevant in large organisations that already know (or think they know) how to make good decisions?
We always try to keep a lid on the jargon and geek speak here at 345 Technology, so I’ve used an analogy to get it straight in my head and hopefully explain it more clearly.
Kim’s rather odd conference analogy
Imagine that you’re at a big conference (they’re starting to come back at last!).
There’s a big-hitting keynote speaker onstage – perhaps a he or a she, it doesn’t matter – addressing a couple of thousand people.
The speaker asks you to check your pockets for cash. However much you’ve got, the speaker tells you to think about how you might use that cash to do some good – to help the world in some small way.
The only condition is that you have to do this good act on your own.
Now, you might have only pennies on you. More likely, you have a few pounds. If you’ve been caught at the right time, perhaps you’re particularly flush and have a few twenties burning a hole in your pocket.
Whatever the amount, you can do something with it. You could buy someone a coffee, get them a self-help book or perhaps even shout them for a new pair of boots. All well and good – you’ve done something worthy.
If everyone at the conference did this, that’s lots of small positive acts in isolation. Undoubtedly a good thing.
What's better than lots of small acts?
Lots of individuals doing lots of small things is great, but there’s always a limit to how much of an impact this approach could ever have.
Now imagine that the keynote speaker had asked to you take a different approach.
Instead of taking charge of doing the good things by yourself based on what’s in your own pockets alone, you’re asked to imagine pooling what you’ve got with the contents of everyone else’s pockets and then doing something good together.
Remember that we’re not talking about a small room here. The keynote speaker is addressing a couple of thousand people.
Suddenly, you have a much bigger budget to play with
If everyone submitted to the speaker’s idea (and let’s set aside how suggestible everyone would have to be to actually do this), we’d end up with a pool comprising tens of thousands of pounds.
The same prompt to do some good now leads to rather different possibilities.
How could the collective with their pooled resources make a difference now? Suddenly there’s a chance to really change lives.
- Perhaps the money would be enough to take some homeless people off the street and set them up for life.
- Perhaps you could help even more people by investing that money to grow it, then cash it out and do more good work.
- Perhaps sharing the responsibilities of what to do with the money means that you can bounce good ideas off each other and come up with something you’d never have imagined or have been capable of executing in isolation.
And therein lies the power of data
The analogy above shows that opportunities can be more powerful and exciting when resources are pooled and you work with shared ideas and from a larger fund.
There’s collective intellect and brainstorming going on, and more capability to do something off the back of it.
It’s exactly the same with data.
Lots of individual bits of it that live in silos can’t ever help you achieve much on their own.
Whether it’s a business application or a spreadsheet or any other item of data, it all starts off as the “loose change” that you can’t really do that much with. And the insight that you get from that data is often useful, but rarely game-changing. Interesting reports, some helpful BI (Business Intelligence), some real-time dashboards.
But when you bring it all together, when you turn that loose change into a consolidated pile of cash, with lots of minds thinking about how best to use it, that’s when something more powerful can start to happen.
Seeing the power in data
Joining up your data, tidying it and making plans for it is much more exciting than leaving it all separate.
Once people begin to see that – from the top of an organisation right down to the front line – you get the chance to create a data-driven culture.
A data-driven culture means understanding and harnessing the potential of all your pooled data. The loose change didn’t matter on its own, but the pile of cash has serious value.
One of the biggest challenges is to get the business leaders at the top of the chain to see this value so that the majority of people within an organisation pull together. It’s no mean feat. We need to see:
- Bravery: departments need to let down borders and share data within their organisation (and there’s some possible issues around giving up control they thought they should hold on to).
- Buy-in: just as with good marketing, everyone needs to be on the same page. It must never be one department’s role to “make data work”.
- Budget: department heads need to commit IT budgets to data pooling.
And once we get people onboard?
Getting people to change their mindset about the importance of data pooling is the biggie. But once you’ve overcome that hurdle, you’ll want to make strides with that data.
Going back to our conference cash analogy, it’s all well and good having that pile to draw on, but how do you best use it? Would it be better to completely transform the lives of a few people? Or would a more modest investment in, say, 50 people be a smarter use of funds?
It’s now a case of pooling the knowledge, intelligence and experience in the room to make the best use of the cash. Using that wonderful bundle of humanity and brain-power to tackle what really matters, to prioritise what needs to be done first and, vitally, to test what that cash can do before committing a really big chunk of it.
Leaping back into business, this translates into creating different use cases and building small Proofs of Concept (PoCs) to show what works – and to learn what doesn’t. This is a fail-fast cultural approach which lets you quickly test and understand what’s most effective. We can soon see what’s best to do next, with continuous feedback and learning.
And that means your business makes better strategic decisions over time.
We are good at helping businesses make better use of the “loose change” data that their systems are full of, so that they can become truly data-driven organisations that make better strategic decisions.