Why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively.
It’s everywhere and it’s generated every second. Just texted someone? You created data. Just booked an Uber. You created data. Did some grocery shopping? You created data. And that’s before we even get to your professional context. Sending an email, making notes in a meeting, paying invoices, assessing your business strategy. It’s all data.
With ninety per cent of the world’s data having been created in the last two years, Domo’s recent report shares some staggering facts about the explosion of information; equivalent to approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. Not quite sure what quintillion is? If I say a massive, it’s a huge understatement. But you get the idea.
So, with all of this data, why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively. And with all the talk of digital transformation and the role of analytics driving new insights, why is it proving so hard to translate data into meaningful actions and outcomes? These three things really do matter:
1. Upgrade your business and your thinking
Historically, legacy systems, fragmented business models and poor documentation are all elements that contributed to the difficulty of accessing meaningful data. Historically, organisations would have to work for months to collate important data on every aspect of the business; customers, sales, financials, and forecasting to name a few. Data would often be incomplete, unclear, or in some instances, missing. If you weren’t looking for it, you would be working on cleansing it, a painful by-product of the adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. The paradox of the digital world is that this becomes so much easier and harder at the same time. Easier because the capabilities of technology allow analysis of data to be faster and more insightful than ever before. We can now find patterns in historical information, and create predictions that help businesses position resources where demand and customer expectations intersect. And prediction is the alchemy of organisational success. Studying classics at university, I understand that prophecy and prediction are all about enabling the competitive advantage. And technology can enable that with thankfully a lot more clarity than a Delphic oracle.
The flipside of this however is that systems, processes and models are not necessarily well positioned to take advantage of what is now possible. Doing things the same way is not designed to deliver a different outcome and for many organisations looking for quick wins, the foundational and cultural changes required to achieve foundational transformation are too complex. It’s easier to implement a digital technology. While that will improve the current state, the absence of a more comprehensive improvement strategy means an organisation will only go so far. To capitalise on the real opportunity data must become part of the DNA.
2. Don’t tell me more, tell me what matters
Along with internal and market data, organisations are now able to access a new world of data. Social media, third party data including weather and GPS, IoT and devices. Today data is literally and metaphorically, Big. The opportunity for an organisation here is that they can learn and use so much information that was previously unavailable. The agriculture industry can use weather and IoT to identify optimal harvest time, and retailers can use their own loyalty and purchase data with social media to target customers with highly personalised promotions and offers. And so with the quantum of data being so big, leaders are faced with another well known conundrum; that of analysis-paralysis. Where the challenge previously may have been not knowing enough because it wasn’t available or feasible to access, leaders are now confronted with the proliferation of data that creates a risk around not knowing enough because there is likely more that should be known. The organisational problem this creates then is that leaders are unable or unwilling to make a decision because the breadth of information is just too confusing or because there is personal risk in making a decision that may be proven to be incorrect if more data presents itself. Another mindset shift is required here and that is for leaders to make a decision based on the best possible facts at the time, and be ready to adapt and course correct should new data provide a different option.
3. How you use it matters even more than what you have
Data and big tech companies present very interesting case studies for cross-industry insight on how data can be used, and misused. Some companies, like Apple’s Tim Cook, have come out very publicly to discuss privacy and how consumer data should be used, and how it should be protected. Others, like Facebook, have been conspicuous in their silence and their absence on their use of data given it underpins their business model. The last two years have seen a significant change in sentiment on what we, as citizens and as consumers, are willing to accept and condone. And while the conversation is still being played out, and the resolution is unclear at this time, it does provide valuable insight for any organisation that is collecting data and contemplating options for how it can be used. Trust in brand, and trust in leaders cannot be separated from how an organisation conducts itself.