This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Smart Business Philadelphia magazine.
Businesses that thrive in today’s competitive marketplace recognize that the data they collect on a daily basis can be a valuable asset.
But just collecting data isn’t enough. It’s critical to organize this business intelligence so that it is accessible and can be analyzed to improve an organization’s performance by driving innovation, spurring fresh ideas and giving managers the tools to make smarter business decisions, says Sassan Hejazi, director of the Technology Solutions Group at Kreischer Miller.
"Having the ability to analyze data and use it as a benchmarking tool internally and against competitors can change the culture and character of an organization," says Hejazi.
Smart Business spoke with Hejazi about how to centralize business intelligence and how that data can be harvested and used to make key business decisions.
How can data be valued as assets in today’s business environment?
Companies are capturing valuable data in numerous ways — from clients who make online purchases, from sales calls and even through daily business practices.
Consider the volume of electronic documents that your business creates and files away each day. Now, ask yourself, ‘Is this information easily accessible?’ Businesses collect enormous amounts of data that are tucked away, often in disparate locations, during the regular course of business. However, all of this collected data is not effective if it cannot be accessed and analyzed and acted upon.
More businesses are working toward going paperless and storing their data in a centralized repository versus in file folders and boxes. When data is uniformly formatted and accessible on a centralized system, the business intelligence that can be gained is incredibly valuable. Businesses should aim to implement systems that allow them to harvest this data so they can make better decisions.
What are some common missteps that businesses make with collecting and accessing data?
Often, companies need to capture data quickly, so they settle for a quick fix. For example, a salesperson visiting with a potential client transfers information into an Excel document, then presses ‘save’ on his tablet. Another member of the sales team gathers information from a phone call and enters it into a spreadsheet on his desktop computer.
There are countless pieces of disparate data floating around that don’t connect; therefore, the information cannot be linked, harvested and analyzed to make business decisions. The answer to this problem is to centralize all data so that managers in your organization can build reports and analyses of this data, making decisions based on the whole picture.
What are the first steps to centralizing data so they become uniform and accessible?
The first order of business is to design a data collection system and decide how that data will be managed. That is called creating a data map, a system of how data will be merged, uniformly formatted and accessed within an organization.
This requires an understanding of what data currently exist by taking an inventory of an organization’s data assets. Then, a plan is configured to migrate toward an integrated data management system.
This process requires a multidisciplinary approach involving business process owners and technology staff. These players must all work together to ensure that the data map addresses the business and technology objectives of the company.
From there, information systems can be designed to add capabilities for allowing a business to capture data in a more integrated fashion. With this, a company is in a position to maximize its technology investment and use reporting tools to gain a competitive advantage.
What is the best way to present data to managers so they can use them to make key business decisions?
Once a centralized data system is in place, a business can implement dashboards, which are the most effective way to present all of this collected data to managers and other stakeholders. Dashboards are displays that can appear in different user-friendly formats, such as a speedometer or graph.
Dashboards are the new way to report information because they can capture and analyze selected data. They are able to give managers a picture of what’s going on inside and outside of the organization. Dashboards create a link between day-to-day activities in the business and long-term goals, plans and objectives. And, they’re simple to view on a computer screen and understand.
How can companies harvest data for a competitive advantage?
Data can lend insight into opportunities and risks. For example, a sales and marketing team can use collected data to benchmark performance against targeted sales goals. The team members can learn from high performers and track sales trends. Access to sales data can change the culture of sales management in an organization.
The same goes for operations. Operations managers can understand where bottlenecks, as well as efficiencies, exist in their processes and then compare those to industry benchmarks. This gives a business the spirit of continuous improvement.
Having data at your fingertips to analyze and compare how you stack up against the competition can aid in evolving your company’s culture, better managing risks and moving it toward being a more performance-oriented organization.●
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