It’s 2017, the year of virtual reality and the iPhone number something or other. You can find a dog, house, car or yacht online and buy it. You can use your cell phone to tell celebrities exactly what you thought of their last film, or let a company know that it isn’t okay they messed up your order and haven’t answered your emails. Technology is permanently incorporated into our everyday lives, and that technology is spewing out data faster than we can upload our latest witty tweet and be irritated that only two people liked it.
Despite this marvellous technological revolution, nearly 50% of small businesses do not have an online presence. That’s no Facebook page for happy, or not-so-happy, customers to comment on, no website to tell the world you exist and what you do, and no business-growing, innovation-helping data. Now we are talking about small businesses here, but if you’re an older, bigger company it’s also time to ask yourself if you’re really working with data or ignoring it. Here are three ways you can start working with data to benefit your business.
If you’re not online, get online and look at how people are interacting with you
Your reaction might be “but we’re not an online business. “ That’s not true, these days everyone is online and if you’re not, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.
This is also the perfect place to start if you’re intimidated by the idea of working with data. It’s human interaction, but in digital form – instead of recording how many people come into your shop or book an appointment, you’ll be looking at how many people looked at your website online, then you can see what they showed interest in and how long they looked at it. Then you can see where they live, their gender, age, hobbies, and whether or not they’ve visited you before. This is basic Google Analytics data I’m talking about – can you see just what an advantage you get from, one, having a website and two, using a free resource to monitor it.
Now for you small business owners who already have this sorted out, a second challenge…
Look at the data you already have and figure out how to use it
I’m no longer talking about simple Google Analytics here, I’m talking about historical data, maybe even from before you got smart and got online. Data from systems like tills, stock recorders and appointment makers are also invaluable – you might think you’re in the know from being in business twenty years, but things change and what worked 5 years ago will likely not work now.
Nearly any digital system you’re using can be modified or updated to give you even more data to fiddle with and draw conclusions from. It can tell you the busiest time in your shop so you can hire an extra member of part-time staff, or tell you when you need to be more available for client meetings, or tell you what items you sell more of so you can rearrange your warehouse for easier access.
Historical data and hooking up systems you’re already using have the unique ability to show how you can improve efficiency with what you’re doing now. This is the quickest pay off that good data handling can give and one that will show in real terms.
However, working in an industry that innovates has it’s own set of concerns…
Invest in data technology to stay ahead of the competition
It’s a simple statement that’s hard to employ, and for good reason. The data technology that’s going to help you nurture your data and put you ahead of your competitors might still be being developed – I’m not kidding.
Big data is complex and despite the data industry’s almost universal standard of Apache Hadoop, which is open source, the variations of programmes being made is huge. The reason the data technology for you might not yet exist yet, is that no one has yet seen the gap in the market and had the brains to build it. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a million ways to invest in technology now. I could go into all the technology available, but instead I will talk about one.
A prime example is scientific companies, particularly those with research and development. These businesses are nothing but innovation, so data from every stage of the process needs to be recorded for analysis, but how do you deal with the data from experiments and research? It’s easy to track phone calls, sales, and stock – the need for this is massive so it’s all in place – but how do you share research data and lab results, then compare them to tests being carried out simultaneously, and compare to previous trials? Enter the electronic laboratory notebook, the specific technological invest for data management for this industry. And bam, we have a company where everything is digital, recorded, and can be analysed while the competition is still figuring out how to compare research on a Mac and a PC.
To sum up, my innovative small business owners – don’t ignore your data, nurture it.