Small Businesses Benefit from Business Intelligence too.
Data, data everywhere...
As with the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem "Water, water everywhere..." these lines describe situations where we sometimes find ourselves, like becalmed sailors surrounded by water but unable to drink a drop. Business owners might find themselves in a place where they are unable to move forward, even though surrounded by a sea of Data. The powerless feeling of not being able to take advantage of the business-nourishing "Information" Data can provide is real for far too many businesses.
Data to Information
Business Intelligence (BI) is like a desalination plant for Data, making the Data readily usable by your business. Just like drinking salt water at sea can make a desperate sailor hallucinate, and even die, Data run amok and consumed incorrectly or out of context can produce similar effects in business. Now that we are aware of the importance of BI in Businesses, Large and Small, I will run through a few quick supporting scenarios. Here I will be describing a few cases on how businesses (especially small businesses) can benefit from taking small baby-steps toward making their businesses "Data-Driven".
Data versus Information
Before talking about the tools with which you can best manage and utilize your data for its best purpose; INFORMATION... I would like to strike a clear distinction between Data and Information. The goal of data is to produce the kind of information that goes beyond the obvious. you can look at Data as the raw materials and Information as the final product. Although I will warn you that the relationship between Data and Information is perpetual. Basically with information comes new data and even new questions.
One way to determine the scalar value of Information is to consider for example a grocery store owner that simply "knows" Peanut Butter and Jelly should be located in close proximity. Or that Candy Bars and Tabloid magazines are best kept near the checkouts. If these were the only kinds of questions or policy decisions to be made, then we would not have a multi-billion dollar industry in Business Intelligence. In this case, investing in Business Intelligence would not be warranted. However, I think most businesses and business owners require much more Decision Making Power.
Where does this Data come from?
So, lets dive in... My first instinct is to tell you; it comes from EVERYWHERE! But that'd be too elusive and frankly too simple. The first step (assuming everything is in ship shape, and sea worthy) when you think about navigating to a new port is to have an idea of where you will be going. Then you will begin to put together what kinds of information is available to you, and where you will need to go to get the bits of information you are missing. That said, to embark on the journey of growing your business, or fine-tuning how your operations perform you will need to know what data is immediately at your disposal.
In many cases there is no shortage of Data, however you will need to determine what kind of data it is. A VERY few kinds of data are:
1. Manual - as when someone is entering information into a spreadsheet at their desk, or creating a mailing list. Manual data can also be hand written, as when someone fills out a paper form such as an application, or traffic citation.
2. Automatic - is where data is collected into a database from a "Front-End" application or "Appliance" (cash register) purpose built. For example Quick Books is a source of financial data, as is data from a Reservations system or Web Form filled out on-line.
3. Third Party - is the kind of information you might get from Google Analytics, Google Alerts, Sprout Social (where you can look up your competitor's tweets), and SpyFu (where you can look up your competitors keyword success rates).
These sources are how you actually do business, and try to stay competitive. Just think about every time you ask one of your office administrators to transcribe or scan hand-written stuff into Excel. Or how many times you create invoices and receive payments from Quick Books. Or even how many times you've looked at your competitors website, Facebook Page, or on-line advertisement... This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a good place to start thinking about where your data is actually coming from.
What to do with this Information?
Other than creating Profit & Loss statements, and sales summaries for your accountant, BI is very useful to business of all sizes to determine "EFFECTIVENESS". This can mean Call-Handling effectiveness, Customer Satisfaction effectiveness, or even Marketing Channel effectiveness. With respect to the Marketing Channel effectiveness, with BI you can accurately determine where you should focus your marketing investment.
No matter what uses you find for BI, automating these BI Reports will provide the right people with the right information at the right time. This is the essence of a good use of BI to better manage your business. Implementing a BI solution will not only save time and money, it also puts the information into your hands in an accurate and relevant way. This will systemically change the way your employees think about doing their jobs. The simple understanding that something is being measured and watched will produce immediate results to your bottom line.
Creating a Data Driven Culture in your business
When your employees begin to recognize the value in data and more importantly "Information" they will become more likely to make decisions or adjustments based on "Information". Sales and Finance are who historically recognized the value of being data-driven / "Information Focused" other departments such as HR and Compliance also benefit from a uniform and cohesive approach to the kinds of information delivered by business intelligence platforms.
If you would like a free evaluation of how you could benefit from a solid Business Intelligence platform, the guys over at Univant are offering a no-cost, no-obligation, review of your BI potential. Give them a shout at (888)234-DATA or check them out at UnivantCorp.com