For some businesses, ‘big data’ may feel like the preserve of the big players and that commercialisation is a pipe dream for those with the time, resource and a myriad of data toolsets at their disposal. This however is a myth. In truth, any business who holds data in internal systems could be a few clicks away from some game-changing business and operations insights.
Commercial data can generally be split into two distinct areas: structured and unstructured data.
Structured data can be extracted easily to create real-time management tools, such as a spreadsheet. Most business software functions will have this ability with insights uncovered with relatively little effort or in-depth technical know-how.
Includes anything which is not already organised into a pre-set format, for instance documents, emails or photographs. This data can be incredibly powerful; delivering insights about customer sentiment or purchasing habits for example. However, the resources needed to undertake projects analysing unstructured data are likely to be significant and could at face value be out of reach for smaller businesses. So where should you start?
Have data, will use?
There are four challenges on the path to data commercialisation:
Challenge 1 – identify what types of data will provide the most useful business insights.
Challenge 2 – checking the quality of your data.
Challenge 3 – getting the correct systems and processes in place to capture it.
Challenge 4 – putting this data to good use.
The challenges of data commercialisation
Always look at any untapped business performance data riches from existing internal systems. Simple analysis of customer, product or service type data can uncover hugely beneficial insights that can be used to great effect in tracking business performance.
For example, you might begin by analysing which customers regularly pay late or which customers pay different prices to other suppliers. It could equally flag cross-selling opportunities, identify areas for further investment or even flag areas in need of attention. Also consider what data gaps you have; what would you love to know that you don’t already?
Checking the quality of your data quality and is highly important. Why? Because your insights will only be as good as the data being analysed. Data inconsistencies or input errors are common issues that compromise data quality.
For a small business focusing on data sets that can be easily extracted is key. For example, software-based accounting systems like Xero or Sage, often contain ready-made banks of data capable of providing useful insights in a management-ready format and commonly relate to payroll, creditors, debtors and audit histories.
One of your first steps could involve replacing paper-based reporting with digital forms. These not only capture your data, but also provide greater ‘control’ over the data entry process and reduce mistakes. Digital accounting systems like Xero, are a great ‘first-step’ for a small business as they are often cost-effective and don’t require specialist technical knowledge to manage.
If you do choose to bring in new systems be sure that they can deliver the data you want and have the capacity to automate or simplify inputs. This will save you and your team precious time in the long run.
Lastly, in order to put this data to good use ensure your analysis provides useful results. Keeping a relatively narrow focus, such as the day-to-day working capital cycle to identify changes in payment habits, is more valuable to the management team than a broader barometer of performance.
Build a data driven culture
In your quest to commercialise your business data, cultural change is likely to be your biggest hurdle. Convincing management teams and employees is essential so as to acquire buy in to the long-term value of insight-gathering and the tools that make it faster and easier.
Can your business afford not to?
Meaningful insights take time to extract and realising their value is not immediate. Once in place however, they will repay you many times over. The availability of ‘big data’ means that no matter what industry your business operates in, there will always be some data worth using. So the question is, are you recognising and maximising the role that data can play in driving your business growth?