Mark Twain famously said that there are three kinds of lies: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Likewise, there are three kinds of data: “data, data that’s useful, and data that’s leading you down the wrong path.”
So here’s a question for you. Is your data giving your company a competitive advantage? Probably not; everyone today has data, and lots of it. The real advantage lies not in the existence of your data, but in the quality of the reporting and analysis of that data, and the actions you take as a result.
Consider how Blockbuster Video was overwhelmed by Netflix back in the early 2000s, for example. Netflix’s advantage wasn’t just that its movies came in the mail while Blockbuster made customers go to a store. What really set the challengers apart was its use of data to understand what customers liked to watch, which informed a series of crucial business decisions.
Netflix offered recommendations based on customers’ individual tastes that personalized their experience, and made back-end decisions concerning which movies it stocked, its supply chain, and more. Blockbuster had the same information about customer preferences, but did nothing with it.
So, how can you be sure that you’re actually gaining a competitive advantage with advanced reporting? Here are a few guidelines:
1. Look for patterns in user behavior that suggest ways you could proactively help them (and yourself)
Perhaps you have one customer who is making far more calls to your help desk than other customers. That frequent caller is likely frustrated, and they’re using more of your bandwidth than you bargained for. They’re costing you more, yet they’re less satisfied.
It makes perfect sense in that case to reach out for a conversation about whatever challenge they might be experiencing. Are their employees ill-trained to use your service or product? Are they having a technical challenge you hadn’t anticipated?
That’s an opportunity to provide value to your customer while reducing your own operating costs.
You should also be looking at the usage behavior of your own employees. Which technologies and applications are being used the most – and which the least? You can quickly discover if a new technology is not being widely adopted by intended users, for example, giving you a chance to find out why, and to take action.
Or you might learn which technologies your colleagues will benefit from most by examining their current usage patterns. That could help inform future buying decisions.
2. If all you’re looking for are problems, that’s all you’ll ever find. Pay attention to what’s working, too.
A lot of organizations naturally want data on server downtime so they can fix the problem. Likewise, they want to know what devices or applications are showing problems so they can troubleshoot. That’s fine. But they take no notice of the technologies that never seem to cause a problem. Why not? We tend to look for trouble – and we should – but by also looking for what’s working well, we might learn how to improve performance across the board.
That goes for all sorts of things – the top-performing salespeople, the most efficient manufacturing plants, the most-satisfied customers. Look for what’s working, find out why, and draw lessons from it.
3. Drill deeper to understand what your data is really telling you
It’s not uncommon for organizations to get false cues from data– and to take action on that misinformation – because the reporting they’re getting isn’t detailed enough.
Let’s say your enterprise has a call center for customers with questions or problems. Perhaps there are some customer-service reps who seem to resolve customer issues in half the average call time. So you should try to find out what these folks are doing and try to replicate that throughout the call center, right?
But drill deeper. You might find that the customers who seemingly had their problems solved quickly keep calling back. They’ve had a Band-Aid applied, without having their real problems fixed. The reps who take a little more time with that customer on the first call might actually be saving time and money. The company that values speed over effectiveness might never learn how much that’s costing them.
4. Share your reports throughout your organization
When you share company reports widely, employees can really start to iterate on ways to use that data, solving problems within their own part of the company that could inspire people to do the same in theirs. So create tools that help people easily drill down into reports and look at the raw numbers, rather than staring at a giant spreadsheet.
You want to empower people to use data. The more people you share the data with, the more you increase the opportunities to open the door for new, creative, and innovative ways to use the data for process improvement or perhaps even the development of your next great competitive advantage.
One final point. To use reporting effectively, an enterprise needs to have confidence in its data. But we frequently see companies that have lots of data but aren’t really using it because they lack that confidence.
Often, the enterprise is using too many tools to evaluate their data, and too many people reporting what their particular tool is telling them. The result is that there is no single source of truth – no one touchstone that everyone can be confident is reliable. If your data is telling a consistent story, then it’s easier to do an analysis of it that really pays off.
Data is a key competitive advantage. But creating reports that take that data and make it actionable is part science, part art form. Once you’re able to do that you’ll find yourself using your reports to charge ahead of the competition. Feel free to reach out for a conversation about how to unlock the power of your own data.