23 Mar 2012

How to make the most of data in your business

Whether it’s transactions or inventory, customer information or visits to your website, managing business data can be both an opportunity and a problem.

Exactly how you want to exploit the data you collect of course depends on the nature of your business. Common aims however, include things like targeting marketing (predicting which customers will respond to a promotion based on their purchase history) or customer retention (predicting which customers might be intending to leave your business, based on the histories of customers who’ve already left).

These insights are the upside. The downside is that collecting, storing and processing data is often difficult. For one thing, there’s more of it. For another, it’s more diverse.

In short, it can be tough to organise your data in ways that allow it to be exploited – though the results can be powerful when you do.

Here are some things to think about when considering the role data plays in your business:

Integration

Integration between systems continues to be a challenge for many SMEs.

‘Siloed’ databases and business applications that don’t ‘speak’ to one another not only lead to time-wasting double entry problems, they also mean your business misses out on opportunities to improve its business knowledge through data analysis.

Make sure that your systems aren’t operating in isolation by making integration a priority when evaluating new business technologies, especially cloud services.

If your present systems don’t interact, start developing a plan to ensure that they do.

ERP

It’s one thing to collect data about your business. It’s another thing to exploit that data to find opportunities to improve productivity and profitability.

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems aim to integrate all aspects of your business functions so that data and information flows easily between them.

The more business functions yours manages, the better access you’ll have to the kinds of real-time data that can allow you to make better business decisions.

Thanks to the cloud, ERP systems are now more available and affordable than ever. But consider carefully how your data will be stored. It’s important to be able to extract it should you decide to change applications or vendor.

Compliance and security

One of the great (and not so great) properties of electronic data is how easy it is to copy.

Protecting your data – especially that which concerns your customers – must be a top concern. A breach will not only damage your reputation, it can also cause complete operational disruption.

To safeguard your data, take steps to make sure that your network and systems are secure. This can mean anything from ensuring that your anti-virus and malware protection is up to date, to deploying specific applications that actively watch your network for unusual activity.

You can also choose to make security someone else’s problem by switching to cloud-based services. If you do so, make sure that you understand where your cloud data will be kept (you might want it to remain in Australia for example).

Archive, backup and disaster recovery

The other risk when it comes to data is losing it. With data volumes continuing to grow (Gartner estimates annual growth of about 40 to 60%), both storage and backup are ongoing challenges.

When it comes to backup regimes, it’s vital that yours be robust, comprehensive and, above all, tested.

Virtualisation technologies have recently opened the door to backup and disaster recovery services being delivered through the cloud. This can be a good option to consider, with advantages that include fast recovery times as well as the fact that backups are stored off site.

Summing up

Data-driven business is becoming increasingly important as a path to business insights and competitive advantage. If your business can master the storage and exploitation of its data, you’re likely to find and make the most of opportunities that competitors don’t.

Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT.

(This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on the 22nd of March 2012).

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