Authored by Dr. Jan van Niekerk
Data – it is more than just a buzzword. Today, gathering data to help you better understand your customers and business is relatively easy. In fact, it has become so easy that there’s the danger of having too much data to deal with. Even small start-ups generate data. Any business with a website, a social media presence, and that accepts electronic payments of any kind is collecting data about customers, user habits, web traffic, demographics, and more. All that data has potential if you can learn to leverage it correctly, and that is where analytics comes in.
Most companies have a relatively basic understanding of what ‘business analytics’ is, let alone how it creates value. Analytics is a multi-disciplinary activity: the value comes not from the activity but from the execution. Often, this crosses a variety of departments within an organisation – few analytics groups have responsibility for both the insight creation and the execution of that insight. As a result of this, selling the value of analytics is not just a goal; it’s a necessary criterion for success.
The intersection of quality data and insight, coupled with the recognition that analytics can be an asset, will continue to have serious reverberations in the business world. Being smarter has always meant being successful; as far back as the 19th century, analytics was already generating competitive advantage.
The value of analytics lies in its ability to deliver better outcomes, yet success requires more than just knowledge of statistics or ways of dealing with ‘big data.’ Execution is essential, but without a plan and follow-through, little happens. Success also requires an understanding of how analytics translates into competitive advantage.
This competitive advantage comes from capitalising on uniqueness. Every organisation is different, and every organisation has the potential to exploit that exact uniqueness in a way that no one else can match. Doing this means taking advantage of their single biggest resource: their data.
This tidal wave of information is a real challenge at every level in society. On a personal level, we struggle to keep on top of everything going on around us. Alvin Toffler coined the term “future shock” as early as 1970 to describe the overwhelming and disorienting impact from information overload. At a professional level, where we once struggled with a dearth of information, we now struggle to pick which pieces of information are valuable out of all the measures at our fingertips. Regardless of where you start, this ever-increasing amount of information has changed the way we view the world, the way we live and the way we do business.
Dealing with this data deluge requires being smarter. It requires developing the ability to selectively process information based on value, not sequence. It requires, more than anything else, the realisation that brute-force and manual effort are, in the long run, an impossible solution. Quite simply, it requires the effective application of analytics.
The people who know how to manage this data deluge are our future. Being able to translate massive amounts of data into real insight is competitive advantage distilled. Nothing else offers an equivalent level of agility, productivity improvement or renewable value. Being ‘smarter’ than your competitors isn’t just a hyperbole, it’s a real description of how substantial the impact of applied analytics can be.
To get good answers through the slew of data, however, you have to start with good questions. The analytics are only actionable if you know what you are looking for, and that means starting with a question. The better the questions, the more valuable the answers. As Douglas Adams wrote, "once you do know what the question actually is, you'll know what the answer means."
Possibly the best-guarded secret in business analytics is that, in practice, its success comes down not only to organisational culture, but also to the ability of managers to successfully sell the value of analytics. At MAC Consulting we assist our clients with the capacity to think more strategically and work on their business. Through MAC Consulting, you too can leverage modern data collection and analysis tools to get actionable and valuable information about your customers and your business.
Ultimately, if you don't, your competitors will.