As organizations continue to expand their data and analytics footprint, we are seeing a growing trend of companies moving towards a single integrated platform to house and manage their data. While this is hardly an emerging trend in the market at this point, we still see many firms hesitant to make the leap. While I covered some of the reasons to be cautious in my post on Common Pitfalls, those wanting to truly be a data-driven organization must understand both the full potential available to be unlocked and the opportunity cost of continuing to operate without an integrated platform. Below I outline the 5 fundamental opportunities for those taking the next step to analytical maturity.
1. Reduce Overhead
For some, it may seem counterintuitive that adding an additional technology platform would actually reduce their overhead and reliance on IT. However, when you factor in the amount of time spent on one-off requests for data and reports, their is a significant reduction over the life of the investment. Compiling data from multiples systems, spreadsheets and disconnected reporting systems puts a burden not just on the IT teams collecting the data but the end users that must assimilate and harmonize it in an ad hoc manner. Even routine tasks such as weekly status reports can consume key resources and remove their focus from other high value activities.
Quantifying the amount of time spent in this fashion is difficult to compute accurately and thus often goes unnoticed by higher level managers. When comparing this unknown to the time it takes to implement a new platform it can be daunting and seem unlikely the investment would ever produce a positive return. Whether that has been the case in the past is debatable, but with the onset of newer cloud-based solutions and off the shelf integration tools and connectors, the burden of implementation is a fraction of what it once was.
Another critical factor to consider is the necessary reliance on IT and cross departmental analysts without a common platform. In timely and critical situations key stakeholders don't always have the luxury of the time it takes to fulfill requests from other departments. Especially when those departments don't share the same urgency or operate by strict SLA guidelines. Having the information available to those who need it quickly can be the difference between closing a crucial deal or having to defer to a later date.
2. Improve Data Quality
As Data Quality continues to be a constant and growing concern, companies are looking for any advantage they in get in managing the quality of their data. For organizations without policy and standards in place on their end-user systems, getting a handle on this can be difficult at best, if not crippling. Because traditional BI and Reporting platforms have limited, if any, data manipulation methods, organizations struggle mightily to find workarounds to have confidence in the data they are basing their critical decisions off of. Even organizations that have reasonable data standards in place struggle with consistency as different end-point solutions have different technical and business requirements that require their own exceptions.
With an integrated platform, analysts can identify the gaps and inconsistencies across systems that typically cause breakdowns in reporting accuracy. They are then able to clean, prep, collate, and even write back valid data to the systems generating it. Having this capability is crucial to instilling confidence across an organization that they are seeing the true picture of what is happening. An organization that makes decisions off of bad data is an organization that makes bad decisions. When this happens often enough, stakeholders no longer trust the data they are given. This can undermine efforts to build a data-centric culture and lead firms to revert back to "gut" based decisions rather than fact based.
3. Optimize Business Processes
A growing trend across organizations is business process automation and automated workflows. While the technology is now a common feature in almost every enterprise software platform, connecting the data and users to set up the process still presents a myriad of challenges. Marketing Automation, Sales / CRM, and Purchasing tools all have similar capability and are very efficient at automating processes within those silos. However, as users across departments don't share access, there is often not alignment on how and when to navigate those departmental touchpoints. Further, the handoff of tasks often can't be passed between the technical systems without a significant investment in interface development or a stand-alone solution dedicated specifically to automation.
The current integrated data platforms also offer this same functionality, but with the data collected in a single repository, tracking the information flow across the organization is achievable. In this sense, the platform works as an objective 3rd party tracking activity but not trying to pull critical business activity into it's footprint where it doesn't belong. The system can also smooth gaps between systems by defining the relationships between data and compensating for gaps that would otherwise be overlooked.
In addition to workflow automation, critical thresholds and alerts can be set to monitor conditions across systems and alert key stakeholders when there is a potential issue. This can allow users to get out ahead of an issue as it is occurring rather than react only after they find it in the next day's reporting.
4. Empower Advanced Analytics
In terms of analytical capability, the possibilities of what you can do with reliable, high quality data integrated from across the fundamental systems of your organization are staggering. As I mentioned before, many traditional BI platforms either connect to a single system or poorly integrate data across systems due to a lack of local storage. However, with a unified and connected approach you have a full arsenal of modern data science and analytical methods at your disposal.
Even without a business case for a cutting edge data science, machine learning, or AI initiative, there are plenty of previously unknown insights easily attained by analytical analysis and visualization. The ease in which you can begin making better decisions once you have a clear and accurate picture is astounding.
5. Single View of the Truth
The fundamental driver of bringing this all together is to have a single and consistent view of your data across the organization. Getting the various process areas to speak the same language, track the same metrics, and have a shared vision of success can be transformative for a business. Organizations today need to be able to look at the larger picture of what is driving their success rather than departmental metrics that have little to no meaning to the broader audience.
The timeliness of the reporting is also of critical importance. Not only to get out ahead of issues early, but in understanding what metrics are early indicators of performance so that you don't have to wait for the quarterly earnings report to gauge success. Stale data doesn't carry the same influence across the organization. When different teams are looking at data from different times, whether that be due to delay in preparing it or technical limitations within the landscape, getting alignment is increasingly difficult the more the data is out of sync.
In terms of looking at customer behavior, being able to track the customer experience through the full journey down (or out) of the funnel can help organizations see gaps and inefficiencies otherwise impossible. Is marketing effective at getting high volumes of leads, but not ones that lead to profitable sales? Is sales taking too long to make contact with qualified leads or assigning the wrong salespersons to the wrong types of leads. Insights like these are difficult to get from the end point solutions used by each team that typically lead to functional silos.
The landscape of analytics and data management continues to evolve and become more accessible. As organizations make significant investments into their analytical capability it remains critical that they keep an eye on business outcomes first and a solid, fundamental approach. For a free consultation and information on how we may be able to help on your data journey, please contact us to get started.