Every morning, I reach for my phone and within moments I have a handle on my day. I know my schedule, the weather, my health and fitness data, a suggestion for a new lunch spot and dozens of other details I’ve tailored to my needs. My morning routine, probably not all that different from yours, highlights a fundamental shift in the way we organize our lives. Today, we centralize different kinds of data on our phones to streamline our internal decision-making and improve our lives in myriad ways. There’s a chance of rain, for example, so I’ll save sidewalk café lunch for another day.
At work it’s a different story. Nearly every business understands the need to collect as much data as possible, and many enterprises have installed systems to do so. But exploiting data remains a significant challenge. According to a recent study, two-thirds of businesses received little or no benefit from the information they collect; even more alarming, three-quarters of the 1,600 organizations surveyed lack the skills and technology to use their data to gain a competitive edge. As the study’s author observed: “Data is so pervasive that it’s taken for granted or is seen as a byproduct.”
One solution is to develop strategy to make better use of the data collected. But it’s hard to think about the strategic use of a resource you’ve taken for granted. One way to jump-start the conversation in the C-Suite is to draw on personal experience with data and ask where the innovations that are reshaping our lives can be applied to enterprise.
Data is liquid
The next wave of fitness wearables will send data directly to doctors. Amazon Echo and Google Home not only remember our personal preferences, they seamlessly interface with our thermostat, our media and our online shopping carts. But in order for these products to work, data must be liquid, meaning it can be poured from one system to the next without hiccups or spills.
Is that kind of seamless data transfer — one that empowers the disparate fiefdoms within an enterprise to speak the same quantifiable language — a reality for business today? Probably not. By unifying data into an interoperable system, we can build a shared language of metrics across departments and teams, and as a result, improve communication. But first, the C-Suite needs to ask how the data inside the enterprise can be made as liquid as the personal data that governs their own consumer lives?
Analytics at the press of a button, then what?
To varying degrees, many of us have turned to data to help us modify our own behavior, and in doing so we’ve become accustomed to analytics on-demand. A similar expectation is transforming today’s workplaces. Historically, businesses used detailed reports that took weeks to create. Today, that information (and a whole lot more) can be compiled and visualized at the press of a button. Speed makes a business more efficient, and it puts the enterprise in a position to move decisively in the market because everyone can get on the same page sooner. But is that really the case inside your enterprise?
As individuals, the analytics on-demand revolution has sped up our decision making process. We see the data, and we can make a change. Enterprises, of course, aren’t as flexible because there are many more perspectives to consider before making a decision. But if we’ve transformed analytics reporting, shouldn’t the C-Suite ask how the enterprise can adapt its process for consuming data and putting insights into action? Modernizing the way we communicate insights within an enterprise is at the core of Amazon’s no-PowerPoint policy, and a good reason why one of the largest collectors of data is so good at putting it to use. Not incidentally, the practice is also how a company with a quarter-million employees avoids decision-making bottlenecks.
Holistic focus on product and customer
Personal data frees individuals to pursue whatever matters most to them, assuming of course, they have a handle on their goals and a strategy to move forward. Inside an enterprise, data holds a similar promise. Not only does data inform how companies think about their product and their customers; it has the power to unify that thinking, and as a result, better align the whole enterprise around the same fundamental goals, rather than allowing teams to fall victim to the pursuits of the silo.
Of course, business, like life, is complex and messy. The personal data that can free us can just as easily bog us down. Similarly, the data that exposes the costs and limitations of the silos that fragment enterprise can just as easily overwhelm and disorient employees. How can business leaders make sure employees remain focused on product and customer amid a data deluge?
It’s counterintuitive, but just as individuals are experimenting with disconnecting from technology, so too can enterprises practice “data breaks.” Obviously, an enterprise can never completely disconnect. But in the same way that we counsel individuals to turn off their screens during appointed times of the day so they can engage with the real world, businesses can turn to data breaks at scheduled intervals. Given data breaks, employees are reminded of the big picture — product and customer — and then can return to the data with a fresh understanding of the mission.