Does it feel like your business is often trying to put out forest fires without fire extinguishers? The problem may be that you aren't paying enough attention to your data management strategy.
Sure, there are other ways to spend money on your business, but not having information at your fingertips can hurt a company.
For instance, if your customer experience delivery is four minutes slower than it used to be, you'll want to figure that out before the complaints begin pouring in and people start going elsewhere.
There are more sales and marketing channels than ever, and with the world becoming increasingly more connected, you may work with suppliers or vendors across the globe. All of that means you have information flooding your work zone, which makes investing in a data management strategy all the more important.
—Steve Nakata, chief architect, The Pedowitz Group
But with that comes a very valid question: What issues should you be thinking about when you create a data management strategy? After all, it isn't enough to just declare that you need one. You actually need to have a plan.
While it won't come overnight, of course, there are a few approaches you could take when trying to tame information overload.
1. Consider creating proprietary software for your data management strategy.
Michael Plummer is the CEO of Our Town America, a marketing company headquartered in Clearwater, Florida that targets new residents. (When somebody moves into their new home, Our Town America sends them a personalized “welcome package" full of gift certificates designed to get the new resident acquainted with the retail establishments and restaurants in the area.)
The company originally used spreadsheets to track where welcome packages were delivered and when new movers used the gift certificates or any deals sent in follow-up mailings.
Then "the needs developed and options were enhanced through various database structures," Plummer says, name checking FoxPro, MySQL and Oracle, which all handled a lot of data and number crunching.
But after third-party software programs couldn't handle what Plummer's company needed, he had proprietary software developed for Our Town America's more than 65 franchises.
“From there, we went through numerous enhancements and database rewrites to allow the massive infrastructure we have today," he says.
The investment has been worth it, Plummer says.
“We track every envelope that goes out, the corresponding pieces to the families to the responses to the offers from the businesses," Plummer says. “We can literally say that one type of offer will most likely perform better based on decades of data to most recent trends.
"The tracking works not only in showing the success rates of the business with us," he continues. "It helps us with the analytics on what new movers are looking for."
2. Narrow down what you're tracking.
“With the advent of cheap and easily-expandable storage—for example, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure—many organizations have fallen into the habit of grabbing and storing every piece of data that is available, resulting in petabytes of data that may or may not be relevant to their business needs," says Steve Nakata, chief architect of The Pedowitz Group, a revenue marketing consulting firm based out of Milton, Georgia.
The problem with collecting and storing every bit of information that comes into a company, of course, is that you have to look through all of that data.
“Sifting through irrelevant data is a significant issue that has hindered the ability to rapidly gain important insights from the data that is actually useful to the organization. Continuing to gather any and all data further exacerbates this problem," Nakata says.
“What businesses should do is first determine what is needed," he continues, "then set up the processes and technologies to only collect that which will be useful."
3. Tag everything as part of your data management strategy.
Companies of all sizes are inundated with tons of information.
Matthew Mercuri is a partnerships specialist at Broadsign, a Montreal-based digital sign software company. Broadsign has a large amount of data that comes in from all of their screens, from what ads are playing where to how many people are watching the ads and how many are of a certain gender.
“To say that we are bombarded with data is an understatement," Mercuri says.
But whatever data comes in needs to be tagged in some way, Mercuri advises. Tagging can help create a more efficient system and make the data you need easier to find later.
"Every piece of information is modular and granular enough for us to tag it with specific pieces of information," Mercuri says of Broadsign's approach. “If a screen is located near a church, or in a lobby, or outside, or in a specific city, it actually inherits all the values associated with it. This is the way we deal with getting specific information out when needed—we tag it down to the most granular aspect."
The average business owner could do the same thing, Mercuri adds.
“There are filters for Gmail," he points out, "alert setups for triggers on important pieces, macros and scripts that run to dig out the important stuff."
It takes a lot of time, Mercuri concedes, but if you spend that time, he says, “the better you will be able to handle the data."
Unfortunately, Nakata says, "There is no software magic bullet that will solve the data management challenges of a business. Data management, after all, is a process."
But if you spend the time and money on your data management strategy, you may find yourself with fewer fires to put out.
Read more articles on planning for growth.