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Active Intelligence

Written by Hannah Prevett on Friday, 17 August 2012. Posted in Enterprise, Technology

Using data more efficiently can make better use of small businesses’ time – and lead to a healthier bottom line. What’s not to like?

Active Intelligence

   In the midst of all of the excitement and hard work that goes hand-in-hand with setting up a new business, developing a strategy around data can be the last of a founder’s concerns. As long as the PCs in the office work, the printer prints and the website doesn’t fall over, IT and technology can slide down the agenda.

  The idea that big business decisions should be data driven isn’t a new one. Unlocking data and information can inform decisions around strategy, product and service to ensure businesses are finely attuned to customer needs. But with the amount of data generated by businesses these days dwarfing that of yesteryear – from bricks and mortar transactions to online interactions with customers – it’s easy to see how the task may appear overwhelming. For a founder who hasn’t put data at the centre of their business from the get-go, attempting to do so later on can seem a daunting task, says Paul Joyce, founder of hosted service board company Geckoboard. “We have a way to go as an industry to make it easier to be more data driven,” he says. “At the moment it’s an incredibly intimidating process.”

  Products like Geckoboard certainly help make that transition a little smoother. The dashboard pulls in various bits of data from disparate sources – for example from web-based services such as Google Analytics and Salesforce – and then allows users to view them on a single screen. ‘The reason I came up with this was to make it easier for businesses to take their first steps to become more data driven,’ says Joyce. Geckoboard has received a rapturous response and has been embraced by companies of every shape and size. Originally intended for small to medium sized businesses, Geckoboard has been snapped up by larger companies too. “We’re seeing agencies taking it on, who are using it to relay key stats to their clients. Also, there are lots of departments within large enterprises who are using Geckoboard instead of going through the typical procurement process, so in the sales department or the marketing dept of a large organisation. They’ll pick it up and they’ll put it on their own personal credit card and claim it back on expenses.”

  Why the sudden interest in data? It’s a new way of doing business, says Joyce. “Being able to measure everything, decide what’s important and then being able to relay it as a key stat.” One of the reasons it has taken so long for data to feature on the founder’s agenda is time – or lack thereof. “My feeling is that small businesses have a lot to do. They have a lot of balls to juggle,” explains Joyce. But SMEs need to make time, as instinct will only get them so far. “The received wisdom is that a good businessman with great intuition will always make great decisions, but we want to challenge that. Even a small amount of data can greatly improve your decision-making capabilities.”

  Online lending service firm On Deck is a fast-growing company, which uses Geckoboard to make sure it’s got complete visibility across the business. “Geckoboard helps us quantify and visualize the pulse of the business in an extremely digestible manner. It keeps teams focused on their own goals as well as establishes transparency across teams,” says Greg Lamp, product manager at On Deck Capital. Better insight into data can also help make far better use of a business owner’s time, says Glenn Shoosmith, founder of online booking and scheduling service BookingBug. “As a service business you have to manage it almost as if it’s an item you’re selling,” he says. “Especially in the current climate, it’s important for service businesses to be busy all hours of the day, every day of the week. If all your clients are booking on a Saturday, for example, but no-one books on a Tuesday, you may need to put prices up at the weekend, and offer deals on a Tuesday.”

  Using a tool like BookingBug, those kinds of small or micro service businesses can manage their time more effectively. But before they can get to grips with the data itself, they’ve got to become familiar with the concept. “I think there’s this significant educational curve, but more and more businesses are getting their heads around it.” And they need to, too, says Shoosmith. Ignore data at your peril. “This is becoming, especially in this economic climate, the difference between the success or failure of a small business – especially how they manage their time, manage their availability, manage their prices and market themselves.”

  “It could be the difference between staying in business and going out of business.’

About the Author

Hannah Prevett

Hannah Prevett

Prevett likes to think she's something of an expert when it comes to small business. Having cut her teeth writing about tech, she latterly moved on to such illustrious titles as Growing Business, Management Today and the Sunday Times to indulge her enthusiasm for entrepreneurship: from P&Ls to private equity and all that's in between, you can't keep this girl away from the heady world of start-ups. 

Back in the day when she had spare time, she would spend it networking, horse riding, drafting and re-drafting ideas for novels, and playing auntie to her niece and three god-children. Those were the days...

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