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Towards data optimacy

by Ruben Ugarte
Indian Management May 2021

Summary: The pandemic has become a modern-day kingmaker, bestowing record profits and growth in some industries. However, it is not just mere luck. The best companies are innovating faster than their peers, investing in their people, and making the most out of their data. Combine this with a little bit of luck, and you end up in a fantastic place.

We have heard about the COVID-19 winners and losers. Tourism, airlines, and travel-related businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic. On the flip side, ecommerce, food and fitness have all benefited from the restrictions. Some of this success is luck. A software company like Zoom was in the right spot at the right time, and got to ride the wave.

However, there are patterns among the most successful companies that go beyond luck. One of them is being incredibly effective at using data to design better products, make faster decisions and innovate at a quicker rate than competitors. The following three approaches represent the ways in which the world’s best companies use their data differently.

1. Practical applications of data
The best companies are not theoretical about their data. While some of them have incredible research programs, their data is on the frontline. It is used to make an impact on tangible business outcomes.

We see how Amazon uses its data to design its warehouses for increased efficiency in shipping. Netflix uses data to figure out what shows to recommend so that you will keep watching. Even a small business like a bakery uses data to slim down its menu and focus on the bestselling items.

In your business, think about your toughest challenges and how data could play a role. Here are a few ideas:

- Can you improve your customer acquisition campaigns by reducing the fat, e.g., low performing campaigns?

- Could data be used to increase customer retention and reduce churn?

- Is data the missing link between your current state and automation?

2. Focus on enabling everyone to use data
The second approach that the best companies take is getting everyone to use data in the most convenient format. You want data to be everywhere, including reports, dashboards, offline files, slack messages, emails, and more. People should be metaphorically tripping over the data as they go about their work. Do not assume that people will go out of their way to look at a report. Make it easy for them to view the latest numbers where they are already spending their time. Real people are also supporting data. Data analysts, data scientists, and other specialists answer questions and solve problems. Self-service tools may seem more economical, but there is always a need for people. Do not skimp on these hires.

Remember that data is just one part of people’s jobs. It is not their full-time role (unless they actually work in the field of data). Make it easy for them to interact with the data. Simplify the statistics and coach people on how to convert data into insights.

3. Thinking about the future, living in the present
The third approach that the best companies use is thinking about the future but living in the present. Many data maturity models exist, but consider this one that has only three stages of time zones: past, present, and future.

In the past, you are trying to understand what happened. In the present, you are trying to understand what is going on. In the future, you are trying to predict what will happen. Focus on the present, past, and future, in this order. Once you have a good grasp of the past and present, you can shift resources into the future. This is where you will encounter AI, machine learning, and automation. Some of the biggest gains can be made here, but you cannot lose track of what is going on right now.



Finally, do not lose sight of the ultimate goal: decisions. All the world of data is meant to teach you something new, leading you to make a better decision. Having amazing data and technology is not the goal. The goal is uncovering actionable insights that can be converted into decisions.

The pandemic has become a modern-day kingmaker, bestowing record profits and growth in some industries. However, it is not just mere luck. The best companies are innovating faster than their peers, investing in their people, and making the most out of their data. Combine this with a little bit of luck, and you end up in a fantastic place.

Ruben Ugarte is founder, Practico Analytics. He maintains a popular blog with more than 100,000 readers. He is also author, The Data Mirage: Why Companies Fail to Actually Use Their Data.

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