Pool Your Resources
Your business likely already has a vast body of useful data, but how connected are your internal data sources? Your market research team is defining your market, your marketing team is tracking actions on your digital marketing campaigns and your sales team tracks opportunities in your CRM, but is your business connecting these pools of information into a single source? If not, you’re only seeing your customers and potential customers in one dimension depending on the data source you’re viewing them from. By combining your existing data, you build a more robust and multi-faceted view of your existing and potential customers that allows you to better meet their needs and to reach them where and when they’re most likely to act.
According to Garrett Gan, Co-Founder and CEO of Thalamus, Inc., “Business intelligence is having access to all your business data, regardless of platform, in a singular, unified dashboard. This can include customer data from your CRM system, email marketing, and website engagements tracked in your data management platform, customer interactions on user chat tools like Intercom.io — all aggregated into a single holistic view of the customer and their interactions with your business.”
Integrating data sources has become so easy that there’s no excuse for allowing data silos to exist separately from each other. For example, Power BI provides direct connections to an ever growing list of outside sources, including: Google Analytics, Facebook, Salesforce, SAP, Marketo, Mailchimp, Zendesk, Amazon Redshift, Snowflake, Quickbooks Online and many others. Many of these sources can be configured to automatically refresh. This provides you access to the most recent and relevant information, within a single platform, ready to be transformed into actionable insights. So, if you haven’t integrated your data sources yet, what are you waiting for? No, seriously, what are you waiting for? Go integrate your data sources and come back to this article when you’re finished.
Consider the (External) Source
There will always be information needs beyond what you own internally. According to the BI Survey 17, “18% of companies are using 20 or more data sources for decision-making,” and, “Approximately half of all respondents think that the number of data sources they use is increasing. The growth rate for external data sources is a bit higher than for internal sources.” One of the biggest problems with external data sources is usability, or compatibility with your existing data structure and format.
As I discussed in a recent post, cleaning “dirty data” can be both frustrating and time consuming. In a 2014 survey, 81% of respondents indicated existing challenges with data integration of external sources. In the same survey, 43% of respondents indicated that a lack of data integration was a major challenge with external data sources, 34% indicated that manual data processing of external data was necessary, and 31% estimated that integration projects could take more than 3 months.
With free sources, like government, NGO, and academic data sets, the cost of data normalization is an expected investment. When you’re paying for your data, however, you want to ensure that the data you receive is ready to use. While you may think that would be a given for a paid service, it’s not. Learn from my mistakes. I’ve worked with data firms that have horrible data maintenance. Upon investigation of one dataset it became apparent that those charged with data entry and upkeep weren’t familiar with data analytics or the industry that the data pertained to. The most prevalent problem that I’ve seen is inconsistencies in data formatting that need to be dealt with before the data can be matched to internal data sets.
My advice on using external data sets is to do your homework before you sign anything. If you have the option of a free trial period make the most of that time. Take a deep dive into the data set to find any potential issues and then inform the organization that the fee needs to be adjusted to account for the time necessary to normalize the data. If a trial period isn’t an option, contact current and former users of the service and be ready with detailed questions about potential challenges with the dataset. What file format are data exports? Is the formatting consistent? Are units of measurement clear and consistent? Are data fields stored correctly (number, text, etc.)? Is the data ready to be analyzed as-is, or was transformation necessary in order to query against internal data? What type of search, reporting, and export features are available? Does the service provide integration into your existing software (Salesforce, PowerBI, etc.)? Ultimately, do those users feel that the data set is worth the investment?
Every business needs a BI initiative that will deliver evidence-based insights in order to make the best possible decisions. In order to produce those insights, your BI initiative needs to be well developed around a solid strategic plan. When you take the time to understand what your team is currently using and what they need, and integrate that into higher level decision making needs, you can leverage your existing assets and prioritize the most critical data needs moving forward as you build a more robust program.
Whether you’re considering implementing a new BI initiative or you’re ready to upgrade an existing program, the experts at Aptude are ready to assist your organization with every step of the process, from planning, to deployment, and through ongoing monitoring, maintenance, and adaptations. We have the resources, expertise, and experience to ensure that your organization has access to all the insights necessary to make data driven decisions that meet the demands of your stakeholders now and as the industry climate changes. Let us guide you through the most important investment your company can make towards your future success.