Monday, December 31, 2012

Better Performance through Data

By Virgil Carter

Unfortunately, many non-profit organizations are not known for their data-based research and decision-making. Instead, it seems, volunteer leaders may often arise in a quarterly meeting of the Board of Directors, make a motion, second and vote favorably for a decision to commit sizable amounts of staff time and money for an unstudied “good idea”! This may not be the best way forward for improved organizational performance. So what about the idea of better organizational performance through data?

“The ABCs of Analytics”, a recent Strategy+Business article by David Meer argues that “big data” can drive competitive advantage if companies follow a few timeless principles. Meer writes that “any analysis of data that stops after asking “what”, which is already a big undertaking, isn’t analytics. You have to ask “why” and “what next?”
According to Meer, there are three pragmatic lessons that have always been at the core of a strong analytics program, guiding data analysis initiatives:

• Rely on theory-based approaches, rather than blind data mining: The starting point should be an explicit hypothesis about customer needs and how your organization creates value for them.

• Strive for a holistic view of customers and markets: Smart companies look holistically at their markets and customers, using at both traditional and new sources of data about both markets and customers.

• Learn by doing: As an organization gains new insights from their data gathering and analysis, it will be important to be open to new approaches and to challenge sacred cows. Start data gathering slowly, with a few pilots; learn to walk before attempting to run!

“Data gathering and analysis, properly done, can be a major investment”, the author writes. It takes finding, assembling and harmonizing the data by specialists trained to do the more advanced work, find the hidden patterns, interpret them and turn them into insights the organization can put to use.
The process can be a manageable one, Meer concludes, “in fact, it’s been my experience that once organizations start investing in analytics, and they almost never stop”. “The things they learn drive improvements in the business that more than pay for the effort!”

For the full article, go to:

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