If you are a business owner who would like to do more with data but are unsure where to start, this blog is for you.
Start with what you know
This is the first blog in a series in which we are going to explore how data can be used to help a business to grow.
We will focus upon each of the main drivers for growth in a business, and look at how data can be used to create an uptick in performance in each.
But before we do, if you have yet to make use of data in your business in any meaningful way, we need a simple and easy way to start.
You may already pull data together, probably as numbers in an Excel spreadsheet for others to see. This might be simple reporting, or it could be to influence others by highlighting performance issues, challenging questionable expenditure, raising awareness of important trends.
Whichever it is, track the time you spend on each of the tasks involved, and note whenever you do something that you know shouldn’t be necessary were you to have better systems in place.
This might involve copying content from one spreadsheet to another, exporting reports from a system which are manually imported into a spreadsheet, repeatedly organising columns of numbers and text into a structure that will allow the right calculations and charts to be created.
Your first use of data involves simply adding up the time you spend on these tasks – and then calculate what it would be worth to no longer have to perform them. If others perform similar tasks, include their time in the calculations as well.
If this tempts you to investigate systems on the market that could provide the automation you need, then resist it – for now.
This is because value from not performing unnecessary tasks will only be realised when you turn the time freed towards activities that grow the business. It’s therefore essential to get these activities underway before you get distracted by the protracted time and effort that new systems inevitably require.
Start with the tools you already have
The quickest way to free up the time you need is by using the tools that you already have, and those that are within easy reach.
E.g. starting with the Microsoft tools found in most businesses, adopt the use of ‘tables’ in MS Excel. These are directly linked versions of data contained elsewhere – perhaps in an original or master spreadsheet, or an extract of data exported from a system.
No copying and pasting is needed. Once a table has been created, it can simply be ‘refreshed’ in order for it to contain the latest set of records from the original.
There is then the use of the ‘Power Query’ Editor to ‘transform’ the data on its way into the tables in your reporting spreadsheet.
This will take a little more time to become familiar with. However, if you have to repeatedly organise data into a particular structure, the Power Query Editor can perform this task for you. This means that, each time a table is refreshed, it will import the latest set of records and organise them exactly as needed.
Move on to those within reach
Where the source data is an extract from another system, there are ‘connectors’ that may permit an automated extraction of records. Excel has some. A more substantial selection is to be found with the Microsoft ‘Power Platform’.
This is an internet service within which you can create tables populated by data extracts using connectors that provide access to a wide range of different systems. Those tables can be transformed by the Power Query editor and then used in Excel.
A massive selection of tools and connectors is to also be found within the Microsoft Azure Platform, another internet service within which you can create exactly the data source you need using data from almost any source imaginable.
You will need time to explore what each of these platforms can do, however it’s worth it. Once you are familiar with them and know what you need them to do, they are very quick to set up, extremely versatile, and are quite likely to cost you very little beyond your normal Microsoft Office license.
All of which means that you can stay using tools with which you are already familiar, and can reach out to automate specific tasks whenever the opportunity arises, rather than undertake the expense of a wholesale replacement – all the while maintaining service to those you are supplying information to.
Other reputable tools are available
It’s a very similar story if you are a user of Google’s Office equivalent – the G Suite. The Google Sheet is the direct equivalent to Microsoft’s Excel, is probably used more widely than Excel and beats it hands down for connectivity with other data sources – and the ability for several people to collaborate to build and use single data sources.
Excel is, however, still the dominant tool for complex calculations, the range of tools available, ease of use, and responsiveness (all the Author’s opinion).
That said, Google Sheets is free, and is expected to remain so.
The next steps
Whichever suite of tools you have, make a start by looking at the tasks you already perform – and keep chipping away at automating them, one task at a time. The time you are freeing up will soon start to grow.
The next question is ‘how best to use the time freed?’.
In the next blog we will introduce the seven drivers for growth and look at how we might decide where additional time and resource would yield the best result.
Data plays a role in answering this question, and it plays a very big role in finding ways to lift driver growth performance.
We will be exploring both.
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