Everyone’s talking about data! And no surprise, because we think it’s going to be one of the main areas organisations can be more efficient this year (along with automation, integration and cloud of course).
Kicking off a short series looking at how leadership and product teams can develop more purposeful data strategies with broad buy in, Loft CEO Nick Nettleton shares a few thoughts on how you can get started…
Data driven insight
Until quite recently a data warehouse was thought to be a Big Business thing. But the tools and technologies are now fit and affordable for use for even the smallest businesses. We are currently helping a number of companies, from startup to about £50m turnover, to plan and build new data strategies and insight systems for their business. Some are for internal use, others for an external audience.
What they all have in common is making existing data more accessible and usable for business leaders to help them make better decisions.
This is exciting stuff! And crucial at this time, because almost everyone right now needs to be running a really tight operation – focusing on the right priorities, spending in the right areas, targeting the right opportunities. Data is crucial for all this, and those who do it well will pull ahead of the pack and ultimately lead in their industries.
It’s quite easy to get started. One way is to brainstorm a couple of vital insights that you would like for your regular board meeting, figure out where that data can come from, and work together to automate it into a monthly board report. Even these first MVP steps can save dozens of hours of valuable staff time.
Then new insights, new data sources, new facts and figures can be prioritised and added, based on business value / effort. Over time you can build up a comprehensive picture of your business, or even your industry. You could then commercialise this, for example by grabbing insights from your data into client- and supplier-facing systems to evidence the value you are bringing to them, or new opportunities together.
The more you work with the data, the more you find that you can do with it, and that’s fun.
We’re currently working with the big four data warehouses – Google BigQuery, Snowflake, Azure and Amazon RedShift. We’re working mainly in Python right now for processing, with some C#; and a number of technology partners in the US and the UK providing connector platforms. And we’re working with a range of sector and technology specialists in different fields.
Business and product data
Of course, data is not just important for insight. It’s the lifeblood of every digital platform, and to that extent also every business that relies on digital platforms.
Whether you’re offering products or services, you have all sorts of data flowing around your organisations, from relationships and requirements, to orders and deliverables, to resources and supply chains – plus all sorts of things that are unique to your business.
All these need to be stored, organised, linked, managed and made use of. Planning, developing, optimising and extracting the maximum possible value from them is key to business success. Thought of this way, they are an asset that your business should have a plan for building and creating value from. In fact increasingly we are hearing business owners and investors talk about data as the most valuable asset the business owns.
This requires foresight and purposeful thinking. It’s comparatively easy to go back and rebuild technology that wasn’t quite right the first time, add new features, restructure things. But it’s really difficult to go back and collect data you wish you’d got earlier, or to restructure data that is in the wrong format or lacks structure completely. There is a lot of value in thinking long term about your business data opportunities and working back from there to set out a roadmap to build the assets you need.
This is something we have been doing a lot of at Loft for many years now, with senior leaders of businesses large and small.
Data structuring is often thought of as the preserve of techies, too difficult and rather dry for non techies to get involved in. But it doesn’t have to be this way – and we’ve found that there is huge value to be gained by working closely with leadership teams to design their data systems. The more they are able to engage with the data vision for their company, the more they are able to identify opportunities to realise its value.
To help with, we’ve developed two tools that we can work through with clients:
- The Loft Data Canvas is a tool for brainstorming the potential data outputs a company or product has, who would like to use it, how they would like to access it, what it might be worth to them; the data inputs that the company can draw on from its usual activities, public sources, commercial arrangements and so on; and the technical plumbing and processing that would need to be put in place to link these up. From this, a team can evaluate and prioritise their data objectives and flow them into a roadmap.
- The Loft Product Data Model is a template for detailed documentation of all the data points flowing through a product or system, what they are for, where they come from, how they are changed, what they are linked to, and so on. This enables anyone in a business to understand and work with the product data, and have meaningful discussions about how things work and how they can be improved. It is something we have created for many projects now, and it has become a Holy Grail that is always kept up to date and referred to (sometimes many times a day) as teams work together through challenges and objectives to build their products and operations. It also empowers different groups, such as product, design, engineering, operations, legal, data protection and others to quickly answer questions without prolonged discovery phases to work out what’s what.
Using these tools in combination, business leaders can develop a purposeful, long term strategy for building their data as an asset; build interfaces for people to interact with them – adding to, or reading from, the data – and develop platforms that create news long term business relationships and value out what you’ve already got. It’s exciting stuff!
We’ll be writing more about these soon, and also about other areas in which our areas of expertise are responding to the times: cloud migration, automation, user-centred systems, and more.
Date posted18 January 2023
5 min read
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