For most businesses considerable time is spent sourcing and manipulating data instead of focusing on their core business objectives. The following issues common to all businesses irrespective of industry, location or size:
- Use of manual processes to collect data;
- Multiple sources of data; and
- Difficulties interpreting data.
Automating data processes
How many times a day do you or your staff log into a number of different business systems to extract figures for a report? Are they cutting and pasting, linking spreadsheets together, printing off reports, writing down figures, using calculators?
If these tasks are performed on a regular basis then significant time and therefore money can be saved by automating these data collection and reporting activities.
The first step before automation can occur is to have a look at the work performed on a daily, weekly, monthly even annual basis.
- How much time is spent collecting, calculating or reporting the same data during these periods?
- How many people are after the same information? Are they reusing each other’s data or collecting it themselves?
- How many sources do they go to, to extract the information they need
- Are there any barriers hindering the ability for them to the perform their job (eg. users don’t have the system access they need or software tool required)
With this information the inefficiencies will become obvious and you can identify the areas to streamline the data flow both in work flow and technical processes. Solutions will vary from business to business but may include:
- All finance data to be managed by person A instead of persons A, B, & C (work flow improvement)
- Grant person Y access to stock control system so they can access real time data (removal of barrier)
- Creating macros in Excel and Access to automate calculations (technical improvement)
- Using schedule batch jobs (windows tasks) to pull data from one system and put into another (technical improvement)
Most businesses do not have one source of data. Data can come in many different shapes and sizes from numerous different sources. The problem is identifying which data is correct and what is the “single source of truth?” .
Apart from the obvious frustrations in finding the correct data there is also real business risks if the data used for monitoring, reporting and decision making is incorrect. Each time data is manipulated in any way (moved from location, calculated etc) the risks to the integrity of the data is increased.
This is where data warehousing or a data mart can come into play. A data warehouse solution will connect to all your different sources of data and load them into a central location. As a business you can gain confidence knowing your data is in the one place and collected and reported in a consistent fashion. It will also resolve many of the issues discussed in the automation section above.
Once the issues around storing and processing data have been resolved the next logical step is presenting it an easily digestible format. Today, more than ever we are presented with so much information that it can become ‘noise’ and the message that is trying to be delivered can be lost.
An analysis stage is again required to determine:
- what data is required by different areas and levels of the business;
- how the data will be accessed / delivered;
- how ‘live’ it needs to be; and
- sensitivity and security around the information.
The results of this analysis will again provide answers to the structure, content and delivery method required for reporting. In a business environment dashboard reports are effective tools in achieving this. A dashboard is a summary report that lets the user quickly view the data they need with the options to drill down into more detailed sub reports.
Data management is as much an analyst and management issue as it is a technical one and a successful solution can only be achieved with business representatives and IT specialists working together as a team. HordernIT can provide assistance in any of the areas above through our expertise in:business analysis;
- database development and management;
- real time data reporting;
- Excel & Access solutions; and
- Web and windows application development