Why data should no longer be the preserve of data scientists
Today, data is everything. In fact, much of a modern business’s value is based entirely on the value of its data. Just look at the flotations of Twitter and Facebook, or the impending IPO of Snapchat; reputed to be somewhere between $25 billion and $40 billion.
The way businesses are run has changed irrevocably. Gut feel, a hunch, intuition – they’re no longer enough. The likes of AirBNB, Netflix and Uber led the digital transformation and the resulting big data mountain. We have quickly reached the point of no return, with a full 90 percent of all data in the world being generated over the last two years alone.
Data is organic
But how do businesses wade through the unprecedented data deluge to unlock the power of it before it goes stale? For businesses to be effective it is important they think of data as organic and constantly changing. Whilst it provides evidence to help businesses understand the past, it also signposts their future.
2017 provides an opportunity to harness the true power of data, and make information accessible to all within the business to provide knowledge, insight, and action. The commercial benefits of data analysis are well recognised as something organsiations need if they are to compete in today’s fast-paced environment, for many though it’s become a significant investment that’s still not bringing the much-hyped return.
Need for data democratisation
LinkedIn is full of job postings for data intelligence officers and data scientists. While organisations across the globe fall over themselves to employ them, many still don’t understand that however good they are at their job a data scientist will only be able to view data from a single perspective. Far better value from big data actually comes when a business turns data into knowledge, knowledge into insight, insight into action, and action into impact. Crucially, businesses need to understand, it is less about the data and more about the people in an organisation who can make a difference and influence customer experience or a product.
It is vital, therefore, for all staff in an organisation, no matter of seniority, to have the ability to understand and use data if they are to truly improve their own and their business’s performance. It is also imperative that businesses aggregate and simplify all the relevant data sets and align teams behind one shared view so that they can make better, faster, more confident business decisions. Ultimately, businesses must look at how they democratise their data to enable timely, effective decision-making at the point of action, whether that’s at the check-out or in the boardroom.
After all, all the clever data scientists, analysis and Hadoop clusters in the world are worthless until the business is actually selling more as a result, and more often than not this means that it’s the people at the frontline, the sales and customer service agents who are ultimately going to make that difference. In many companies today, the people doing these key roles are still last in line for the right information to help them do their jobs effectively.
Make data accessible to all
Making data accessible to all within the business is the key. Yes, data protection regulations need to be adhered to, but making data only available to a privileged few within the business is a quick way to diminish its value. By putting the right tools in place, it is far better to allow every employee to understand important data, leading to a shared ownership and improved business performance through operational efficiencies.
The amount of column inches devoted to big data is beginning to abate. The industry is stopping focusing on simply gathering data in huge volumes and rather focusing on making better use of the data already held within their business to gain greater insight.
A time for change
The huge recent success of Bradley Wiggins, Laura Trott and the rest of the Team GB cycling team has often been put down to the amalgamation of marginal gains. Whether it was improving the aerodynamic capabilities of the saddle by 1% or placing antibacterial hand gel around the training camp to cut down on infections.
The same can be said for businesses. Those that not just survive, but thrive, will be the ones that use data to identify where marginal gains can be achieved to impact the bottom line. Aggregating many small improvements can lead to big results. It is time for businesses to put their data to work. By identifying and prioritising the most relevant data, businesses can start taking actions.
I believe in a world where digital information is no longer just the preserve of data scientists, but accessible to all; providing knowledge, insight, and action for non-specialists. Moving away from simple data analysis to offering meaningful, results-based insight is essential. Companies are realising that when they hire data analysts they need much more than analysis. They need people that can offer valuable insight from the analysis, moving beyond transactional analysis to behavioural insight. This insight will then trickle down into every level of the business so everyone from the sales assistant on the shop floor, to the CEO are able to use this information to benefit the business. Helping companies to grow, employees to feel empowered and securing long-term customer loyalty.
By Paul Alexander, founder and CEO of Beyond Analysis
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”