Wednesday 29 April 2020

Accurate Record Keeping

Never has data been so much in the news. Whilst the numbers tell us nothing of the heartache behind them, they do tell scientists how best to handle Coronavirus and how to minimize its impact. We have all become familiar with R0 values, curves, and moving averages. Software like Microsoft Power BI is being used to analyse and visualize the data, and to make it more understandable.

At the same time, the importance of accurate record keeping has become more apparent. As the Head of Mortality Analysis at the Office of National Statistics (ONS) points out, counting the number of Covid-19 deaths may be important, but it is not simple. Issues such as the speed with which data can be recorded and disseminated, accuracy and consistency of classification, and missing data all contribute to how trustworthy the data is.

These issues are important when lives depend on the decisions that are made on our behalf.

Thankfully in business we are not often dealing with life and death. But we still need accurate data. Getting a good understanding of how many people have been trained in specific courses, by role and by date, for example. Or understanding how many meetings with clients by industry type, and outcome. These are not complex ideas, but getting the data is not always straightforward.

The issues with health data and business data are the same in how the data is stored. Both count something and then analyse it by a number of attributes. In the business intelligence terms, these are known as facts and dimensions. Facts are the things you count, and dimensions are how you analyse the numbers. The number of cases is a fact, and age group is a dimension. There are normally many dimensions for each fact.

As more businesses are working to become more data led, and less opinion led, keeping accurate data becomes vital. If you are making decisions based on inaccurate data, your decisions could be less than optimal, or just plain wrong.

The good news is that data has never been easier to manage, analyse and visualize. Microsoft Power BI is being used extensively to help manage the Coronavirus pandemic, and to help businesses make better decisions. It is an inexpensive piece of software, very powerful, and encourages sharing of data.

If you want to move from an opinion led business to a data led business, get in touch.  If you want help getting your data into shape so you can analyse it, we offer consultancy and development on the Microsoft Data Platform, including Power BI, SQL Server and Excel.

Friday 24 April 2020

Business as normal, but not as we know it

There will be many legacies from the Coronavirus pandemic, not least the adoption of technologies we have had for some time. Many companies have been using video conferencing successfully for years, but many more were flying their people around the globe for reasons that were plausible at the time. Now grounded, they are using video conferencing and will find that travel budgets are reduced once the health dangers are over.

Cometh the pandemic, cometh the ability to get to grips with Teams.

It is not just video conferencing; it is also cloud adoption. Cloud providers such as Microsoft Azure have been struggling to keep up with the sudden surge in demand. The myriad of reasons why the cloud was bad for business have melted as home workers need the same information as they had in the office.

Do any of us think we will go back to life as it was two month’s ago? No. It is impossible to unlearn a new skill, and it is impossible to become less efficient once we know how to be more efficient. So wider spread use of technology to do business will become the new normal. Which is good news for some, but for others their hearts will sink.

The harsh reality is that we cannot cherry pick. The rapid demise of the high street has demonstrated that all too graphically. If we want to flourish, we must understand how to offer value wherever and however people want to buy. Whether that is on their mobile, at their desk, or in store.

Value is where the internet scores. On the internet we can flick from product to product, compare prices and companies quickly and easily. We may want the cheapest price, or we may want specialist advice; value is not the same for everyone. Nor is it the same at every step in the customer journey.

The difference between online and physical stores is that we can measure perceived value, as well as sales. If I read an article, and return to it, there is an indication I am getting value from it. If the article gets very few readers, it indicates a lack of value for readers. Diligent measurement, analysis, and tests enables us to understand where the value lies for our customers.

The shift to online will bring many benefits, not least a cleaner planet. But after social distancing ends, we may well find it more convenient to get advice online rather than face to face. We may prefer to video call rather than pick up a new infection in the doctor’s surgery (and the doctor may feel the same). We may find it easier to chat to our hairdresser about the best shampoo to use, rather than go into the salon. And there will be many other areas online were value can be found for businesses willing to provide it.

Behind all these opportunities, and very many more, will be measurement. Knowing for sure where people find value, and where they do not. Which is where Microsoft Power BI scores so highly. You do not have to be Amazon or eBay to use analysis and AI technologies, they are available to businesses of all sizes. Measurement, analysis, and better understanding are available to everyone.

Pandemics are not generally the best way to adopt a new technology, but the lesson is that one way or another there is no way to hold back progress.

As always, if there is anything in this blog you found interesting, valuable, or you would like to argue with, then get in touch. We are Microsoft Business Intelligence specialists, and Gold Partners for the Microsoft Data Platform and if you are grappling with a data problem, we might be able to help.