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Your first steps in becoming a data-driven organization

By Jeff Horne

The world’s most successful organizations rely on data to drive the decisions they make. Relying on data can help you create new revenue opportunities, understand and provide a better member experience, create operational efficiencies and predict future trends. Utilizing data can help you know where you are today and measure your organization’s progress towards the goals you set.

Becoming data-driven can feel like a daunting undertaking. You may feel like you need to have a dedicated data team to perform complex analysis or that you need to invest in expensive software to make data central to your decision-making process. Often, it feels like the technical barriers are too significant.

We’ve found that the most significant challenges are, in fact, not technical: they’re cultural. Becoming data-driven can be a sustainable process if you take the time to build an impactful plan established within your existing processes. These eight steps will guide you through the process of formulating a solid plan for incorporating data into your organization’s decision-making procress.

STEP 1: YOU HAVE TO START AT THE TOP

Organizations with robust data-driven processes tend to have top managers who expect that decisions are grounded in data. They set the expectation that using data is normal, not an extraordinary undertaking. They also lead this process by example. Leaders rely on data first, not allowing personal opinions to cloud how they see problems and solutions.

If you’re leading an organization or team, this mental shift towards data must start with you. If you’re an employee, start looking for senior advocates who can help you shift your organization’s thinking. Every employee needs to feel encouraged to investigate new ideas to serve members better, while having access to tools to vet their ideas.

STEP 2: START ASKING QUESTIONS

Your next step towards using data to drive decisions in your organization is to identify your data needs. You’ll need to start thinking about the questions you need answers for. Start thinking about your organization’s areas that have little visibility but could significantly impact your organization.

You might have a crucial business activity that you feel like you’re flying blind on, or perhaps you’re unclear on the effectiveness of a resource or service you offer. These are great areas to investigate when you begin formulating your questions. Start small and choose three to five questions that will have the most significant impact on your organization or revenue.

Our customers at Wicket often have a similar set of questions. Let’s look at a few example questions:

Question: Who are our most engaged members?

Question: Which members have passed their renewal date and not yet renewed?

Question: Is a particular resource or service more popular for a specific demographic than others?

STEP 3: MAP ACTIONS TO YOUR QUESTIONS

Now that you have your questions ready, it’s time to start thinking about the action you would take with those answers. This is an important next step because it will help keep you accountable for selecting questions that can actually have an impact. Mapping actions to your questions early will also provide you with a roadmap for making your data actionable when it comes to the analysis process.

Your actions will likely fall into one of three categories: they’ll inform a decision, prompt a task or drive more considerable change in your organization. Actions that inform a decision might be your KPIs; these will be those key data points you use when making decisions about your organization. When an action prompts a task, it means that someone on your team will have an immediate job they’ll need to complete once they receive the data. An example of this could be reaching out directly to members after receiving a list of lapsed members. Actions that drive change will require more in-depth analysis and will include initiatives like engagement scoring or renewal analysis, whereby your organization will undertake significant changes after understanding this data.

Let’s look at our example questions from earlier and map actions to them:

Informing a decision

Question: Who are our most engaged members?

Action: Identify groups of non-engaged members and build a plan to drive up their engagement.

Prompting a task

Question: Which members have passed their renewal date and not yet renewed?

Action: Reach out by email or phone to discuss renewal using details of services they’ve previously engaged with to facilitate the conversation.

Drive change in your organization

Question: Is a particular resource or service more popular for a specific demographic than others? Action: Use data to modify resources and services offerings for membership tiers to better fit demographics.

STEP 4: FIND YOUR ANSWERS

Your first decision to make is to decide what kind of data product is most useful to your organization and best suits your questions and actions. Your data product could be basic reports, a dashboard or more advanced analytics.

Basic reports are the most straightforward data product. A report will give you an informational summary based on a specified set of criteria, including any relevant data needed to follow through with the action. An example of a report could be pulling a list of members who haven’t renewed after a 45-day grace period. Reports are especially useful when you have specific time-based or action-based triggers that you need to react to. 

Dashboards are a useful tool for visually tracking, analyzing and displaying key data points. These are best when all team members need access to data on a regular basis for monitoring.

Analytics is more about the process of exploring data to extract meaningful insights used to improve your organization. This is certainly a more advanced process. At this stage, you will likely need to consider hiring a member(s) of staff posessing this expertise who can always be evolving your understanding of member behaviour. Analytics are necessary whenever you’ll be performing complex data analysis regularly.

STEP 5: SHARE A COMMON UNDERSTANDING

Before you move on with charting a course, you must take a moment to ensure that your entire team aligns on a common understanding. First and foremost, your team must buy into utilizing the data. You must share the questions and actions you’ve identified with your entire team. This will ensure that everyone understands your data plans and it also prepares your team for the changes that may ensue once you start using data in decision-making processes.

The next important step is to create a data dictionary. A data dictionary’s objective is to develop standard definitions of data elements, meanings and allowable values. When you don’t share a common understanding of business terms, it will impact your organization’s ability to utilize data. Let’s look at this example:

If we think about what lapsed membership means, we will get vastly different answers.

Person A: “I think a lapsed member is someone who didn’t have a membership for three seasons in a row.”

Person B: “I think a lapsed member is someone who hasn’t yet paid for this year’s membership.”

You can now see how quickly your data will fall out of line with expectations if you don’t take some time to create that shared understanding.

STEP 6: IDENTIFY YOUR CHALLENGES

You’re now at a point where you know your questions and actions, you know the kind of data product required, and you also share a common understanding with your team. It would now help if you started thinking about everything that’s standing in your way when it comes to data. Consider all of the sources that will feed into giving you a full understanding of your data and analyze your data’s shape.

Do you have data silos that you need to break down? Data silos happen when you have data spread across disparate systems. This may be a significant impediment to your ability to have a clear understanding of your member data. Rather than remaining restricted by data silos or trying to eliminate them altogether, it’s essential to find an achievable solution that makes important data accessible in one place for all stakeholders. Cutting-edge platforms, like member data platforms, are available and designed to solve this exact dilemma. These platforms will let you manage your member data in one place by integrating with third-party platforms to write member data back into a single source of truth: the member data platform. If you find yourself struggling with data silos, this might be an approach to consider.

STEP 7: CREATE A SUSTAINABLE PLAN

To create a sustainable plan, you need to be able to incorporate data into your existing processes. If you suddenly need to change the way you work entirely to include a plan for data, you’ll find that the program won’t work in the long term.

Start by taking the time to think through your existing process and identify the steps in which data needs to be incorporated. Taking time to document this will provide everyone a clear picture of your current processes and how data fits in. Next, you’ll need to define the format you need your data to be in when you get it. This is where the data products you thought through previously come into play. At each stage where you include data, are you looking at a report, dashboard or analytics? Finally, make sure everyone involved in these existing processes are on board. Make sure that they know how their workflow will change or how data will trigger their workflow.

Now that you have your process mapped out, it’s important to go back through your earlier definitions and expectations set in step five and decide if they still hold true. This entire process is iterative and you can expect to look back to any of the previous steps several times until your plan is strong.

STEP 8: TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER AND TRIANGULATE YOUR DATA

Often overlooked are other ways to triangulate your data using qualitative or more observational methods for questions that can’t be answered by numbers. Your quantitative member data will tell you that a problem is occurring. For example, you may find out that your member retention rate is much lower this year than in previous years. Knowing that the problem exists won’t tell you why the problem exists. This is an excellent case for conducting some low-effort member research. Conducting quick 10-minute interviews with unrenewed members will help give you the ‘why’ you’re seeking as you start seeing patterns in your members’ responses. Utilizing both types of data is something top companies rely on to get the full picture.  Following these steps will put you well on your way to becoming a data-driven organization. It’s vital to keep in mind that incorporating data into your existing processes won’t be perfect. This is a process that you’ll build on and improve over time. We always recommend starting small and building on top of your new data-driven culture. Even as you reach a more mature level, there will still be times when data won’t have your answers. This could be because the data quality or data itself isn’t there to answer a specific question. As you start working with data, you’ll begin to become comfortable using data where you can and still be comfortable making strategic decisions without it. Incorporating data into your toolset is an essential step to providing a better and more personalized member experience in the future.

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