There’s so much choice in today’s market. It can be challenging to find new ways to differentiate your service and deliver competitive advantage to truly stand out. The standard advice is to drive innovation. But in a year of severe disruption, how can even more change be beneficial? How can you start the journey? And what tools are available to help?
Modern data and analytics can help you understand new market behaviours, respond accordingly and fine-tune services on the go. Rapid innovation is enabling many businesses to stay ahead of change and stand out. We ourselves have found that when employees can access the right data, at the right time and in the right ways, they feel empowered to innovate and propose creative solutions with more confidence.
I’ve witnessed this culture change in action, and the positive results are widely recognised by other business leaders: in a Harvard Business Review report, 91 percent of respondents agreed that effective data and analytics strategies are essential. Strikingly, however, only 20 percent rated their organisations as mature in this area.
Becoming data-driven isn’t a quick journey. At Microsoft, it involved breaking down data silos and making many other changes to the way we worked. Our teams still find it helpful to review and adjust their journey continuously, based on changing external and internal factors. But successful transformations start by getting the basics right and building out from there. I’d like to share four key ways in which you can use data to speed your journey to innovation.
1. Get a single, holistic view of business performance to drive innovation
Whether it’s structured, semi-structured, or unstructured, data comes from many different sources. So how can you best use all those data streams, repositories and silos to unlock insights and feed innovation?
By combining your data into a single view, across your business.
Let me give an example. The industrial technology firm Smiths Group has five business divisions that each had different data strategies, systems and reporting – they had 800 applications across the business. Employees found that, to get a holistic view across the organisation, they had to manually extract data from many sources.
So Smiths Group decided to consolidate multiple business divisions and data sources – including enterprise resource planning tools, finance systems, and SAP applications – into a Data Lake. Employees can now find the data and analytics they need. Business divisions and leaders can make better and more informed strategic decisions, faster. The company can now follow up with new operational, process and service innovation opportunities.
2. Improve and simplify decision making
Our experience as a transformation partner has shown that organisations with a robust data foundation also ensure their people can make informed decisions. A single data repository, secured by account-based permissions, enables and accelerates this.
At City of Westminster, employees are able to gain a single view of residents’ data to help make better decisions, faster. In addition, they can easily draw on rich visualisations and information dashboards to help them innovate more personalised experiences.
A single data repository can also help organisations respond more quickly to external and internal changes. For example, Ricoh is leveraging data and analytics to access insights that deliver process improvements and enhance customer value. By connecting their factory into a single data view, they can easily track inventory across all stages of the production cycle. This means they can make process innovations to drive efficiency and competitiveness.
3. Disrupt business models with innovation
Wherever business models are disrupted by AI and machine-learning, innovation can be found. For example, secure AI solutions can now analyse images, comprehend speech and make predictions using data. This opens up really diverse opportunities for innovation, from deploying and fine-tuning new omnichannel customer-purchase touchpoints to chatbot testing, analytics and optimisation.
I’m personally still in awe when I think how rapidly AI is able to learn from increasingly vast tracts of data. It lets us deeply understand our organisations and customers, uncover insights, and find new relationships and patterns at scale. Yet when we nurture a data and analytics culture, we actually enable our employees to drive innovation as part of their everyday practice.
Allowing AI and machine learning to take over manual tasks can also free up employees to do more innovative or ‘human-only’ work. For example, while customer service chatbots handle frequently asked questions, employees can focus on cultivating customer relationships.
4. Empower innovation for all employees
Our research suggests firms that gain the most from technology have also invested in skilling their people. It follows that leaders who build a culture of continuous learning into their data journey will be the ones who achieve the most success.
One reason for this is that tech competence enriches every employee’s contribution. Data and analytics skills, for example, enable us to see how effectively we’re achieving our goals. They empower people to identify innovative ideas, put them into practice and increase productivity. In a learning culture that embraces all employees, everyone understands how data and analytics can enhance their performance, creativity and power to innovate.
Innovation at speed
It’s clear that becoming a data-driven organisation can help unlock new revenue streams, build stronger customer relationships and drive competitive advantage. I’ve learnt that a clear, coordinated data strategy, aligned to explicit business outcomes, can create a robust platform for growth. Leaders can then empower employees with the information they need, supported by the skills to interpret insights and propose exciting, new ideas.
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About the author
Zephaniah is Microsoft UK’s Data business Lead. Leading and partnering across marketing, technology partners and sales strategy and execution to help customers realise the opportunities that technology creates through digital transformation with data playing a key role.