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Every organization has data, whether they know it or not. A company’s data is their second biggest asset (staff, data, customers, other assets). Without data, how do you make decisions? How do you chose what areas to focus on, what department to grow, which customers need another visit, where your strengths and weaknesses are? Lots of firms neglect their data, leaving it to languish in old computer systems or worse still, paperwork, when they should be making it work for them. It should be updated continuously and used to generate valuable reports for management and staff.

What is joined-up data?

You’ve probably heard of the phrase joined-up thinking. Well, joined-up data is really the same thing: different departments having a free exchange of data.

An example of a system with joined-up data would be the following:

Imagine a railway company. One computer system holds the track information – lengths, junctions, stations – in a GIS database. Another system handles the scheduling. The two systems talk to each other. For example, the scheduling system can query the GIS system to find out how long a train will take to get from station A to station B and then it presents the timetable to the user.

A third system is a ticketing solution. This system uses information from the GIS systems to find out length of track and station zones, and calculate prices for journeys. All systems are joined-up.

Another example

Now consider a cleaning company. They get requests over the phone for jobs and open up a calendar to see when they’re free. They book the appointment with the client, then look up the customer in an address book application to get their address, and copy that information to the calendar so they know where to go to do the job.

When the job is done, the cleaner fills out a hand-written note, which is dropped on the completed pile when they return to the office. Office admin goes through the completed pile, and types the information into excel to create an invoice, which is printed and mailed to the client. At the end of the month, all the excel spreadsheets are totalled to do the accounts.

This is an example of a computer system with data that is not joined-up. This sounds like a bad example, but is very typical of medium sized or growing businesses. All of these systems are on a computer somewhere – the calendar, the address book, the excel invoices – so they could all be joined up: they could all be one system.

The advantages of joined-up data are manifold. Employee’s would save time copying data and so would have more time to spend creating new business. Mistakes wouldn’t be made – cleaners going to the wrong address or even worse, invoices being lost in the system. Invoicing would be quicker and so cash-flow would be better, and so on.

Then there are the fringe benefits. With everything in one joined-up system, unpaid invoices could be tracked and the user alerted on a regular basis. Customers who’s address hasn’t been visited in several months could be sent a reminder email, asking if they require a spring-clean, thus generating more business.

Systems for Data

Of course, one unified system is the ideal and are many off-the-shelf offerings for typical companies – just look at capterra or g2 to search business software by category – but a lot of organisations require customization on top of an off-the-shelf system. And some businesses may require a fully customised solution which can get expensive. A first basic step for many would be to identify those data gaps and plug them. So use custom software to bridge the gaps of functionality between off-the-shelf systems and keep the data flowing between them. This third approach is cost effective, but many software providers won’t offer this service as it’s difficult and has a charge ceiling.

I can recommend Scotia Software, based in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for customer-facing businesses. They provide  business software systems that can handle inventory and sales with extensive reporting, provide additional customization, will install on site and provide on-going maintenance at competitive costs. I can also recommend Samson-Kenny, based on Isle Madame, Nova Scotia, who specialize in software for the fisheries industry. If you contact them, please tell them Software Guru sent you.

Automation and Reporting

Once you have a useable software solution, you’ll want to automate as much as possible. Cut down on those manual tasks that are time-consuming and prone to errors. Let the computer re-order stock when levels are low, or notify customers of new products over email. Automate as much as you can to streamline your business processes.

Then get to work on creating valuable reports to check all areas of your business and refer to them regularly. Not just the usual Profit and Loss. Financial reports are vital, but just as important are production reports, customer trends, wastage reports, and so on.

And don’t forget to back-up that valuable data regularly and verify your backups too.

Good luck