No, I’m not suggesting that you make your data available to everyone on the internet. I’m talking about freeing your data from its tight fitting applications.
Applications are important. They guide you and your staff in the efficient execution of the processes that keep your company moving. Along the way, they allow (or even require) a variety of data to be entered. Your applications help (or should help) ensure that your data is correct, and complete, and up to date.
What your applications don’t do is allow you to turn your data upside down and look at it from different directions. They hide your data like your shoes hide your feet. They insulate you from your data like shoes insulate you from the ground you are walking on. Much of the time that’s just fine. It’s why you wear shoes. But sometimes those shoes are just too tight, and won’t let you do what you want to do. Once in a while you need to take your shoes off and feel the sand between your toes.
Freeing your data from its application containers allows you to look at it from different angles. To sort, and filter, and compare it in ways that the applications you use were never designed for.
Most off the shelf applications provide some sort of mechanism to export your data (perhaps text files, that can be easily imported into a spreadsheet). Some larger applications require a bit more know-how, so you may need to get help from someone with a bit more technical knowhow, but it can still be done.
Once you’ve freed your data, you can sort on anything, perform trend analysis, or filter on combinations of fields that the application designers never considered! Those fancy charts that you wanted, but the application didn’t produce are now within reach.
Perhaps the most exciting thing you can do with your data once it is outside your applications is to integrate it!
Combine the data from your CRM with data from your order system, then add in the stuff that is languishing in your shipping system. Suddenly, new insights open up. You can see how different contacts from the same company are ordering. Perhaps you could suggest a way to consolidate their orders, and save them a ton in shipping costs. Happy customers!
Perhaps it’s as simple as combining the data from different systems so that you can present a consolidated invoice to your clients. It could even be as simple as providing a way for you to quickly figure out what addresses in your shipping system are different from what you have in your CRM so that your mailing campaigns get your materials to the right people.
Just Do It
Keeping your data in your applications is like a child only interacting with a toy through the cellophane window in the box.
Large companies have been investing millions in so called business intelligence systems for decades, but all companies (even small ones) can benefit (even without the hefty price tag). You may be surprised what you can find out once you have freed your data.