Don’t give up on your business data just yet

Remember five or 10 years ago, when Big Data and analytics promised to change everything about how we do business?

Those were the salad days for data nerds like myself. Amazon was disrupting entire industries through its use of customer data, IBM’s Watson supercomputer beat Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings and “Moneyball” — a movie about data analytics in baseball, and starring Brad Pitt — pulled in $110 million and six Oscar nominations.

Even the federal government, the slowest of all entities, was in on it, with President Obama announcing the hiring of the White House’s first chief data officer. Yes, we did!

Fast forward to today, and you can see the Big Data Rush sputtering to a trickle. Rather than transforming our companies into hyper-efficient, all-knowing enterprises, the massive reams of data now available for collection are having the opposite effect on your teams: You’re probably drowning in not-useful data.

Your data management systems are likely a mess, and your analytics teams are overloaded or burnt out. Maybe you’re storing reams of information in digital file cabinets opened only once or twice a year — usually, after you’re reminded of data’s importance — or maybe you’ve given up on it completely. After all, why waste your time and energy on data analytics when the ROI is so fuzzy?

It’s OK, I get it. You have customers to serve, orders to ship and emails to answer. Oh yeah, and there’s a pandemic still going on. Staying in business is hard enough without the challenge of capturing, organizing and analyzing the thousands of data points out there for the taking.

The truth is when it comes to capitalizing on your data, it’s not just about the data itself. Much like other valuable commodities like oil or gold, it’s about investing in the infrastructure needed to refine, extract and store it. Similar to oil pooling on the ground, you can’t just leave your data in its native format and expect to get much out of it.

With so much information coming into your organization, from marketing and sales data to customer feedback, you need automated, digital tools to help your people make sense of it.

Of course, no one ever really mentioned that when Watson was kicking Jennings’ kiester up and down the Jeopardy board; in “Moneyball,” Brad Pitt made it to the MLB playoffs with help only from Jonah Hill, his trusty quant. Yet, that’s exactly what we’re expecting our real-life data experts to do — and we’re surprised when they can’t.

This isn’t meant to be some shaming column, but rather some words of encouragement. If you’re ready to tackle that business data pile and actually do something useful with it, change is possible.

Our first recommendation when trying to tame the data beast is to make sure your business has a Google Analytics (GA4) account set up for your web properties. This is really the nerve center for all of the web data coming into your company. Without GA4, your marketing teams are largely running blind. Are customers finding your landing pages? Are they entering your sales funnel or clicking away? Without Google Analytics, who knows?

Once you have GA4 configured, the next step is creating a dashboard through Google Data Studio. The secret here is in GDS’ ability to consolidate disparate streams of data into one easy-to-review location. We’re not just talking about Google or website data, either — GDS can bring together data from just about any digital source you have. When you can see your data at a glance, it becomes actionable.

Connecting Google Data Studio to your GA4 account can be easy if you have the know-how. That will import your website data and organize it into a number of pre-built templates, giving your teams instant visibility to your web traffic, referral sources, user demographics and more.

Connecting other data streams can require a bit more fiddling, including some coding, APIs or development work, but it’s nothing a few data nerds can’t handle. Once you get past that initial investment, you’ll have a central clearinghouse for the data that’s most important to your business — whatever you judge that to be. And that’s when the real results start.  

John Osako is president and COO of Informatics Inc., a digital agency based in Cedar Rapids. Contact him at [email protected].