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CIO upfront: The importance of data-driven insights

CIO upfront: The importance of data-driven insights

Surveys can be really useful, but when it comes to business trends and insights, cold, hard, factual data tells us what we really need to know, writes Craig Hudson of Xero.

Programmatic advertising is already advanced in its techniques to zero in on our movements and hobbies – if we log a lot of outdoor cycling, for example, we may start being targeted by cycle shops advertising their new Lycra clothing lines.

Programmatic advertising is already advanced in its techniques to zero in on our movements and hobbies – if we log a lot of outdoor cycling, for example, we may start being targeted by cycle shops advertising their new Lycra clothing lines.

Advancements in technology are improving business practices at a huge rate. There are countless areas where technology is proving invaluable to businesses both large and small, not only through automation and machine learning, but also through better resource management, improved administration processes, and data-driven insights.

Almost every transaction we take part in involves exchanging data – we have more data at our fingertips than ever before. Companies can collect information about everything from our spending patterns to our demographics to our internet browsing habits.

What’s becoming more and more important now, is how companies use the data that they’ve gathered. The insights they can collect and the knowledge they can gain from these insights are becoming an integral part of almost every business experience.

We are into the analytics economy

A watchful eye

Big data and the resulting data-driven insights involves collection and analysis of extremely large data sets to reveal patterns and trends. This massive-scale data collection and analysis is being used all around the world, across nearly every industry and is being used to derive all sorts of useful information.

Take smartwatches – we can now track every aspect of our health and wellbeing, from how much of the day we spend standing to how much sleep we get to how often we are active. We can set goals and share our metrics with friends. Programmatic advertising is already advanced in its techniques to zero in on our movements and hobbies – if we log a lot of outdoor cycling, for example, we may start being targeted by cycle shops advertising their new Lycra clothing lines.

‘In God we trust; all others must bring data’

Using data for good

Companies like Apple are sitting on massive goldmines of information, and the company has already started using this information for good. Apple’s ResearchKit gives researchers a huge community to track and seek accurate health data. As a result, iPhones and Apple Watches can essentially be used as medical research devices, enabling researchers to collect and compile data for health studies. It’s so amazing to see that ResearchKit has already assisted in studies on asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Big data can go even further when it comes to health and wellbeing. Using a wearable device to track vitals such as heart rate, blood pressure and temperature could lead to medical issues being caught before they become a bigger issue. In fact, the University of Ontario's Institute of Technology has tapped into big data to improve the life expectancy of premature babies. The Artemis Project synthesised millions of data samples from neonatal monitors to analyse patterns, and developed an algorithm to predict infections in premature babies, a full 24 hours before any symptoms appear. These kinds of developments make me really excited for the future potential of big data.

Use data for good, not just to ‘sell stuff’

Accurate data leads to accurate insights

I’m also excited about what we all can gain from applying data-driven insights in business. In New Zealand, up until recently, we relied on surveys to derive insights into the state of business across the country. Any insights we formed, or steps we took, or changes we implemented in business, were driven by the opinions and perceptions of those surveyed.

Surveys can be really useful in some cases – such as when we don’t have access to factual data or if we specifically want to know what people are thinking and feeling. At Xero, we survey our staff regularly about their thoughts, feelings and perceptions at work and the data we gather from these surveys is really useful. But, when it comes to business trends and insights, cold, hard, factual data tells us what we really need to know.

What’s becoming more and more important now, is how companies use the data that they’ve gathered. The insights they can collect and the knowledge they can gain from these insights are becoming an integral part of almost every business experience.
What’s becoming more and more important now, is how companies use the data that they’ve gathered. The insights they can collect and the knowledge they can gain from these insights are becoming an integral part of almost every business experience.

Use analytics to make sure you are the disruptors and not the disrupted

With Xero Small Business Insights, we’ve drawn data from more than 300,000 small businesses across New Zealand to compile data sets which help us understand the health of the small business sector.

Rather than asking businesses what the state of their cash flow is, or how long it takes for them to get paid, we can from the anonymised, aggregated data we have pulled from our platform.. It gives us an accurate picture of business conditions which is much more comprehensive than most private surveys.

It’s our intention that as these metrics evolve, they’ll help decision makers better understand the opportunities and challenges small businesses face, whether that's looking at the best month to hire staff, or the average number of days it takes for them to get paid (spoiler alert, it still takes too long).

It’s early days, but as the data sets get deeper and more evolved, we’ll be able to use this information to drive some big changes in small business.

Craig Hudson is managing director New Zealand at  Xero

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