data analytics

“Data analytics” has become a buzzword.

By Susan Velasco

Searching Google for “small business data analytics” returns a staggering 451 million results. But behind the buzzword, data analytics has extraordinary practical applications for small business. Analyzing the data your business generates and uncovering patterns and trends leads to insights that can help you optimize and innovate operations, make your business more efficient, improve your workforce – and get an edge on the competition.

But many small businesses find that mastering data analytics is a challenge. It’s not that small businesses are skittish about using technology; more often, the hurdle is a continued reliance on the use of paper forms and manual processes to run the business.

Maximizing the power of data analytics starts with collecting accurate information in a shareable format – in real-time. If your company relies on paper forms (timesheets, inspection reports, work orders, etc.), then this is impossible.

Each time your business uses paper to capture information, problems are inevitable. Paperwork gets lost. There’s also a delay between a form being filled out and it reaching the head office. It takes hours, even days, to enter the information into your computer systems – and usually, only as you’re doing that, do you discover that a form is missing information or illegible. Only then can data analysis begin. By then, it may be too late. Research indicates data has a half-life of approximately 30 minutes. After that, its relevance and usefulness begins to drop and conclusions from analysis become questionable.

But when data is captured digitally via a smart phone app and uploaded to the cloud, the value of that data can become actionable. Now, the information can be easily shared and analyzed in real-time using dashboard reporting tools. This is where the magic of data analysis happens. With immediate access to accurate information, business managers can spot potential issues – from unpaid invoices to low inventory stocks – and address them quickly, before they snowball out of control. It’s the difference between performing preventative maintenance on your business versus having no awareness of something that could potentially threaten your very business’ survival.

Here are a few use cases that stand out:

Mobile Workforce: By giving your workforce the tools to collect data in the field and in real-time, your company can track their movements, better coordinate their activities, and interpret trends. For instance, if field workers are delayed in reaching a customer site or delivery destination, your data can tell you which routes present problems or which employees consistently encounter delays. Armed with this information you can optimize delivery routes, address employee issues, or pre-position staff – and improve customer relations by giving your customer a heads-up that a delivery will occur later than expected.

Inventory: Analytics tools can also help you stay on top of inventory management. You can track inventory received, monitor inventory levels, and coordinate with sales to ensure supply meets demand. By coupling these insights with variables such as day in week, day in month, and day in year sales fluctuations you can quickly detect temporal patterns and adjust your ordering behavior accordingly.

Digital data capture and analysis can also be applied to inventory fulfilment. For example, you can document the delivery of items instantly via mobile apps and attach photos to the delivery record. This makes it much easier to demonstrate the quality and condition of goods received by the customer.

Worker Safety: Analytics can help identify the greatest areas of risk to worker safety. You can spot common factors that lead to accidents and take proactive preventative measures to reduce risk and liability, thus resulting in lower insurance costs and fewer project delays.

Compliance: The speedy collection and analysis of compliance data enables you to remedy potential areas of non-compliance before they are reported to authorities and more easily track the status of tickets.

Mobile Payments: Accepting payments on-the-go affords a huge cash flow advantage. Adding data analytics to the mix allows you to track outstanding accounts and balances in real-time. Trends can also be gleaned such as which companies, customer profiles, or regions present payment challenges, or whether customer dissatisfaction issues are delaying payments. With these insights, you can implement best practices to accounts receivable or apply greater scrutiny to collection methods.

Collecting and analyzing data digitally is not an option, it’s a must-have. It does more than simply enable greater efficiencies; it can help you detect trends that can be capitalized on or need immediate attention. Without an analytics dashboard you might as well be driving without headlights on.

The good news: analytics is no longer reserved for large enterprises. Thanks to mobile apps and cloud technology, any small business can have complete mastery of their data.

Susan Velasco is the Director of Product Management at GoCanvas.

Data analytics stock photo by NicoElNino/Shutterstock