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Business intelligence: How to drive data-driven insights into customers and staff

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Business intelligence offers to turn data into actionable insights – information that can inform strategic and tactical decisions about products, pricing, competition, markets, investments and budgets.

It’s essential to understand your staff and customers – two areas of enormous value to your business from a data perspective. But how are you unlocking this data and picking up on the intelligence available to you?

Alex Mitchell, founder of Causarma and Kit Us Out, says: “Know the points you can get data and how best to capture it is fast becoming a crucial component of any business, whether you’re a startup, established, or growing business.

“The insights you get from your team, as well as the advice you gather from customer feedback, can, in many situations, be more valuable [at least in the short term] than any external business mentoring or support you receive.”

Mitchell says it’s wise to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you know how they’re using your product or service?
  • Do you know what they’re looking for (rather than telling them what they need)?
  • If they’re not buying from you, where are they buying from and why?

Mitchell warns not just to focus on pricing. Often a buying decision, especially a repeat one, can be down to an emotional touchpoint the consumer has experienced.

Mitchell says: “If you have customers, the market intelligence you need is there – it’s just a case of how you find it, listen to it, interpret it, and implement it.

“Honesty is important here.

“Throughout this intelligence gathering and assessment process, it’s the vital ingredient.”

Turn your data into actionable insights

With business intelligence technology, you can help uncover opportunities, mitigate risks, improve operational effectiveness, and drive customer acquisition using actionable and accurate data.

Business intelligence solutions don’t tell you what to do. They inform you about what has happened, what is happening, and (using artificial intelligence) what might happen so you can make informed decisions.

Successful decisions come from those that consider the full picture – using all available sources of information.

Here are three ways to make the most of business intelligence.

1. Consider how business intelligence can help your business

You may already have a business management solution or business intelligence functionality in place and are refocusing your efforts. Or you may be looking to adopt a platform with business intelligence for the first time.

In either case, your first step should be to set your criteria for what you want business intelligence to deliver. Prioritise in line with your company strategy and tactical needs.

Business intelligence should deliver insights from across the organisation, in real time, presented in such a way as to help you:

  • Concentrate on profitable business areas
  • Ensure adequate cash reserves
  • Clearly understand your market, customers and buying habits
  • Price products or services correctly
  • Forecast cash flow
  • Actively respond to competition, technology or other changes in the market
  • Avoid over-generalisation
  • Reduce overdependence on a single customer
  • Control and optimise growth
  • Improve management.

2. Decide what to track

Consider the key performance indicators (KPIs) that you need to track in your business. Profitability, cash flow, break-even point and your top selling products are just a few that spring to mind.

Keeping your finger on the pulse of these major KPIs will go a long way in helping you make smarter decisions for the business.

3. Choose a solution that meets your needs

Every business has different needs. This holds true for what a business will require from their business intelligence solution.

At the very least, a good one should be able to easily help you answer questions such as:

  • How far can we stretch our creditors’ days and what might that mean for cash flow?
  • What difference would it make if we offered debtors 28 days to pay instead of 60?
  • What resources will we need in terms of inventory and headcount if our business grows by 10% – and how profitable would that growth be?
  • How much have sales grown or shrunk against the same period last year, and why?

Using business intelligence in HR

It’s not just your customers that you can draw data and actionable insight from. You can also use HR analytics, or people analytics, to gain insight that helps organisational performance and find solutions to problems.

Many organisations hold a great deal of current and historical information about their people, such as pay, length of service, attendance, qualifications, training and performance.

Rather than just storing, mining and reporting data, HR software can make powerful algorithms scrutinise this data and identify trends that could influence HR and business strategy.

Analytics systems can draw on external information such as benchmarking data, or internal operational and financial information, to create even more actionable, detailed and useful HR management information.

Futurists and best-selling author Bernard Marr believes intelligent data-driven HR is transforming many aspects of how HR teams serve the people in their organisations.

He says: “The technology is changing fast, too – faster than even I would have anticipated five years ago.

“That means how HR teams’ function in just a few years will probably be very different again. But, even amidst this uncertainty, some things are crystal clear about the future of data-driven HR.”

Marr offers the following three predictions:

1. HR will have a unique role to play in a data-driven world

He says: “The proliferation of data analytics, IoT[Internet of Things]-enabled devices, and AI tools is only going to continue, and this will carry on impacting the way HR works, just like every other area of the business.

“In this changing environment, the challenge for HR teams is to find a balance between technology (particularly automation) and the human role in the organisations of the future.

“I believe the biggest challenge facing HR teams going forward is not keeping up with technology and learning new skills like data analysis, it’s finding the uniquely human place in the organisation – and within the HR team itself.

“Therefore, the HR teams of today need to be thinking about what HR will look like in the future, and this includes what exactly can be automated, and what can’t.

“They need to figure out HR’s contribution to the workplace of the future.”

2. When it comes to automation, HR must lead the way

He says: “There’s no escaping automation. It’s therefore important for everyone, in every job and every industry, to consider the implications of our increasingly automated world, and how automation might affect their job and employment prospects over the coming years.

“For HR teams, this is particularly pertinent.

“Not only are HR professionals finding their own way in this new world, but they also have to equip the people in their organisation with the essential skills for helping the business succeed in the future.”

3. The future is bright for intelligent, data-driven HR

He says: “I’ve worked with so many different HR teams over the years, and, in my experience, the world of data and numbers isn’t exactly what gets the average HR professional’s heart racing.

“Most HR professionals go into the job because they’re intrinsically people focused – they’re interested in human interaction, not analysing datasets. So, if you’re concerned, you need to become a data scientist to keep your job, you can relax. I believe the opposite is true.

“The great news is that a lot of the AI and machine learning tools coming on to the market will allow us to automatically analyse HR data and generate valuable insights.

With the machines taking care of the data analysis and insight generation, HR professionals can focus on what they do best: working with people.”

Three steps to get started with business intelligence for HR purposes

Follow these steps to begin using business intelligence to improve workforce experiences.

1. Centralise employee data

Before you can make use of employee data, you need to unify disparate sources into a central repository – it might currently site across different systems, spreadsheets and paper records.

The only way you can have accurate and consistent data is if you have a single source of truth with consolidated data, where you can glean the insight you need.

2. Create a dashboard and build in analytics

Visualising data is an essential way of monitoring the data and key performance indicators you need, deriving insight into HR metrics that can help you to improve business outcomes.

Ideally, this information will be accessible in real time. And it may be the case that you need to develop the analytical skills within your team and, if necessary, procuring outside help.

3. Use analytics to drive better workforce experiences

You should identify the business problems you have (such as low retention or an inability to identify high performers) and find ways to link analytics to achieve better business outcomes.

Through predictive analytics, you can also use historical data and current trends to predict what will happen in the future – such as the possible cultural fit for the employee and their ability to upskill.

When it comes to both customers and staff, business intelligence is an essential tool for digital transformation, presenting where new technologies can make the most difference and providing business leaders with the ability to react with higher speed and agility.

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