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How To Manage Data Effectively

How To Manage Data Effectively

Suffering from information overload? taking control is vital to your business’ long term profitability. Dave Howell reports

Information is the lifeblood of all businesses, but too much of this precious resource can have a counterproductive impact if not efficiently managed. Information overload is a real and present danger too many small businesses in particular are paying scant attention to.

According to a recent YouGov poll of more than 2,000 British office workers, over 32 per cent said they can’t cope with the rising quantities of information they are asked to manage on a daily basis. One consequence of this is that 39 per cent of respondents feel they need to work longer to keep up with the flow of information, with nearly 60 per cent checking work emails within 15 minutes of getting up in the morning.

### Bad Habits ###

“To regain control, individuals and businesses need to rethink how they use technology, break bad habits and change the role it plays in their lives in order to experience its full potential,” Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft UK and author of the book The Rise of the Humans: How to Outsmart the Digital Deluge, says.

“To do so, we need to learn to use technology differently so that it enhances, rather than constrains, our work and productivity. We need to evolve our working habits and develop new skills, so we can think about the things that matter and lean on technology to support us with processing information, which is what’s it’s designed to do.”

According to John Bryceland, head of sales at software company SAP UKI, harnessing data is all part of the next industrial revolution, where everything will be connected and powered by data.

He adds: “It’s not just for big businesses - the networked economy affects everyone and is an opportunity for smaller firms to gain a competitive advantage through big data driven insights on their customers, partners and the rest of the market. Big data analytics levels the playing field between small and medium-sized enterprises and the industry heavy hitters, spurring competition and innovation in the networked economy.”

The information load businesses have to manage shows no sign of getting smaller. Indeed, thanks to the rise of mobile digital devices, creating and accessing information can now be done any time and from any location. This ‘always on’ approach to business needs to be tempered with a realisation of the impact infobesity can have on a workforce and its ability to operate effectively.

To take control of the mass of information flowing into your business each day requires a detailed understanding of the structure of this information, which employees are impacted by it and how their pressure points can be alleviated.

All information is not equal and should be ranked by importance. Developing a filtering policy will enable your business to see past what can seem like a homogenous mass of data to reveal the key pieces of information your staff need to pay attention to.

There has been a propensity over recent years to develop a culture of multitasking, which is a symptom of information overload. This isn’t surprising, as research from data protection specialist Varonis suggests a quarter of us receive between 100 and 500 emails a day. This doesn’t factor in the other information sources we all come into contact with, most notably from social media networks.

A better approach than multitasking is to assess the information sources your business comes into contact with and develop working practices that assesses these sources and then breaks down any action needed into short bursts of activity.

### Debilitating affect ###

Today’s always on business world can have a debilitating affect on a company, especially if it results in falling morale among employees. The good news is that this can be avoided by developing an effective information management policy.

Information technology is often pointed to as the root cause of information overload. However, when used correctly it can help alleviate infobesity. Often the technologies that are used daily within every small business simply allow it to do traditional work faster, but not necessarily with more efficiency. Effective businesses harness technology to help them make sense of the data they have and put it to practical use.

“Once firms establish what insight they hope to gain from their data, they can often put sophisticated processes in place to collect and report on this information automatically,” Robert Gothan, CEO and founder of Accountagility, a business process management specialist,
says.

“This way, firms will not only increase their efficiency, but also gain valuable information with little ongoing effort. By tapping into the power of their data in this way, businesses can focus on their broader strategic goals and make informed decisions that have a positive and measurable impact on the bottom line.”

Decision making paralysis is the most common consequence of information overload. “Many SMEs are still reluctant to incorporate new technology into their information management processing,” Phil Hutchison, operational marketing director at mail room equipment manufacturer Neopost, says. “Whether it is due to cost or complexity, many are choosing to stick with traditional methods.

“However, without the ability to immediately filter irrelevant information, decision makers are gorging themselves on unnecessary data. Indeed, SMEs need to realise that technology can and will help with each stage of growth and they can no longer shy away from its importance in today’s business world.”

### Digital distractions ###

Information overload is something many small businesses suffer from, but it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Dave Coplin. “Succumbing to the digital distractions of our lives and failing to harness the transformative power of technology are simply beginner’s mistakes, made by us - the first generation of connected consumers, connected workers and connected companies,” he explains.

“Where we go wrong is using technology to speed up the old ways of working. Instead we should use technology to transform work and fundamentally reimagine how we use information. And I can see signs everywhere that we are beginning to turn things around. Technologies, tools and best practices are emerging that help us make good use of the data deluge and turn it into a big data gold mine instead.”

Today’s businesses are the first to have the technology to find actionable patterns in the information that passes through them. Information overload is a mismatch between the information collected, its value assessment and how it can lead to commercially advantageous action. If your business can balance these aspects of their information flow, it will reap the rewards.

“Information overload is something many small businesses suffer from, but it doesn’t have to be that way”

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