It’s clear that technology is changing the world at a rapid rate. You only need to look at the gently swaying zombies on the train, eyes glued to their smartphones – to understand that the way in which we interact and engage with the world is far different today, than a decade ago.

As devices have multiplied and improved exponentially, so has the amount of data being collected that captures everything we are, and do. And it’s accelerating. Consider the internet of things – everyday objects with network connectivity reporting on everything from your lost keys, to the movements of your pet, to how much milk you have left in the fridge.

The extremely large data sets of structured and unstructured data that we generate every day is what we call big data. And the thing is, there’s a lot to be learnt from it. By parsing and analyzing the information we collect every day we can reveal patterns in human behavior, interactions, and use these insights to better inform our business decisions.

Recently over on our Digit blog I wrote about our experiences building a fast-growing bookkeeping firm, and what we track and measure. As a service business, success is determined simply by how efficiently we do what we say we will, and how effectively we communicate. Our systems measure everything related to these two metrics, and enable us to ensure we’re on the right track.

What does this look like? One example is that we track all calls and emails from and to clients through an integration with our CRM and office365. This helps us maintain a single conversation with the client to help us in day-to-day management, but it also affords us insights.

For instance – if we understand that on average a client will take a week to respond to us by email, we can test if phone calls are more effective. If we understand that one of our team members takes slightly longer to respond than everyone else, we can assess whether they need more training, or a reduced workload. Powerful stuff right?

My favourite example of data driven decision-making comes from when I was using a tool called SideKick. SideKick places tracking pixels in your emails and lets you know when someone has opened them. One day when emailing a potential client, I noticed that he kept replying at exactly 11am each day. It seemed to be the time he devoted to his emails and was available. So after failing to get through on the phone earlier in the morning, and in the afternoon – I tried calling at 11amone day and got straight through. So we organised a meeting for 11am the following day. While tools like these might seem stalkerish, they help you engage with people more effectively – by allowing you to work in with them.


So what are the lessons to be learnt here? How can data help you build a better business?


  1. Understand what you are trying to track and measure
    You can probably identify one or two key measures that underpin your whole business. In a small coffee shop it might be coffees per hour. In a yoga studio it might be people per class. For a Saas business it might be your churn rate. Determine the area of your business you want to better understand.


  2. Implement systems to capture what you need
    You might use a cloud based system like Xero to give you real-time insights and reporting for quantitative analysis. Or perhaps you develop a customer happiness survey for some qualitative analysis. Whatever the tool, ensure you collect data consistently.


  3. Continuously improve
    Having access to data is only as useful as how you interpret and apply what you learn. Constantly review your reports, and use those insights to improve your business. If you aren’t getting the feedback you need, tweak what you are measuring.