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Making your data work for you: Curbing reckless investment in technology

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(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Let’s be clear, data is everybody’s business. It has—finally—moved beyond the remit of the IT and tech whizzes in an organization and now permeates every department, no matter how big or small. Despite this, businesses are still not adequately adjusting to the new reality, and as a result many are wasting money.

Many businesses still expect technology to be a silver bullet, capable of solving problems simply by being present. This is unrealistic. Technology can be a wonderful facilitator, enabling businesses to scale, automate time-consuming tasks, and streamline operations. It cannot act as a replacement for the kinds of expertise that all organizations have within them. Technology can understand how to do something, but it cannot understand why; without this clear direction and behind whatever technology your business invests in, it is likely to become the equivalent of the expensive antique armchair that nobody is allowed to sit on, eating into your finances and creating clutter without offering real functionality.

This brings us onto people. Across the enterprise there should be strong representation of people who not only understand data and how it can be leveraged today, but also with one eye on tomorrow and the commercial value it brings to the business. Operating in silos may mean losing out on real business opportunities and vital information. Often, there are no shared KPIs across departments, meaning everyone is pulling in different directions and reaching for disparate goals, making it easy for underperformance on a particular investment to go unnoticed. Siloed buying decisions create duplication both in assessments of need and capability, and in implementation.

Tech sales teams play a large role here in that they are often very good at their job—and may be selling to people who don’t really understand the product, the industry, or what problem this technology was really created to solve. A fear of not purchasing something in case it confers some unspecified business advantage on competitors in the future leads businesses to leap before they look in this area. It’s important never to lose sight of the why in these decisions: why was this tech product created, and does it solve a need that our business really has?

Answering staff needs

Why do I think this product will help our organization grow or succeed? And most importantly, why will it help us understand our consumers’ needs? If the answer is uncertain or comes back to something vague that might happen in the future, it’s likely the investment needs greater consideration to prevent another siloed technology investment decision with questionable payback until you buy the next shiny object that solves for this. The first step to rectifying this problem is for businesses to treat tech as the last step in a process, rather as the starting point. This approach is much more likely to allow you to see technology for what it is—a solution to a specific issue.

Leading with an approach which focuses on answering the needs of your staff and getting to know your customers will enable more sustainable growth across the business. Here, shared KPIs can be invaluable for keeping everyone focused on the same course, and preventing that duplication which can so easily spiral, especially in large organizations.

There are areas, such as marketing, where answering needs will pay dividends in more than just reducing pointless tech investment and team frustration. Traditional tools such as third-party cookies are due to be phased out, whilst regulators in Britain, the EU and the US all have their eyes on concerns such as privacy and data collection like never before. For these reasons alone, it makes sense for brands to start looking at what data they have internally on their customers, and to start thinking about which parts are both useful and compliant. The data a customer provides needs to be collected and used with the customer who provided it in mind. Delivering an enhanced customer experience, not merely to blast them with an email on the next product or offer you have. Data is indicative of the shift from push to pull marketing.

The power to translate the usefulness of technology

Technology is an aid to human knowledge, rather than a solution to problems in and of itself. The industry has struggled because it has thrown money at technology as if it can make things happen without the intelligent human input which is always necessary for success. I see this happen time and time again; in fact, it’s one of the reasons I started a consultancy, to challenge businesses on this notion, and to re-center the customer in all decisions.

By focusing on your own data and systems, and bringing in all parts of your business, this issue will naturally start to resolve itself as people collaborate and try new things. It also makes it much easier to monitor failure. There is always an incentive when working with third parties for them to disguise failure and exaggerate results, to the detriment of your business. This may partially explain the huge quantities of money being wasted in digital marketing media, for instance, where a Proxima report estimated that as much as 60 percent of spend might be going to waste. 

It's not to say one has to entirely abandon spending with third-party platforms, for instance, but to fully leverage internal data first with existing technology aligned to the business goals today, whilst reviewing gaps and how additional outside vendors can support in order to optimize a businesses’ existing infrastructure to become more sustainable. Part of this is about having a long-term plan to avoid overspending, overusing and also overwhelming employees just for the sake of implementing a new technology. Sharing information and data with partner businesses can create a mutually beneficial pool, allowing you to learn even more about your customers beyond how they work with your brand.

Technologists are not famed for their communication skills, and getting this point across to others in a business is always tricky. A lack of shared points of reference can make conversations feel as though they are happening across a huge chasm in understanding. The power to translate the usefulness of technology, or the lack thereof, to others in an organization is a vital one. The need for collaboration across the business is the solution, as it's not just on the Technology team to crystallize value, but this should be shared at an enterprise and operational level.

Neil Joyce, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Customer Lifetime Value Group

Neil Joyce is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Customer Lifetime Value Group, the leading independent data and identity consultancy specialising in strategic data-driven transformation and innovation.