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There is at least one IS2 employee here who isn’t really religious but still sees Lent as a great way to cut out excess in his life. This year, it seems to be red meat (we’ll see how long that lasts). Though many of us here would be hard pressed to give up bacon for even a day, you’ve got to admire the effort. Successful or not, it’s a good idea to assess what bloat could be cut out of your life from time to time, and we think that goes for data too.

Cut the Data Deluge

These days, everyone is talking about Big Data, and for good reason: understanding all the data your company generates is the first step in running your business by the numbers and really using analytics to get an edge over the competition. But we cater to a lot of small and medium businesses, and a lot of them are just too busy and short-staffed to pay attention to every scrap of data that crosses their monitors.

So how can you trim the fat when it comes to data to improve your business and efficiency? Here are three ways:

1. Cut the noise

Headphones
Not all the data flowing through your pipes is worthy of your utmost attention. Especially with a small business, where resources and man-power may be limited, you want to be choosy about what makes it through your filters. Take the time to figure out what your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are that really inform you of how your business is doing, and ignore the rest.

For example, tracking emails sent is often a waste of a recruiter’s time. There are better performance indicators than this metric, further down the conversion stream, that you’d want to focus on. Figure out the metrics or activities that do not have a clear correlation to the success of your business and tune them out.

2. Cut the work

Automation
You don’t necessarily have to do less. Find ways to automate your data and you can do far more, even while saving time. Don’t create new reports each time for data you need to see frequently. Create a template, automate it, and get it delivered to your inbox each day. Don’t waste time creating end of month, quarter, year reports for your staff meetings. Have a dashboard that always has that data populated, current, and available, and never scramble again.

We’re big fans of maintaining high data quality and scrubbing errors, but we know how much work that can be. With something this important (if you can’t trust your data, what can you do?), we’ve found it important to automate the process as much as possible. Automate error detection, error prioritization, error notifications, and if you can, automate error correction to some extent. Our system uses historical averages to “best guess” for missing data, allowing us to move forward instead of being paralyzed, and use the data even if its not perfect.

3. Cut to the chase

At the end of the day, your data should work for you. You shouldn’t be a slave to your data. We all have nightmares of bloated Excel spreadsheets being unusably slow, or data in such a raw format that you need to call over your SQL guy to help you decipher it. All this wastes time and energy, but more than that, it can make you shy away from actually looking at the data if they’re no fun to look at.

All your graphs and charts should pass the “at-a-glance” test. Can you see what your data is telling you at a glance? If not, keep iterating to make it more digestible. Obviously you won’t be the only one looking at the data; the easier it is to read, the more it will get used. Check out our bubble chart for Opportunities:

Open Job Order

This chart has 4 different metrics shown at the same time, represented by the vertical placement, the horizontal placement, the color, and the size. Basically, all you need to know is that low, large red bubbles are bad. Do you think you can tell the state of your opportunities at a glance? We think so. All your charts should be this easy to read.

So this Lent, you might be giving up meat or chocolate or even beer. How about giving up your data bloat too? You just might like it.

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Samuel Clemens
Sam is founder and chief of product & marketing for InsightSquared. Previously, Sam was VP Product at HubSpot, VP Product at BzzAgent, and on the founding team at Elance.com. His background also includes venture capital with Greylock Partners, the Algorithms group at Amazon.com, and management consulting with Booz Allen Hamilton. Sam has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a B.S. in Applied Math from Yale. In his off time he dives shipwrecks in the New England area.
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