17th November 2020

Why data isn’t information and the importance of finding your number


Julian Hucker

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We live in a world rich in data. More data than we’ve ever had before. But data’s only really helpful when it informs.

Most modern cars have sensors monitoring the engine, the brakes, the exhaust and much more. When I drive I’m largely oblivious to those sensors and the data they create. But when the warning light comes on to tell me that tire pressure is down on my front right I react immediately and pull in asap to get the tyre pressure to a safe level.

As business people we too have so much more data than before. At different times we need to review different data sets and react, or more importantly, predict. But most of us have “The Number”. The one number or metric that we use as our heartbeat for our businesses.

It can be business-wide, specific to a function, or an individual or a comp-plan. And it often changes over time without us even realizing. My test is always when I say to someone “how’s business?” and their instinctive reaction is:

| “Good, we signed a record number of customers this month”

| “mmm, we’re really busy but our Call Response Rate is a little lower than I like”

| “Utilisation’s unbelievable at the moment”

It’s particularly true in growing businesses, including those going through transformative change.

At Esendex we had the Wongometer: a stupid name for a plasma screen on the wall that essentially showed the number of SMS being submitted at any one time, and the total for the day. Every day it reset. Every day we had to do it again. As we grew everyone in engineering could see the levels of throughput that we needed to plan for, when it flashed there might be a problem and we needed to be ready on the phone. When it hit a million for the first time in a day we popped the champagne that had been in the fridge for a few weeks.

Growth was a function of the number of messages we handled for our customers. More customers, more messages. In due course more messages meant better margin, and more staff. And once the screen started showing 1 million most days that simple metric had run it’s course and focus shifted.

But that “number” was fundamental to our culture and success.

At Zing we have our own “Number” that we’re super-focused on right now that is the heartbeat of our growth. And that too will change over time.

As we work with customers on projects that are often about a fundamental change to their working practices we are always searching for that elusive number – and for ways to present it.

Software such as Twilio’s Flex harness processes that generate fantastic operational data. But how is that summarized? What is the true KPI for the business – and when and who needs to see it? Is it heartbeat style information for everyone? Or a warning light?

We can then use tools like Power BI or bespoke queries to present those key metrics, or simply ensure that it’s surfaced within existing MI. We’ve been playing around with Segment too and can see some great opportunities there too.

In fact, we see this as being so important to the success of our projects that it’s a fundamental element of our Discover phase and we encourage all customers to include it within their Build.

We’re really excited that a Digital Transformation project that we’ve worked on for some time is about to go live in the next few weeks. Pulling out the super-key data and presenting it to our Customer’s Management Team has been really important to bringing this to life. I’m sure we’ll be glued to that screen through December.

What’s your “Number” at the moment? Has it changed through Covid?

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