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5 Ways Open Government Data Can Inspire Startup Innovation

When trying to build a successful startup, it’s easy to become so absorbed in your day-to-day profit making so that you neglect the bigger picture. And before long, you’ve fallen out of touch with your target audience and its ever-changing needs.

Capitalizing on big data could spur the innovation your startup needs to reconnect with consumers and intelligently build a product or service they’ll love.

Although aggregating massive amounts of information might sound like a grueling, expensive endeavor, there’s a good chance a government agency has already dedicated resources to gathering some of the information you’re seeking.

You don’t have to fork over thousands of dollars to start investing in data collection because most of the important information is available for free. is the home of the U.S. government’s open data site, offering hundreds of thousands of data sets. Plus, the information is easy to digest, credible, search enabled and, best of all, completely free.

The number of opportunities created by free data is astounding. Just take a look at Open Data 500, a review of  U.S. companies using government data to innovate and solve problems. Companies involved in fields ranging from health care to climate modeling have already tapped into the potential from open government data.

Whatever your industry may be, this data can help you accomplish a variety of goals:

1. Delivering a personal touch.

You can use open data to connect more directly with the needs and desires of your consumer base. Predictive data can reveal buying habits so you can deliver your product or service in a way that makes customers feel like individuals rather than members of a herd.

You can also use data to cross- or upsell customers, as Amazon does when it makes friendly suggestions based on consumers’ previous buying behavior.

2. Solving problems.

A lack of information can impede efficiency and, in turn, raise costs and limit growth. But by integrating data from the vast open network, you can make an industry less resistant to progress.

CityScan, a Chicago-based software company, uses government and 3-D visual data to help organizations manage assets, keep up with local regulations and help with safety concerns.

It’s easy when digging into data to draw distinctions between different populations or to assess trends that tell a bigger story. Whatever your startup’s mission, the opportunities this information can provide are bountiful.

3. Creating benchmarking solutions.

Are you operating as efficiently as possible? Data collection can help you evaluate internal processes and productivity. Startups tend to get stuck in cycles of selling and speeding toward making a profit. It can be difficult to hit the pause button or deviate from the daily grind, but it’s important to make data analysis a habit so you can operate and grow the company intelligently.

4. Expanding your offerings.

Carefully selected data isn’t just a valuable resource for your primary business objective. You can also use it to generate a secondary strand for your business.

You could mine the data to conduct research and then sell your insights to other companies as Gartner does with its tech data, providing customized research to IT clients to help them become industry leaders.

5. Informing new product ideas.

Free government data can also serve as the impetus or foundation for new products or services. Selected data can provide the perfect insight into consumer problem areas so you can create tailored solutions. For example, Fluid has developed a personalized shopping app, using data such as product information, consumer sales history and user reviews to offer shoppers customized advice as they browse.

Large data aggregations also have the potential to disrupt new industries. When the U.S. government made weather and GPS data available to the public, it powered a billion-dollar industry.

Unlocking the insights buried within open government data can help you transform your product, company or even industry. Don’t be afraid to break away from the day-to-day to investigate this information. It might just spark an idea that ignites meaningful change in the world.

5 remarkable facts about the future of health care

To most people, “the robot doctor” sounds like the title of a terrible sci-fi movie. But it’s an integral part of the future of health care.

The data revolution is already transforming the health care landscape, and if you want to help shape its future (and make a profit in the process), be prepared to capitalize on these five exciting trends:

1. Preventive medicine will soar.
As information from electronic medical records becomes available in the cloud, health care tasks are moving online. And the digitalization of diagnoses has implications for predictive and preventive medicine.

By registering slight increases in temperature or detecting the early symptoms of a virus, sensors will make it easy for people to take care of themselves before they get sick.

This technology is in the early stages, however, and it needs entrepreneurs to develop its full potential. You can help shape this future by keeping up with trends and innovations.

Connect with your local university to see what you can learn or join a program such as StartUp Health Academy, a global coaching program for entrepreneurs who want to make waves in the health care space.

2. Health care will go from general to personal.
The “Internet of Things” will connect devices that can support predictive medicine and products that link a patient’s wellness to her lifestyle will go from luxury to necessity.

As data becomes more accessible and devices smarter, entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to connect this new technology to the patient experience.

So focus on building a good base of knowledge around data, analytics and tech. Invest in data to get ahead of the curve.

3. Robots will be optimized for health tasks.
With the development of predictive data solutions will come the creation of devices and robots that can complete health care tasks on their own.

Some prototypes already are functioning in hospitals. For example, Eve is a robot built by Aethon that’s programmed to deliver vital samples and supplies at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

Getting your startup involved in this robotics trend can start with educating and training yourself on the basics. Places such as Codecademy and Coursera offer personalized training courses and programs — often for free. Couple education with up-to-date knowledge on trends, and you’ll set yourself up for success.

4. Collaboration will destroy silos.
Entrepreneurs who can collaborate with researchers, health care organizations and other industry players will be able to innovate successfully and find gaps in technology.

Becoming familiar with networks of health care professionals and entrepreneurs can provide you with this collaborative power. Incubators, such as Chicago’s Matter, are doing an amazing job at connecting innovators with big companies, research institutions and investors to create new life-science startups. Get involved in energetic environments such as this as much as possible.

5. Doctors will have access to more data.
Physicians are already using computers and other high-tech devices and the use of these devices is improving health care. As data becomes more readily available, extensive and personalized, it will revolutionize the way doctors diagnose disease and treat patients.

The X Prize Foundation, an innovation organization led by Dr. Peter Diamandis, is offering a $10 million award to the first team to deliver a working “tricorder,”” the handheld diagnostic device used by medical officers in Star Trek to detect diseases. Diamandis has predicted a team will succeed in the next five years. Entrepreneurs who are able to adapt and innovate technology that connects doctors with diagnostic tools will be poised to take advantage of the data revolution.

You might have noticed that all these trends have one thing in common: data. By building a strong backbone of data in your company, you will reinforce your ability to innovate in line with the health care industry. And by seizing the opportunities provided by technological advancement, you can become this era’s innovator. “The robot doctor” doesn’t sound so improbable now, does it?

Ask the Right Questions About Your Data to Build Business Value

Financier Bernard Baruch once said, “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why.”

Let that quote inspire you to stop and think about how important asking questions really is. In science, it can mean the difference between routine and making history. And in business, it can separate the safe from the successful.

In the ever-changing world of business and technology, it’s no longer enough to simply gather data and compare results. You must continuously question your data to understand your business on a new level. Asking the right questions could be the catalyst that pushes your leadership, team and company toward success.

Although more companies are adopting data-collection processes, not every organization’s management understands how to use big data in an effective, innovative way. That’s why poor-quality data is often cited as a reason for overrunning project budgets.

Asking the right questions about your data can uncover insights, increase its usability and allow companies of any size to sift through substantial amounts of data to make focused, educated decisions. Improving data usability can also benefit your company’s bottom line. A 2010 study at the University of Texas at Austin found that small improvements in data quality, usability and accessibility can increase a company’s annual sales per employee more than 14 percent.

Instead of spending so much time looking at “the numbers,” retrain your brain to question what the data is telling you. As a driver of the company’s vision, set a precedent for how data is evaluated, questioned and applied across the company. To start evaluating your company’s data more effectively, do the following:

1. Apply the five Ws.

It sounds simple, but the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why) are a great starting point for questioning your data. You might ask questions such as these:

Who’s being hindered in his or her role based on this data?

Who’s performing really well?

What is the company not measuring that it should?

What products or services should be added to the wheelhouse?

When should the company launch its next product?

When will the organization need to make its next hire to keep up with growth?

Where is the company falling short in terms of performance?

Where is the organization having big wins?

Why didn’t the company have a better month based on its production levels?

Why are sales down despite a growing social-media following?

2. Make data research a company-wide effort.

Everything changes so rapidly in tech that it’s foolish to try to keep up on your own, so get members of your team involved to deliver a fresh perspective.

Switch who’s taking the lead in this role every time so everyone has an opportunity to be educated on big-picture goals and ideas.

3. Don’t be afraid to share.

Sharing data between departments enables each team to evaluate another group’s numbers and generate new questions or ideas. Make sure you block out time in your employees’ schedules for them to sit down and look at another department’s data critically. For example, salespeople can look at marketing conversion numbers, and marketing people can look at the number of prospects in the pipeline.

Share data with vendors and customers. Doing so will create brainstorming opportunities, which will increase the chances of finding new solutions and prompt innovation.

Even if you think you know all the answers, you need to ask questions. When you look at your numbers and see that your revenue is growing, you could stop there. Or you could try to understand why this is happening and what that really means.

The world of business and technology is moving faster than ever and companies that don’t take advantage of every chance to innovate and adapt will fall behind. If you aren’t asking the right questions about your data, you’ll miss out on the answers that could move your company toward greater opportunities and success.

So will you just watch the apple fall or will you question why?

How to Equip Yourself for the Data-Driven Future

Just a few years ago, most business professionals had little involvement in frontline or behind-the-scenes data — and for good reason. Mining data was a complex, time-consuming task. And if you didn’t know the language, translating the information was impossible.

But now, the technology is becoming easier for business leaders to use and decipher. More companies are building their tech internally and capitalizing on the information it provides. Amazon, Google and Capital One have even built their business models around analytics.

The value in developing a data-driven enterprise is clear. You can adequately measure performance, maximize efficiency and make informed decisions that drive growth. But to gain a holistic view of your data, you need to understand what you’re looking at.

Nearly every industry will need professionals with a solid analytical foundation in the near future. For example, HR professionals use analytics to tie performance to business objectives.

In hospital settings, administrators and physicians need to quickly interpret patient data to make quick decisions. Doctors rely on analytical skills to make precise diagnoses. Imagine a data system that could give doctors suggested diagnoses within seconds of entering a patient’s information or that could predict when a patient will become ill before he or she even calls the doctor’s office.

The applications for data are endless. Attorneys access analytics to improve their accuracy in cases and even to help them decide which ones to take on. They can make better arguments by sourcing applicable statistics and research from mined data.

No matter the industry, data can equip professionals with actionable insights and vastly improve the efficiency and accuracy of their work.

The level and type of analytical knowledge you will need largely depends on your particular business, your previous experience and the size of your knowledge gap. You could commit to studying to gain a full-blown master’s degree or take a quick refresher course every so often. Luckily, there are plenty of routes to choose from.

1. An analytics degree.

Many accredited universities offer data-focused degrees to prepare students for the demands of the professional world. The University of Tennessee, for example, offers a specialized degree in business analytics.

These are serious, time-consuming options and they’ll leave you with a more well-rounded knowledge base than shorter courses.

2. Analytics Academy.

Designed by Google, Analytics Academy is a free online tool created by people who know the value of analytics. Its videos and resources will prepare you to complete the Google Analytics Individual Qualification test, which verifies someone’s knowledge of Google Analytics.

3. Professional workshops.

You could also invest in a workshop, a short course or a conference instead of committing to going after a longer-term degree. These options are usually designed for professionals and taught by individuals with real-world experience in business analytics.

You can easily tailor them to your specific industry or knowledge gap. Try researching workshop options such as those offered by management consulting firm Aryng and the EMC corporation to find a course that fits your needs.

4. Semester courses.

If you have a solid data background but need to stay on top of analytics trends and languages for your work role, consider semester- or quarter-long courses at universities. These courses are usually offered through statistics or computer-science departments and can help professionals refine their skills for a new or developing analytics role.

5. A customized training plan.

You might find that none of the above approaches quite fills the gap in your knowledge perfectly. You may want to customize a training plan using some of these options along with hiring mentors for a few hours a week and frequently reading publications such as Analytics magazine or McKinsey & Company‘s offerings on big data and advanced analytics.

As more professionals begin using analytics tools and relying on them to succeed and innovate, higher educators are quickly adapting to meet this need. Don’t get left behind in the analytics revolution: Empower yourself to be the best entrepreneur possible by readying yourself for the data-driven future.

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6 ways to save money on labor costs without sacrificing care

Success is all about finding balance: balancing work and family, balancing staying in your comfort zone and pushing the limits, balancing creativity and productivity, and balancing budgets. And for healthcare administrators, the balancing act includes striving for that elusive balance between the high costs of labor and supplies and the high expectations of patient care.

Too often, the pressures to slash costs and improve the quality of care have forced hospital administrators to cut hours, staff and programs in an attempt to make ends meet. Rather than combing through departmental budgets to meet an organization-wide goal, you need only turn to the data being gathered within your facility every day.

The balancing act of healthcare

In the past decade, the healthcare industry added 2.7 million jobs — more than any other sector — and accounted for half of all net job growth. In 2015, the healthcare sector is expected to grow faster than ever before. What’s more, factors like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a decline in uninsured patients and improvements in medicine and technology are expected to fuel a healthcare job surge for years to come.

Yet job growth in hospitals remains moderate. Most healthcare organizations are so hindered by rising labor and supply costs that administrators have been forced to reduce their workforces in an attempt to find a balance. Others comb through budgets, department by department, searching for ways to eliminate services, reallocate resources, increase prices or cut back staff hours. But none of these actions offers a sustainable solution to a persistent problem.

These two competing forces — rising healthcare costs and industry growth — are creating a major budgeting dilemma for healthcare executives. Administrators want to deliver the highest quality of patient care possible, especially because it affects how hospitals are reimbursed. At the same time, they need to maintain expenses and drive revenue for their hospitals. A tip in either direction could be disastrous for both hospital organizations and the populations they serve.

Balancing out this healthcare situation and achieving a substantial reduction in costs will require healthcare administrators to turn to what economists call “labor-saving technology.” If administrators utilize the massive amounts of data their facilities collect every day and analyze that data in an organization-wide infrastructure, they’ll paint a clearer picture of the entire organization, including ways to cut costs without sacrificing care.

Expanding healthcare data organization-wide

As it stands now, many healthcare organizations analyze data within each department, which provides useful feedback for that area. However, it isn’t reliable when viewed for the organization as a whole. After all, your HR department will generate a very different data report than your IT or surgical departments. And combining disconnected data sets is not an accurate way to make budgetary decisions for the entire organization.

To properly examine labor costs, you need to establish an infrastructure that measures everything in a consistent, accessible manner across all departments. Essentially, everyone needs to get on the same page. Once data is aligned and in one location, you’ll have a wider view of your organization’s financials and be able to confidently make decisions regarding budgets, costs, personnel and care practices.

A single data infrastructure not only benefits administrators, but it also offers considerable advantages to staff. For example, misaligned data might tell you that the ICU nursing department is overstaffed, which will likely result in layoffs. But aligned data might reveal that while the ICU nursing department is overstaffed, the pediatric nursing department is understaffed. This way, you can properly reallocate personnel rather than make sweeping cuts.

Some hospitals are already taking the lead on this. Knowing that salaries and benefits account for about 35-45 percent of hospital costs nationwide and 70-80 percent in certain units, administrators at Texas Children’s Hospital developed a methodology to help them balance labor resources and the demand for services.

After establishing a unit of measurement for the entire organization, they compared labor volume to the number of hours worked to get an accurate measurement of productivity. In doing so, they were able to flex staffing levels with volume fluctuations, improve productivity and minimize excess costs from overtime and agency work.

Unfortunately, cases like Texas Children’s Hospital aren’t common. The vast majority of healthcare organizations are still underutilizing the information they have because they don’t know how to turn data into actionable information — a situation described as “data rich, information poor” by industry experts. To turn this around, hospital administrators need to make changes that expand and unify data analysis and put information in the right hands at the right time.

Putting data to work for you

To start using data to define labor costs and make educated decisions about resources, you need to:

  1. Look at the available data. Lay a foundation for a data infrastructure by examining what data is currently being collected in compliance with regulations and where it’s being reported. How is current data being managed and used throughout your hospital? Once you get an idea of current data collection, you can build upon that.
  2. Identify major costs. If your hospital follows the trend, one of its largest expenses will be labor and supplies. Based on the foundational information you have, zero in on financial weaknesses and build an infrastructure around making improvements in those areas. Identify any other major budget busters that could be tweaked.
  3. Define metrics for improvements. To improve labor costs, you have to set clear goals. Identify areas that are draining money from your budget, and decide how you’d like to improve upon or eliminate them. Consider things like caregiver-to-patient ratios, overtime standards, and paid time off. Define optimal numbers on all goals, and set metrics to show that.
  4. Look at your physicians. Another major cost for hospitals is physician compensation. Instead of focusing solely on your nursing or support staff, look at how productive your physicians are. Is there someone with an alarming number of readmissions? Is anyone not meeting optimal performance standards on finance, mortality rates, complications, etc.? Eliminating some weak links may solve problems and free up some of your budget.
  5. Form a data analysis team. Whether you start from scratch, recruit in-house, or contract the work out, make sure there’s a data analysis team in place to handle the incoming and outgoing data in a timely manner. The only way for data analysis to effectively cut your labor costs is if real-time data is accurate and in the hands of the right people, so put experts in charge of that duty.
  6. Utilize dashboards. Dashboard and visualization tools are important when putting data to work. Easy-to-read images give all personnel an instant story of how the hospital is performing in the moment, not last week or even yesterday. Tools like Tableau and QlikView are two examples of popular, easy-to-use platforms that organize healthcare data into intuitive dashboards.

Cutting down on labor and supply costs doesn’t have to mean sacrificing staff, resources, and services. Instead, the implementation of an organization-wide data infrastructure can provide you with valuable real-time insight that makes identifying weaknesses, restructuring resources, and balancing your budget a reality.