Data as Storyteller: Three Ways to Turn Your Analytics into Action

Here’s a scenario to consider: A Data Analyst is told to prepare a report. She has reams of figures ahead of her, and she’s a pro, so she sifts and sums, weaving through the numbers and finding precisely what she needs. The whole organization is captured in spreadsheets.

What she doesn’t realize is that within her detailed report is the potential to change the business. The data she’s gathering aren’t just numbers — they’re the story of the company’s employees, its customers, and how it’s changing over time.

Businesses sometimes generate reports for their own sake, as if data reporting is just a to-do list item to check off. But these reports are a waste if they’re not action-oriented. Rather than compiling descriptive reports, which include only data, businesses should be compiling prescriptive reports, in which data is reported in the context of the organization’s past, present, and future.

Data gives you the power to intuit what’s happening in your business — why employees jump ship, why leaders are getting burned out, why one project is going so much better than another — so that you can take action. For example, I worked with one company that was having trouble with employee tension. The executive team decided to start data reporting in the HR department to monitor the problem, so it collected data on the hours people were working, the flexibility they had, and the resources that were available to them.

The reports found that tech people were leaving at a higher rate than their co-workers and were not happy with the culture within the company. So executive team members took action on the data: They started generating a report for their tech people that was designed to get them more involved in innovation and flexibility.

Instead of just looking at the report, the company took the report and turned it into a series of actions that would engage these employees more thoughtfully. The data told a story about what would actually keep them motivated to stay. By using prescriptive reporting, the business was able to nip a long-term problem in the bud.

Three Ways to Make your Analytics More Action-Centric

Of course, saying “be more action-centric” is like saying “run faster” — in order to make it happen, you can’t just try harder; you need to understand what you can change to achieve a different result. Here are three tweaks you can make today to improve your company’s data-reporting philosophy:

Don’t Shy Away from the Problem.
If you’re doing data reporting, chances are there’s a major issue in your company and you’re trying to use data to solve it. But in order to form solutions from data, you need to fully understand the problem you’re having.

For example, let’s say employees are leaving at a rapid rate from a certain department and you’re not sure why. It’s time to match the data about those employees with a more intuitive investigation: What’s the underlying commonality between these departures? What is it about this particular role that’s encouraging people to leave? You’ll need data to answer these questions, but you’ll need a human touch to understand them. Once you understand the problem, the data will start lighting a clearer path forward.

Tell the Full Story of Your Data.
Each tiny piece of data is part of a massive story. It’s easy to get bogged down in the individual facts when you’re looking at spreadsheets packed with numbers, but if you can’t build a story around those numbers, you can’t create actionable reporting.

It’s easy to say, “We lost X dollars last month,” or “X employees quit in the past quarter,” but what’s the story? Did you undergo a companywide change at that time? Were those employees low-performing or high-performing? To truly understand data, you need to identify the factors that are possibly influencing it.

Point Your Compass Toward the Future.
Have a specific idea of where your business is heading in the long term before you start data reporting — the story that your data tells will ultimately be working toward that ending.

When you have a long-term goal in mind, you might find that seemingly negative data is actually part of a successful story. A 20 percent turnover rate for one quarter could mean that the lowest performers are leaving of their own accord and that you can now focus on hiring people who fit with your long-term vision. Without action-oriented reporting, you might miss out on this opportunity.

To turn data reporting into helpful action, Data Managers must scrutinize the relevant problems, connect data with storytelling, and look to the future. Data should shed light on the humans in your business — they’re the ones who will ultimately make you successful.

Data as Storyteller: Three Ways to Turn Your Analytics into Action

3 Critical Pieces of Data Groundwork for Modern Business Strategy

Few companies realize the extent to which their business strategies depend on data — until it’s too late.

Think about it like a road trip. The business strategy tells you where to start, which route to take, and the destination. The data strategy tells you the condition of your vehicle, how much gas you have, and where the gas stations are along the route. Sure, you could successfully make it to your destination if you ignore the data, but your success is much more likely if you view the whole picture.

Company leaders put a lot of emphasis on business strategy and not enough on data strategy. Even when leaders track key metrics, they often measure the wrong ones when they lack data strategy behind their decisions.

Mistakes occur because businesses operate in a culture that is not driven by data. Too many executives only appreciate the value of data strategy after they try to use their data; then, they forget the lessons they learned when they plan their next move. Without proper data governance, companies cannot generate the intelligence they need to design and execute successful business strategies.

Execution at the Cost of Data Governance

Executives like to get things done. They worry less about processes and technology than they do about results. Unfortunately, that mindset hinders their ability to deliver on the expectations they set for themselves, their teams, and their companies.

Some companies, like Amazon, have freed themselves from this limited mindset. They no longer see data as a checkbox on a list but as a valuable asset. When a user adds a movie to the shopping cart, for example, Amazon’s data says that person is more likely to buy another movie in the same transaction, so the website shows comparable products on the next screen. These types of insights alone boost Amazon’s revenue by more than 30 percent every year.

Beyond the shopping experience, Amazon’s anticipatory shipping model predicts when and where people are most likely to buy products; then, it uses supply chain automation to keep those products in warehouses nearby. Amazon also uses data to set prices, combining information on demand, competitor pricing, and multiple other factors to decide when to discount and what to feature.

Retail giants like Amazon are ahead of the game because they constantly interact with customers. If they don’t innovate or if their data strategy is misinformed, they suffer major financial consequences. Soon, even businesses that rarely interact directly with customers will face the same choice: create a better data strategy or perish. To put data strategy at the core of your business strategy, there are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Establish Stronger Data Governance

When no one agrees on the definitions of data elements, the pool of data becomes untrustworthy.

One of my customers in healthcare wanted to figure out the optimal treatment for a specific kind of tissue injury. When this client began its research, it realized that some physicians categorized this type of mass as a lesion, while others called it a mass. Different terminology made it impossible to compare the efficacy of different procedures on the same problem.

To create common definitions, put together a committee of leaders who understand the technology and importance of the data to the operation. This data governance committee should go through important KPIs and name the factors contributing to them so the company can measure everything the same way.

Data governance must always keep business goals at the forefront of the process. Data for data’s sake helps no one, but data aligned with concrete objectives improves the odds that the company will achieve its goals.

Struggling to agree on the best approach to data governance? Turn to a tool, like Informatica Axon or EnterpriseData Catalogue, or consult a third-party service.

2. Scrutinize Data Quality

Old or inconsistent data indicates that an organization lacks a solid data strategy. For B2B sectors, bad data is especially troublesome. Rates of data decay in these industries can reach 70 percent per year, and research indicates that the average sales team loses around $32,000 annually in pursuit of faulty prospect data.

Avoid bad data by evaluating the database for things that look unusual. If a doctor’s office normally sees 20 patients but shows 30 entries, that office should look at common factors like appointment times and medications prescribed to weed out the bad entries.

The most permanent solution to this problem is automation technology. Several tools empower companies in various industries to audit their databases and scrub bad entries. Current leading solutions in this area include Informatica Data Quality, Melissa DATA, SAP Data Services, Oceanos, and Listware.

3. Implement Master Data Management

Without a master record, data becomes fragmented. Companies spend unnecessary time to log and track multiple records when they could save themselves the headache through master data management.

Say, for example, a hospital is doing a marketing campaign. Contacts have first, middle, and last names. One employee can’t find an intended target, so he makes a new entry that includes a middle name when his original target was in the system without one. Now, the company has duplicate records for the same person, and workers will continue to log data in multiple places until someone corrects the issue.

Master data management arises from proper data governance. The data governance team comes together to determine policies, people, and processes and then selects one record to be the “golden record” to believe when two records disagree.

The best tool to assist companies in this area today is Informatica MDM. Thanks to its modular approach to master data management, Informatica MDM can scale with the company’s data, ensuring information remains accurate.

Business strategy should not precede data strategy. The two should work in harmony, with business strategy determining what data to collect and with data strategy using that data to inform the business strategy.

Remember, successful business plans are like road trips. You could take off without a destination or neglect to check your gas gauge, but it would be better if you used all your resources to ensure your success. Follow these tips to put data strategy at the heart of your business strategy to make more informed, successful plans.

3 Critical Pieces of Data Groundwork for Modern Business Strategy

7 Rules to Live by When Your Startup Hires Remote Tech Employees

The remote revolution has settled in. Working virtually has become a common lifestyle for tech employees, giving them the flexibility to travel, choose their own base, dictate their own pace and virtually collaborate.

As the leader, however, it’s hard to juggle a remote team and make sure your employees are still putting their best foot forward. How do you set expectations, build a united company culture and train new employees who live in different states?

Not everyone thinks it’s possible. Yahoo, for example, has refused to join the remote revolution. “We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together,” said CEO Marissa Mayer in a company-wide memo. But Yahoo’s extreme approach left many employees feeling stuck.

So how do you get the best of both worlds? You can keep your team connected and enjoy the freedom to hire tech talent from anywhere. Here are seven tips on how to do it — from my global office to yours:

1. Hire strategically.

My entire company is built on tech talent, so we have to hire strategically. If something goes wrong, we rely on our tech team members to act as emergency responders. Dispersing them across the country often puts them closer to our clients, which helps us provide quick, personal support.

You can also hire “pockets” of people in the same city. That way, small groups are within meeting distance of each other for greater connectivity.

2. Put communication first.

Chief information officers commonly cite lack of face time and communication issues as the biggest challenges of dealing with a remote workforce. Remote employees can sometimes get so absorbed in their own productivity that they forget to prioritize emails and questions from the team.

Remote shouldn’t mean incommunicado. Make it clear to your teammates that you expect them to join conversations, video chat regularly and keep their calendars transparent and updated at all times. Check in with each other every day via Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting.

3. Provide the best tools.

Your remote tech employees have the talent that you desperately need to stay competitive. Give them the best possible tools to maximize their abilities. This will make your scattered team feel more in sync. Use cloud software such as Draft or Google Docs to enable your team to edit and share documents from any location.

4. Set up a network of contact points.

Part of the challenge of a remote workforce is maintaining a DevOps mindset and keeping processes evolving between departments. Streamline communications by matching up each remote tech employee with someone on the operations side. Both employees will be able to use each other as points of contact for advice and feedback.

5. Provide a clear structure.

As the leader, every task you assign should come with clear directions, obvious expectations and a process to follow. Avoid veering off process at all costs; if you absolutely must, have a conversation about it beforehand.

6. Set expectations.

Be completely transparent about what you expect from your remote tech employees. Share team performance metrics to help everyone feel connected. If you want a DevOps mindset, these metrics should be integrated with your operations team as well.

7. Enable your team to travel.

Flexibility also means giving remote workers the ability to come together. Account for travel in your remote employees’ contracts, and be clear about the expenses you’re willing to cover. When something goes wrong or an idea needs to be hashed out in a snack-filled room, having the capability to move employees is a valuable asset.

With all the innovative solutions available, there’s no better time to explore the possibilities of a virtual tech workforce. You just need to be willing to invest in the right tools and work hard to create a culture that will be stronger because of its flexibility.

Listen to Your Gut But Check Your Assumptions and the Data

Even as a self-professed data nerd, I still find myself itching to go with my gut when I’m faced with a key decision. It’s only natural. We humans sometimes struggle to set aside our fragile pride and accept that another source of information might trump our intuition.

In business, it pays to put aside pride. Making a decision that you know is backed by data gives you confidence in what you’re doing, takes away the pressure of leading your team into the unknown and creates a culture of trust between you and your employees, customers and stakeholders.

People often think they’re safe from assumptions when they’re dealing with data. But assumptions have a funny way of weaving their way into every aspect of your business. They can gradually steer you in the wrong direction but you can you regulate your assumptions to strike the perfect balance between intuition and data. The first step is to be aware of your assumptions so you can judge when they’re misguided or just plain wrong.

Here are four common assumptions in business and ways to combat them:

1. Your employees are fulfilled.

The areas where business leaders most commonly allow their assumptions to take over involve the human elements of business.

It’s easier to assume that your employees are feeling happy and fulfilled than to regularly evaluate how satisfied they actually are. But without a healthy dose of data, all these factors can change overnight. When you find yourself in one of these human areas, take special care to look at data before you let your assumptions do the talking.

2. Everyone wants to work for your company.

You need to believe in the desirability of your company, but you can’t simply assume that your work culture is second to none. If you’re struggling to fill roles and have no idea why, check the data. Use it to unveil the biggest turnoffs potential employees see when they interview at your company so you can refine your recruitment process.

3. All potential customers need your expertise.

You want to believe that you’re the best fit for your target customers’ pain points and that customers who wanted your last product will want your newest one, but use data to track customer satisfaction and pay attention if it says otherwise. Ignoring facts will prevent you from finding new revenue streams and innovating.

4. Regional profiles are always true.

You’re not the only one who has trouble sorting assumptions from facts. Your industry — and everyone within it — operates on assumptions to a certain extent. Much of the information you receive from external sources is based on assumptions.

Be aware of others’ assumptions, just as you’re aware of your own. If there’s a trend in launching businesses in a certain city on the East Coast, don’t automatically assume that the location is going to be right for your business. Do your research. Data can help you discover pockets of opportunity you were unaware of.

Accept that data might know more about your business than you do or that it can lead you to understanding your audience’s desires better. Matching human intuition with the data patterns to back it up will make for more confident decisions. In fact, a recent study evaluating the leadership behavior of 50,000 business leaders found that those perceived as having poor decision-making skills were deemed weak at fact-checking, confirming assumptions and gathering additional information.

You want to be a good decision maker for your team, right? Hunt and gather all the information you can to inform the decisions you make. The more you know, the better your decisions will be. That is key to pushing your startup from shaky success to a definite winning streak.

The Deal with Data: 5 Steps to Getting a Way More Efficient Team

As a startup leader, when someone asks you if you’re busy, you’re apt to laugh in their face.

You have to laugh, or you might start crying.

With the number of things you have to juggle you have to wonder: Do people want you to have a nervous breakdown?

While the daily errands, repetitive conversations and dead-end email threads that come along with managing a team are making you feel ridiculously busy, a lot of these tasks could be made more efficient or cut out completely.

A study confirmed that a staggering 90 percent of managers waste time doing unproductive activities. And you’re not the only one wasting precious time. A recent survey of 500,000 employees from organizations across the globe revealed that 60 percent of respondents’ time at work is being spent on counterproductive tasks.

That’s a huge blow to efficiency.

But installing data practices can help. It doesn’t have to drain your time or pull you away from your passion points. In fact, it can actually create hours where you’ve never had them before, revealing patterns and outliers and illuminating problems and opportunities within your workforce. You can start saving yourself those extra hours and turn them into achievements, innovations or even just time to think.

All you have to do is boil down all your intuitive, ad hoc tasks to more formulaic decision-making models. Start with these steps.

1. Set the numbers, but don’t freak out your employees

Establish the goals that your employees should be striving for and the numbers you’d like for them to hit.

Then, give employees a short pep talk to go over their individual targets and answer any questions. Explain that you’re not trying to be Big Brother — rather, these metrics will drive how their performance is evaluated and what tasks they’re assigned.

2. Choose a tool as a team, and install it

Use a tool that gives your teammates a quick visual translation of what they’re doing and how they’re working.

This will act as a kind of biofeedback for your teammates, enabling them to learn quickly and adapt when their productivity is low. Using data no longer has to mean trawling through spreadsheets. Tools such as Qlik Sense allow you to organize your dashboards and turn your data into digestible, intuitive visuals.

3. Monitor many variables at once

Tools can make your employee-monitoring smarter, allowing you to view many variables at once to get a more holistic view of how your team is performing. Platforms such as Domo give you a range of metrics so you can evaluate employee performance, keep an eye on deals and monitor your sales funnel activity.

4. Test, evaluate and repeat

No data-driven infrastructure should be put in place and left to sit.

After you’ve had this new system in place for a quarter, analyze its progress. Then, see whether it has saved you time. Are your employees improving in their roles? Do you feel better equipped and less rushed? Are any other problems emerging? Make this a regular review, and plot it into dashboards and diaries so everybody can easily see it’s coming up.

5. Promote healthy balance

Entrepreneurs are notoriously bad at balancing their lives. Many startup leaders will deprive themselves of sleep, skip showers and avoid social gatherings in an endless effort to stay productive.

But those sacrifices are all for naught if they fill their time with unnecessary tasks. By using data to better manage your team’s time, you can promote a better lifestyle and keep your team healthy and energized.

Having a team that’s highly connected to its performance level will not only save you time, but it will also save you a lot of money in the long run. It’s all about installing the right automated performance measurement tool, stepping back and trusting it to do a lot of your work for you. It’s as simple as that.

4 Ways to Unleash the Power of Data to Transform Your Organization

Many companies get caught in data traps. They focus so heavily on cost and survival that they end up using data as merely a marketing and sales tool. In doing so, they fail to realize the true power of data: It can transform every aspect of a business.

Expanding beyond the common uses of data can open up your company to reinvention, innovation and a more agile working style. When you apply metrics and dashboards to the brainstorming process, you use data to help innovate. When you utilize consumer behavior data in your accounting efforts, you turn lead conversion stats into profit forecasts. And when you use data to analyze where you’re losing profit and productivity, you improve your operational efficiency.

These are just a few of the seemingly endless ways you can extend your use of data to grow every aspect of your business. To help narrow your options and get the most out of your expansion, here are four crucial things to keep in mind:

1. Bring back the big picture.

Always keep your company’s big picture in mind when expanding your use of data. Maintaining perspective will help you make informed, holistic decisions. You’ll also see potential obstacles more clearly and negotiate issues with increased agility.

Every month, ask one of your teammates to sit down with you and look at the numbers. Mak sure to switch teammates every month. This give you a different perspective on the company’s performance while educating a team member on the goals and ideas encompassing the big picture.

2. Follow more than your customers.

Companies often become obsessed with understanding consumer behavior and forget that they really need to analyze their business from a 360-degree perspective. Data can be used to connect employee performance to metrics and develop a more informed and motivated workplace. When employees can see the data behind their performance, they’ll have clearer benchmarks of success to strive toward.

You can also use data to improve your hiring process. As your startup grows, you’ll need to hire quickly and interview scores of people. Establishing a data-backed scoring system will help you identify quality hires and avoid making the same hiring mistakes twice.

3. Don’t keep your data under wraps.

In a recent Tata Consulting Services survey, respondents cited sharing information across company silos as the No. 1 challenge facing big data. It’s easy to fall into the habit of viewing data gathering and analysis as a secretive process, but it shouldn’t be like espionage. You’re using it to improve your services and operations, so why not involve your customers and shareholders? Make innovation and growth visible parts of your company’s identity.

4. Use data to develop.

One of the biggest data success stories of recent years has been Netflix’s move from video rental services to content creation. The company made this bold decision after gathering large amounts of data and developing unique insight into real-time consumer feelings and reactions.

Netflix even uses data to help dictate the development of its original programming. The hit political drama “House of Cards” was created in direct correlation to consumer habits and tastes, which essentially guaranteed that the show would be successful.

Data should never be pigeonholed. Instead, it should be used to better connect your company. Break down the walls that exist within your organization. This will generate new perspectives, ideas and employee benchmarks. Your new level of connectivity will greatly enhance your company’s camaraderie and potentially create a healthy sense of competition between employees as they measure their performance based on your new metrics.

Did you just realize that your company has fallen into a data trap? Luckily, it’s easy to break free from its chains. Liberating your data will reveal just how efficient and innovative your business can be.

Why the Race for Tech Advancement Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The path to entrepreneurial success often feels more like a sprint than a steady jog. You race to get your product in front of users and bring on the latest tech options in hopes of leaving your competitors in the dust.

In fact, 78 percent of organizations report that achieving digital transformation is high on their priority list for the next two years. But with so much pressure to stay ahead of the pack and adopt the flashiest new tech, you can lose sight of the reason you use tech: to boost efficiency and reduce costs.

Rolling out new changes before your team has a chance to adapt can actually frustrate employees, hamper productivity and hurt your bottom line. By introducing new tech too often, you also risk confusing customers, and that will prevent users from establishing a stable relationship with your brand.

To reap the rewards of a new tech option, your team has to fully understand it and embrace it. To make each tech investment worthwhile, you need to take a steadier, more sustainable approach to tech advancement in your organization. Here’s how you can get started:

1. Tie every change back to your strategy.

Don’t simply add new tech for the sake of changing. Every new option should be evaluated against your company’s short-term and long-term goals. If your goal is to boost sales, for example, investing money in new HR tech might not be the best move.

2. Make small improvements rather than rapid advancements.

To avoid abrupt changes that throw your entire team into disarray, test each new technology with a small group of users. You can observe how employees handle the new tech and how it fits in with your overall strategy. And, whenever possible, upgrade your existing tech platforms instead of swapping them out entirely.

3. Set up a tech advancement committee.

Establish a standing committee for tech changes so you can monitor how technology is affecting your business and your team. An evaluative committee can research new options, predict how they could improve the company and make suggestions for which new systems to adopt.

4. Focus on adoption.

Your team members are the driving force behind your company. If they aren’t on board with new tech, you won’t see the intended benefits of the change. But adopting new tech is often hard, especially when employees get stuck in their habits. To ease the process, don’t make big changes more often than every six months. That gives employees ample time to adapt. Working closely with your staff is the only way to guarantee they’re on board.

5. Communicate each new option clearly.

Beyond showing how the tech operates, you also need to explain its potential benefits and risks. Every employee should be able to answer questions such as, “How will this make me better at my job?” and “How will this help us achieve our five-year or 10-year goals?” Devote a monthly team meeting to communicating this information so no one gets left behind.

6. Incentivize tech adoption and performance.

By focusing your rewards system on tech advancement, you can incentivize your team to seize opportunities provided by the new tech. Reward employees who adapt quickly, and go the extra mile to find new ways to improve their performance with tech. You should consider creating some training courses for the new tech options, and reward good “grades” with bonuses.

Of course, you shouldn’t discount tech that could vastly improve productivity for fear of overwhelming your employees. But by replacing needless changes with a steadier rhythm of upgrades and rallying your team around new options, you can gain a competitive advantage and enjoy a new level of efficiency. Slowing down might feel strange at first, but conserving your energy will be a smarter strategy in the long run.

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?

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.


With Open-Source Software, You Don’t Have to Start From Scratch

As an entrepreneur, you always have questions to answer: “How do I efficiently manage my people?” “How can I keep track of my projects?” “Where do I start with my website?”

It can all feel pretty overwhelming, but luckily, there’s a fantastic resource you can use to solve an abundance of entrepreneurial problems: open-source technology.

It all began in the ’90s when there was a big push to create operating systems to make using new computer technology more efficient. Companies saw the value in these operating systems and acquired creators such as Linux to write the code.

Then, when the code was written, databases were created to store the information that was relevant to the company. Finally, the era of applications that execute functions within an operating system began, which brings us to open-source software.

Open-source software allows you to customize applications to suit your business’s needs. Companies can take a developer’s open-source environment and build on top of existing platforms to create a customized solution at a relatively low cost.

Gauging open-source software. With 86.3 percent of companies in non-technical segments adopting open-source software, it’s pretty clear that it can be leveraged to benefit your business. However, as with any new technology, you should always understand the pros and cons of utilizing it before making any decisions.

A big advantage of open-source software is that it reduces supplier risk. One VentureBeat post put it really well: “Selecting innovation involves risks.” But with open-source software, your customers know that your product and community will endure.

What’s more, open-source software saves you money because many are entirely free. WordPress, for example, lets you build your company website with little web-design knowledge. Even big brands such as The New Yorker, Sony Music, Xerox and Best Buy use the platform.

Not only is open-source software free, but it’s also readily available. This may seem like a good thing, but remember the code is available to everyone, your competitors included. Economically, however, it’s still a better choice, and it’s just as effective as the licensed software that costs an arm and a leg.

Lastly, like anything in business, you need the right people. If you’re going to leverage open-source software, you need team members who really know how to use it and understand your business’s needs. If you don’t have the right people to customize and build on open-source tech, you’ll simply be moving in circles.

Which path will you choose? After you’ve looked at the pros and cons, you have to decide how you’re going to leverage this great resource — and don’t be afraid to get creative.

Elasticsearch, for example, used open-source software to build something entirely new: a cheap, light search technology that provides companies with actionable, real-time insights from almost any data source — structured or unstructured. Before you can start revolutionizing the business landscape, however, you have to decide which path you’ll walk down when using open-source software within your startup:

1. Enabler. Open-source tech can be used to help you execute what you already do and assist your preset processes to become more efficient as a whole. Think of it like using an HR or customer-relationship management system to better manage the company structure you already have in place.

2. Business model. You can also use open-source tech as a foundation for building your own apps or creating a new product. This allows you to make money off of existing tech by using open source as a key ingredient with which to build a software model. A word of caution, though: Using open source as a business model only works if you keep building and adapting the tech.

Whether you use open source as an enabler or a business model, it’s a gift. Use open source to differentiate your business or simply to get your business up and running quickly from a relatively advanced stage.

The available options are organized, low-cost and sophisticated — you don’t have to start from scratch, so why would you? Entrepreneurs have enough to do already.