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Don’t Trust Your Gut: Become a Data‑Driven Business

How to Turn Data Challenges Into Opportunities

March 20, 2024

As a business leader, you know that leveraging data effectively leads to supply chain optimization, enhanced customer experiences, and bold, strategic decision-making. However, it’s often the case that there is a gap between the goal and the execution. Many companies understand the importance of data, but have yet to unlock its value.

In my experience, to truly become a “data-driven business,” companies need to overcome seven key challenges that prevent them from effectively collecting, organizing, analyzing, and acting on data. When businesses acknowledges these roadblocks, they can build on that awareness to take practical steps to move beyond them.

“98% of executives agree it is somewhat or very important to increase data analysis by their organizations in the next 1 to 3 years.”

Beyond Big Data: The Rise of Hyperscale
Ocient, August 2022

The Seven Data Challenges Facing Businesses—and How to Overcome Them

Challenge 1:  Taking Ownership  

To be a successful, insight-driven business, it’s important to think about the role of data in your organization—what your goals are, who manages it, and how to make sure it’s accessible and available to help you gain the competitive advantage.

I’ve found that leadership sets the tone for successful data management, backed up by a strong and committed team. To help ensure projects stay focused, you’ll want to designate a data champion—someone who can take the helm on data initiatives. Your champion should understand your company’s operations, objectives, and the industry landscape, while also having an existing interest in (or willingness to learn more about) data frameworks, principles, and policies.

As with most big initiatives, successful data management requires frequent collaboration. Ideally, your data champion is comfortable presenting clear data insights to a wide audience across all departments, while constantly seeking new solutions to help your business scale, thrive, and grow.

Challenge 2: Developing Internal Data Expertise

You may think you need to hire a data expert or technical specialist to implement a data-first strategy. Although this may have been true in the earlier stages of data-driven solutions, in my opinion this is no longer the case. With the right technology, an adaptable mindset, and attention to a few key steps, everyone in your business can play a role in data-driven decision-making and improving day-to-day processes:

Adopting User-Friendly Technology

Modern data analysis tools, designed with the user experience in mind, are intuitive and easy for all individuals, even those without a technical background.

Engaging the Right Software Partner

No doubt about it—the pool of companies offering you technology solutions is big, and getting bigger. A great place to start is by selecting a software partner who can connect your business systems for a complete view of your data, especially one with proven experience in your industry. With a solutions partner like this on board, you can get right to work without engaging an external tech specialist.

Prioritizing Training and Development

In my experience, offering foundational training to employees on data essentials will help boost their confidence, while simultaneously strengthening in-house expertise. I’ve found that when a team is confident in their ability to use and interact with relevant data, they gain a more wide-reaching, big-picture understanding of the organization.

Challenge 3: Which Metrics Matter Most?

We’ve all been guilty of metrics overload. Without a clear understanding of which insights are most relevant to your operations and objectives, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But remember, quality over quantity really matters here: an overabundance of data can end up decreasing the efficacy of all metrics across the board. Instead, successful data-first organizations help everyone identify the important metrics that will drive meaningful action.

  • To clear a path through the forest of unending data, start by exploring the unknowns—find which aspects of your operations raise the most challenging questions.
  • Next, harness the collective wisdom of industry peers and online communities, to facilitate idea-sharing and greater innovation in tackling those question.
  • Then, you can build on this knowledge to develop a handful key performance indicators (KPIs), prioritizing those that directly impact your bottom line.
  • Finally, with your KPIs in place, you can explore a pared-down range of industry solutions, focusing only on those that reveal trends and help drive efficiencies.

Challenge 4: Competing Business Objectives

With so many demands and strategic goals to meet, it’s tempting to prolong the transition to a data-first business due to lack of time. I’ve found it helps to reframe the process—from a radical transformation to a gradual evolution. In reality, a complete process overhaul is rarely necessary. Instead, work with your employees on embedding data-focused practices gradually. You’ll see meaningful results over time, without disrupting ongoing projects and objectives:

Begin with a Pilot Project

Choosing a small, manageable aspect of your business that could benefit from data insights is a great way to start. Once you see measurable change, you’ll be able to point out the improvements to the business right away.

Invest Mindfully

Make your choices with simplicity and clarity in mind. By selecting user-friendly data analytics software, preferably with intuitive dashboards that require minimal training, you’ll set your employees up for success and visible results.

Make Incremental Changes

Take on only what you can easily handle in a set period of time. Instead of completely retooling processes, focus on making minor, calculated adjustments that offer a big payback in efficiency, productivity, or resources.

Evaluate and Scale

In my experience, setting phased time limits helps everyone on the team stay focused. When the pilot phase of your project is done, evaluate the outcomes together. If things are working, keep going—replicate this approach in other areas of your business. If you didn’t get the results you were expecting, fine-tune your methodology and try again.

Challenge 5: Manual Processes and Disconnected Data

With so many ways to store data today, it’s easy to have too many virtual boxes in your data collection. If your insights are scattered across multiple Excel spreadsheets, software applications, email attachments, and hard copies, you won’t see the unified view you need to make big decisions quickly. Time and again, I’ve seen that getting your data organized and integrated helps your business unlock the value that may be hiding across disconnected locations.

Of course, it takes more than sheer will to make this happen. To truly drive organizational change in this area, you need to leverage software that enforces consistent file formats and standardizes critical information, like dates and addresses, to avoid data entry errors. The right ERP system can centralize your data, enhancing visibility and providing essential access for the entire company. And if you leverage Data as a Service (DaaS) to make this happen, you’ll get the confidence that comes from working with high-quality, managed data that integrates seamlessly into your business processes.

What Is Data-as-a-Service (DaaS)?

DaaS helps provide businesses with on-demand access to the industry’s most accurate and up-to-the-minute data, enabling advanced analytics and strategic decision-making. The structured data within DaaS empowers companies in the make, move, sell economy in many ways.

  • Supply Chain Planning and Forecasting: Analyzing demand patterns, production capacity, and inventory levels
  • Supplier Management: Evaluating supplier performance, delivery times, and quality for better selection
  • Transportation and Logistics: Optimizing shipping routes, carriers, and delivery times through data analysis
  • Inventory Management: Using data on inventory levels, demand patterns, and lead times to streamline inventory processes
  • Risk Management: Identifying and mitigating supply chain risks like natural disasters, political instability, and supplier bankruptcy

Challenge 6: Managing Change

An energized employee is an engaged employee. The transition to data-driven strategies represents an open opportunity for employees to expand their skillsets and increase their value to the organization. Change can be uncomfortable, at least at first. I’ve seen that when you frame and manage it correctly, however, you’ll soon have your whole organization rowing in the same direction. Your Data Champion can play a vital role in several key areas of your company’s transformation:

  • Advocating for the importance of data-driven decision-making across the organization
  • Encouraging open dialogue and being on hand to oversee training train and answer employees’ questions
  • Helping to select innovative technology and maximize the capabilities of existing systems

As leaders, it’s important for all of us to help our teams understand the reason behind the changes. Start by clearly explaining the benefits of becoming data-driven—for the long- and short-term vitality of the business. Encourage those who are early adopters to become advocates of the data-first culture within the organization, serving not just to train others but to inspire them.

When employees are equipped with both the skills and industry success stories they need to harness data accurately and confidently, they are less likely to revert to old practices. And don’t forget to call out your rock star leaders. Recognizing those who go above and beyond to embrace the data-driven approach can inspire others and help cement lasting changes.

Challenge 7: Protecting Your Information

Along with the excitement of accessing and organizing better, more complex data, comes the urgent need to protect it from increasingly sophisticated adversaries. With the constant threat of cyber-attacks and data breaches, prioritizing data security is essential for every business. Safeguarding data doesn’t just protect continuity—it reinforces trust with your partners, customers, and stakeholders. Set the tone from the beginning of your transformation by implementing these crucial security measures:

  • Use robust encryption to block unauthorized access to sensitive information.
  • Implement role-based controls to restrict data access on a need-to-know basis.
  • Employ automated backup systems to prevent potential data loss.
  • Enforce multi-factor authentication for system access, adding a critical extra security layer.
  • Use automated tools to continuously monitor and enforce compliance with data protection laws and regulations like GDPR and CCPA.

Harnessing the Power of Data with Epicor Solutions

As we’ve discussed above, those who want to lead in a highly competitive marketplace need an Insight Advantage that drives smart, data-driven decisions. That’s why the hardworking businesses that keep the world turning have trusted Epicor for over half a century. Built on an end-to-end, web-enabled infrastructure with unlimited storage and industry-leading security, the Epicor platform enables seamless data integration across your business.

Our data model has been developed over decades, designed specifically to support the make, move, sell economy. We help you optimize and organize your data in ways that prepare your business for the future of AI. The $1T+ challenge of successful, global AI adoption will fundamentally alter the way the world does business.

By embedding advanced AI capabilities into the very core of their operational workflows, companies can be 10x more efficient and 100x more innovative. At Epicor, we want to be at the forefront of allowing your workforce to create rather than execute, to think outside the box rather than merely check the boxes.

Change in all its forms is full of complexity. But like most journeys worth embarking on, the path you take to get there—and the partner you choose to travel with—makes  all the difference.

Industry Spotlight: Distribution 

“As an example of the power of insight-driven ERP, distributors using Epicor solutions experience:

8% higher revenue

45% more orders dispatched and delivered

22% Faster average delivery time

21% Higher productivity turns by warehouse teams”

The Business Value of Epicor for Distribution,
IDC, July 2022

Epicor solutions can transform the way your business looks at data, delivering powerful results that give you the Insight Advantage.