What does big data mean for not for profits? Lessons from laundry tubs and eighties rock stars

By Jane Arnott, General Manager – Consulting and Business Services

Big data is one of those buzz words that gets bandied about. Leveraging the data at your fingertips is a powerful management tool, but it’s easy to get lost in the volume of data available. Forward-thinking enterprises are tapping into data like never before, with some surprising results, and yet so many organisations have not even skimmed the surface of the opportunities hidden inside their data.

For not for profits, the right data can:

  • Improve your decision making across all your functions, including finance, HR, marketing and operations
  • Save you time and money
  • Inform your strategies, particularly during times of change, whether due to compliance and legislation changes, new technology or mergers and acquisitions
  • Measure your impact, highlighting your successes and demonstrating trends year on year

At the big end of town, big data is counted in billions of rows, and in terabytes or even petabytes. Even if your data is not at that scale, there are likely myriads of untapped opportunities at your fingertips. So let’s take a look under the hood, with some examples from not for profits, private enterprise, and, oddly enough, eighties rock stars…

Telling stories

The right data tells a powerful story. When many international aid organisations focus on how many goats a $50 donation will buy you, The Hunger Project shares stories about their work in the field, punctuated by some powerful stats – 18 million people reached globally, across 24,000 rural villages, with 395,000 locally trained volunteers.

However big numbers can be hard to digest. Infographics and data visualisations are a powerful way to bring complex data to life. The late Hans Rosling busted the myths on extreme poverty with his entertaining and thought-provoking TED talks. Rosling told a powerful story using dynamic data visualisations (and laundry tubs).

Surprises are just around the corner

UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company, crunched the numbers on the 15 million packages delivered every day across 220 countries. Surprisingly, they found that left-hand turns were costing them money. In countries where vehicles drive on the right side of the road, turning left into oncoming traffic used more fuel and resulted in more maintenance requests, and they found it was cheaper to take a slightly longer route avoiding left-hand turns.

Their GPS now provides routes to drivers that avoid left-hand turns as much as possible. The result? UPS trucks now use 10 million gallons less fuel and they’re able to deliver 350,000 more packages per year, with 1,100 less trucks on the road.

Lessons from rock stars

You might be wondering what rock stars could possibly teach you about your data, but stick with me. In the eighties, rock group Van Halen were known for the seemingly ridiculous demands in their backstage rider, including the requirement for ‘M&Ms – Warning – absolutely no brown ones’. It seems over the top, but there was actually a savvy business rationale for the demand.

At the time, Van Halen were also known for their pyrotechnics. They had the biggest stage production at the time, with complex lighting and audio visual set up.  When Eddie Van Halen arrived at the venue, he would first check the snack bowl. No brown M&Ms meant that the crew had paid close attention to their instructions, on stage and off stage. If there were brown M&Ms in the bowl, Eddie and his bandmates would go through the lighting and on stage set up with a fine tooth comb, because the odds were that the crew had not followed instructions.

Make your data work smarter, not harder

Effective use of your data doesn’t always require wading through pages and pages of monthly reports. If you can tease out the right key indicators, you’ll often find that there are only a handful of key measures you need to regularly keep an eye on to make sure your team is running smoothly.

The right measures in your finance, HR, marketing, and operations data can provide a robust view of organisational performance throughout the year, to monitor how you’re tracking against your key performance indicators and help identify any emerging issues.

Next month we’ll take a look at the data traps to avoid and how to use public data to benchmark your not for profit. In the meantime, if you’d like to know how to use data to inform decision making in your finance, HR or marketing, let’s get the conversation started.

Get in touch via:

Email: consulting@cbb.com.au
Phone: 1300 763 505

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