Data analysis is not new, yet everyone seems to be talking about it. What is new is the way companies are approaching using data as a core element in their day to day decision making. What is also new are the variety of tools available to measure and report on data. Whether you are a large enterprise company or an SMB, there are four key elements a company should embrace to execute better business decisions using quantitative data – training, measuring, balancing, and choosing.

Training for Executives and Managers

No longer can executives and managers sit by complacently while others report company metrics to them. In today’s fast-paced work environment, everyone finds themselves working under a compressed time frame to produce results. This pressure might come from investors, the consumers themselves or equally important, the competition. Whatever the demand driver is, today’s main stakeholders need to enhance their skills to survive in a data-driven company culture.

According to a report by the Harvard Business Review, eight out of ten executives say they are reliant on data in their roles. Almost three-quarters say their areas rely on data to make decisions and roughly the same majority also predict that their organizations’ overall reliance on internal data will increase in two years.

This means making decisions based on data needs to become a scalable process within the organization and not just the opinion or interpretation of one individual or department. Companies who have adopted this process have been rewarded with increased profitability. Leveraging data to incorporate a faster decision-making process is significant. The adage “time is money” is more relevant today than ever before.

Monitor and Measure

The applications for reporting data have become so sophisticated that identifying what to monitor and measure is overwhelming. A common mistake companies make is placing the same weight of importance on all metrics that are measured. The first steps are identifying the right KPI’s (key performance indicators) for your organizations individual goals.

Fundamentally, this means identifying which metrics offer a clear picture of how you are performing against an objective. Choose a manageable set of KPI’s to gauge the health of targeted initiatives such as travel programs, sales and marketing and revenue generation. Also, consider within a program the importance of savings metrics, program gaps, policy compliance, budget enforcement and future strategy.

Analytics tools should provide rich, dynamic and actionable visualizations of companies’ data irrespective of the device used. Conveying insights through analytics allows companies to make informed decisions based on consumable business intelligence.

Balancing Data and Instinct

Balancing data with instinct is imperative in defining your analytic ecosystem. Great leaders have always had the unique ability to see not only what others do not, but what is not even there yet. Data is critical, and metrics can become scalable, however, to succeed and lead a “side order of vision and creativity” cannot be ignored.

The ability to receive real-time, actionable data is critical in today’s business environment. With the rapid advances in technology along with an aggressive competitor landscape, we no longer have the luxury of watching data for months at a time hoping to see improvement. You may need to apply your own experience to that information and choose your next steps accordingly even if that means overriding what the system recommends.

Quick decisions, sometimes relying on more on instinct than data, need to be made in order to keep your business model relevant and profitable.

Choose the Right Tools and Providers

Before choosing any technology solutions, evaluate what is a crucial to propel your company’s business strategies forward. Does the application have the ability to communicate in real-time and deliver relevant solutions? Can it provide extensive, reliable data that empowers the company to confidently make data-driven decisions? Is the data customizable with the ability to set benchmarks to easily and visually see where you measure up to your KPI’s? Can the application evolve and grow with your company or will it be obsolete in a few years? How will mobile impact your data ecosystem and does the provider have a mobile vision?

Also do not forget to do your due diligence on the company itself. Who are the principals of the business? How long have they been in business and are their core values in line with your objectives? Do they understand your organization or just trying to provide a cookie cutter solution to all?

Most importantly do they enable you, as their customer, to be strategic vs. reactive and ultimately help you operate a lucrative business?

To survive and thrive in today’s competitive landscape, companies need to rely on the ability to leverage accurate, relevant data which is comprehensible, actionable and aligns with the short and long-term goals of the business. Whether it is travel, retail, merchandising or marketing, there are four key elements that are vital in driving decisions that elevate the data into a quantitative decision-making vehicle. Analytics training for your executives and managers, measuring and monitoring KPI’s, balancing data with gut instinct and choosing the right tools and providers are the guiding principles in moving your business from being one of the crowd to leading the way.