Ever since we started using computers in virtually every business, we’ve been putting data into them. Unfortunately, the issue has been getting information back out.
In the middle 1980’s I ran a manufacturing company together with a couple of Australians. They thought my insistence on putting our records into a computer amusing, since PCs had not yet made many inroads in Oz.
We ran MAS 90, on an “99% IBM compatible” white box. It did scheduling, inventory control and shipping/receiving. Customer tracking? No. Purchasing? No. A friend wrote a macro for Excel that could pull out the usage and inventory to suggest order quantities. We’d watch in amazement as she’d hit “enter” and the monochrome screen cycled through 25 or 30 screens as it did its calculations. Now THAT was advanced!
One day I came into the office and, to my horror, our data-entry guy had the computer apart on his desk. I demanded to know what exactly it was he was doing. He explained that he was installing an additional 30MB hard drive. I exclaimed “Are you nuts? It already has a 20MB hard drive. That will last us forever!”
Now that machine couldn’t handle the Candy Crush game on my phone; but despite the awesome power at our fingertips, the original problem hasn’t gone away.
We pour millions of information bits into our systems. The databases have every transaction, every customer, every incoming shipment, and every due date. So why is it so hard to find out what our ancient homo sapiens brains tell us we need to know?
I want to see if any customer’s ordering pattern has changed. Did the special we ran on widgets last week impact sales positively or negatively for related lines? How much of that new salesman’s business is growth in existing accounts? Does a customer’s breadth of purchases differ for those who are opening our e-newsletter?
Until very recently, the answer for small business owners has been “Wouldn’t you like to know?” (I can’t speak for big corporations that run multi-million dollar software. Maybe they’ve had this all along.) The software vendors proudly point to their report writer. “You can get anything out with that.”
But few small businesses have the time or energy to learn another programming skill, and report writing software isn’t easy. So we look longingly at the box that contains everything we need to know, and then still rely on instinct and experience to make decisions.
If your business is large enough to have someone that specializes in Crystal Reports or another data mining software, that person is likely months behind on requests to pull information from the data.
We are finally seeing software that searches for comparative information on its own. Are you ready for a program that sends you a message like “You made a change in the freight charge policy last month. Would you like to see the impact on average order size and profitability?”
It’s coming. I’m seeing examples of “push” information in multiple industries. Most of us will just think of it as a cool new feature on the next upgrade, or the one after that. In reality, it’s going to completely change the meaning of managing by the numbers.
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