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How data can help you steer the ship

When navigating, many pilots and sailors follow the ‘1 in 60’ rule. This states that if you have travelled for 60 miles with an error in track of one degree then you will have gone 60 miles off course. Scale that up over a voyage of thousands of miles and you could be sailing into dangerous waters.

Similarly in business, the smallest errors repeated over weeks, months or even years can seriously affect your fortunes if you don’t spot them soon enough. Analytics can help you identify these problems, correct your course and ensure you don’t end up a thousand miles from your planned destination.

Know where you’re heading

Even if you owned a state of the art, luxury yacht you wouldn’t dream of setting off around the world without doing some serious preparation. Work out where you want to get to and the places you need to stop off along the way.

What information do you need to decide whether you’re on track?

You wouldn’t trust a captain who strode onto the deck after leaving port and held a finger up to the wind saying, ‘this sea air feels right, full steam ahead,’ before retiring to his cabin for the rest of the voyage. You’d be surprised how often modern captains of industry rely on similar gut feelings rather than following the facts in the data in front of them. Just like modern ships we now have instruments that give us plenty of advance warning of choppy economic waters. Make sure you clearly understand the indicators and warning lights on your ship (your KPIs) and that you pay attention to the ones which are most likely to avert disaster and the ones that track your progress towards your destination.

Have you got all hands on deck?

Perhaps the reason we aren’t using data to its full advantage is that our crews aren’t au fait with the technology. The idea of analysing data sets is as far from many people’s experience as plotting a course through the Straits of Magellan. If you haven’t properly trained your crew and embedded data in the culture of your workplace, nobody’s going to get on board with it. Even if you install state of the art equipment it will remain unused, and you run the risk of going adrift.

How are you going to use this information to adjust your course?

Nobody actively sets out to crash into an iceberg. But if you don’t watch your speed, or fail to read your instruments properly you may not be able to avoid becoming the next Titanic sized business disaster. To use your data most effectively you need specialist staff who can act decisively and make the right decisions should something big and jagged appear out of nowhere.

How will you know when you’ve reached your destination?

Here’s where our extended maritime metaphor runs aground. Data analytics might have stops along the way but there is no final destination. Think of it, if you must, as a never-ending circumnavigation of the business world. Use your data in the right way and it will keep you on an even keel and could set you sailing into glittering new waters. 

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