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Don’t Let Duct Tape and WD-40 Run Your Data Strategy

I love this meme. It’s hilariously accurate, highlighting the absurd reality that even multi-billion dollar, international organizations still rely on the data analytics equivalent of a slide ruler.

Bravo Lt's Offices in Monterrey

Let’s be honest. Spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations are so thoroughly ingrained in our business culture that they will likely never truly disappear. Even when I work with clients to modernize their data analytics environment, a significant chunk of our conversations revolve around Microsoft Excel: Can we still use it? Will the new reports have the same functions? Will it look the same? I was even asked recently during a training session on Power BI‘s advanced analytics features if it was possible to export the data to Excel.

"Just because it works doesn’t make it right."

The truth is, an expert Excel user can do incredible things with data. Sure, Excel can be slow and crash your computer more often than not, but the whole spreadsheet roulette game is a bit of a rush – will my file open today, or will I cause a blackout across the eastern seaboard? Then again, an expert Access user can accomplish everything SQL Server and WebApps can do with much the same outcome of the bloated and insecure Excel workbook.

One more hokey comparison, and then I’ll get to the point. There’s an old saying that the only two tools a handyman needs is WD-40 to make things move and duct tape to make things stay put. Ingenuity can find a way to get the job done even with the wrong tools. But that being said, would you really trust a handyman that showed up with just a spray can and a roll of silver tape? Yet many companies – a shocking number of companies – are willing to use the analytics equivalent of duct tape and WD-40 to manage their financial data.

The hidden risk of playing it safe

I took this long route to underscore the reality of what passes for data analytics and business intelligence in many businesses today. Most business leaders I have met can point to one mammoth Excel workbook that someone built 20+ years ago that is the source of truth for all data for the organization. No one really knows how it works, it consumes the better part of a full time job to run and maintain, and if that one person who knows how to fix it retires, the whole company is in trouble. But if you mention upgrading and modernizing, it can induce the kind of panic normally reserved for nuclear war and surprise visits from an auditor. Upgrading means a project, a budget, new tools, new training, pretentious IT contractors with overgrown beards, and, worst of all, it’s change.

But let’s go back to the toolbox analogy. You can always rig something up if you have to, but why continue to do it when you no longer need to? More than that, why put your business at risk by holding on to antiquated methodologies? It’s time to ditch the duct tape and WD-40 and consider the advantages of being a data-driven enterprise.

The power of data unleashed

Data is one of the most vital resources in business today – every business in every industry. Properly managed data increases productivity and employee engagement. It exposes risks that you didn’t see and elicits opportunities that were hidden just under the surface. It tells you what works, what doesn’t work, and where the market is heading. It maximizes your competitive advantages while reducing overhead, redundancies, and inefficiencies. Sure, you can keep plugging more extension cords into the one good outlet, or you can invest in an electrical upgrade that will carry you far into the future and protect you from the inevitable blown circuits. Eventually, you will need to take action, but will it be on your terms or when the wall catches fire?

I’ve personally worked with a manufacturer who increased OEE by double digits by automating alerts on machine specifications and delivering insights on root cause analysis to line operators in real time. I brought a call center manager to tears by automating her employee productivity reporting, recouping over 30 hours each month spent collating data. Instead, she had daily reports in her email inbox. I even had a plant manager in Reno cuss me out once because his boss in Chicago was seeing the production analysis reports before the crew in Reno had even poured a cup of coffee!

The goal of business intelligence is to bring all of the right data in the right format to the right people at the right time to drive the right decisions and actions. If you are waiting for data, you are falling behind. And, if you can’t explain your data with a clear audit trail, then you might as well be pulling numbers out of a hat. Yes, modernizing your data platform is an investment. It involves hard work, planning, a lot of commitment, and letting go of the comfortable and familiar to move into a new normal where decisions are being made based on near-real-time information. It requires a desire to keep asking questions of your data and your team until you finally reach the very root of the issue. It also means that everyone in the organization is seeing the same data at the same time, so no more arguing over figures and hiding behind carefully framed graphs. The facts are laid bare, and the list goes on and on. And I’m not talking about cutting-edge, ridiculously complex and expensive systems; I’m describing the basic functionality of industry-standard analytics tools.

The right partner for the right solution

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Modernizing your data analytics isn’t just about avoiding future crises; it’s also about unlocking immediate benefits. Today’s tools are surprisingly affordable, often cloud-based, and user-friendly. Most clients find the initial productivity gains from automating reports and eliminating manual errors nearly pays for the upgrade itself, even before the real value of the data kicks in.

For over 20 years, Bravo LT has been a trusted partner for business leaders in industries as diverse as manufacturing, education, logistics, and health care. We journey with our clients, since your success is our success. Our experts have the breadth and depth of experience necessary to customize a solution specific for your needs, and as an independent consulting firm, we explore all options, not just one. If you are ready to move beyond duct tape and slide rulers but don’t know where to start, contact Bravo LT today for a complimentary consultation. Together, we can explore the art of the possible and find the right path for your business, for today and the future.

Written by Jonathan Shelley, Sr. Business Intelligence Developer at Bravo LT.


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