24 July 2016

It’s astonishing when you look back through the years and see how business has changed. lawrence jones mbe

I remember many years ago when I was on work experience, I spent hours sorting out old signs that would have been consigned to the tip, having simply been asked to throw them out. Instead I separated them into different categories, some that could be reused, others recycled, others that were for the bin. Which ones were the most sturdy? Which ones were only good for one use?

Nowadays this type of logic is standard practice. Monitoring, tracking, categorising and analysing each aspect of the business is fast becoming second nature. And what helps us to do this? Data.

I often say that data is our greatest asset, many people have said that it’s the new oil, and I have to agree.

A real-world example hit the news this week, in the most unlikely form of Sam Allardyce.

The new England manager was a pioneer in using data in football. Analysing stat after stat to create new strategies, ways of getting around tough competition and, ultimately, transforming teams.

I was reading about Big Sam’s data prowess with fascination earlier this week.

Back in 1983 when Allardyce was still a player with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the US, he shared a training ground with Tampa’s NFL squad who were obsessed with statistics. According to the Guardian, when he moved on to being a manager in the early 1990s, he looked to introduce something similar but was waiting for the technology to catch up.

When he became manager of Bolton Wanderers, Allardyce also became one of the first big customers of a new software recruiting a team to focus on video analysis, moulding Bolton’s style of play.

When it came down to it, Allardyce’s Bolton were astonishing: Premier League top eight every season between 2003 and 2007, twice qualifying for the Uefa Cup.

And those weren’t his only results. According to the Guardian’s report on Big Sam, many of his analytics team have gone onto astonishing things in British sport: Ed Sulley, head of performance analysis at Manchester City; Gavin Fleig Manchester City’s head of technical scouting and Dave Fallows, head of recruitment at Liverpool.

It’s incredible to look back on and see, even as far back as the eighties, something that we almost take for granted today.

In business, having access to the level of data that the modern world gives us is completely extraordinary. Unlike in sport, we can not only track performance of the site and the team, we can monitor behaviour, we can establish what our customer is thinking, what they need and how we can accommodate that. We can look closer to home, how efficient are we? How are our teams working together? Where do we need to focus our attention?

Dan Cluderay’s Approved Food team is fantastic at this. Monitoring activity in their warehouse in real time and post-match, as it were. They’re able to spot and tackle bottlenecks before they become a problem, assess where they need to rework stock or create a new process to speed things up. It’s amazing to see.

The majority of the world doesn’t revolve around oil anymore; the most valuable asset we have is data. Data is the oil of the digital economy: it is valuable, priceless, like black gold, and it must be properly protected as it’s stored, handled and transferred from place to place. Invariably, without data, there is no digital economy. But it’s not just about the digital world, data affects every business – from local stores to national football clubs.

The way the world is set up now, with every business, and a majority of individuals, connected to the digital world, data is generated at an extraordinary rate. Last year, every day we created 2.5 quintillion (that’s 2.5 followed by 18 zeros) bytes of data — and 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years. That’s an extraordinary statistic but it makes sense; every industry and sector is becoming increasingly reliant on digital services and it’s creating this enormous stream of data.

As an entrepreneur data is an essential part of life. Whilst we never know what is over the next hill, strategy informed by data is one of the greatest opportunities of our time; it gives us an insight into what could be coming up. We simply cannot ignore that opportunity. And like oil, it is so much more valuable when it is refined.

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