Information technology: don't let your data decay.
You've got your PC network up and running. Your accounting system is sorted. You've finally got the inventory system working. Your documentation is all generated by computer. And you are beginning to understand what the internet can do for you. Now what? Well, you could put the 'information' back into 'information technology' and concentrate on the data.
The quality and maintenance of data is probably the area of IT most neglected by SMEs, particularly those using IT to communicate with existing customers and to mailshot potential customers. 'Data decays' can lead to lost business.
On average, 20% of companies change head office address every year. In other words, most companies will change location every five years. If this sounds bad, consider that 18% of managing directors change jobs each year. MDs in larger companies change jobs more frequently, around once every 3.5 years, and finance directors change jobs as often as managing directors. The combined effect of all this is that the accuracy of your customer database could decay by over a third each year.
I cannot be the only victim of extraordinarily wasteful practices resulting from poorly maintained databases. Every Monday and Friday, I receive numerous 'spray and pray' mailings from people who don't know my name, what I do, what I am interested in and, most importantly, don't seem to care about this, either. I don't think I am alone in being insulted when someone, who has had my custom over the years, misspells my name. It is so unnecessary. Nothing about managing data is difficult, it just demands close attention to detail.
There are only three levels of data necessary to understand customers - the name and location identifiers such as name and address; the sales potential identifiers such as business turnover, employees and type; and the actual sales identifiers such as sales and profitability by product.
Building a database to handle this is no simple IT job because information from many data sources has to be sown together.
Many systems fail because they are unable to integrate data from other systems as seamlessly as necessary: gluing the systems together is one challenge, getting the data to populate and update another system is quite a different matter. Even this might be trivial, compared to integrating and 'cleaning' internally gathered information from an accounting system, with external data from a database broker, for example.
The message is simple - an inaccurate or ill-maintained database is wasteful and damaging. Databases should be maintained consistently. This takes time and money, so make sure you have budgeted accurately. If you have, you should be able to point to real benefits derived from using computers in your business.
Rob Wirszcyz is director of communications and alliances at EDS UK.