Actionable insights – those gems that every analytics or business intelligence programme promises to deliver. Sometimes, even in real-time. It’s a means of bridging the gap between information and action – and all companies want to be able to do that. Indeed, according to Forrester, 74% of firms say they want to be data-driven, but only 29% are successful at connecting analytics to action.
The issue we have, is that data and information isn’t necessarily synonymous with insights – in fact, there’s a distinct difference between data, information and insights. Data is where it all begins – those raw, unprocessed facts (normally numbers) that can then be measured or observed. But data alone is not enough – plus, there’s the ever-present risk of data overload. It’s interpreting that data that is pivotal to ultimately being able to take action based upon it. As William Du Bois commented, “When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, and more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meanings.” But it’s getting to those meanings that’s critical.Making Sense of Data.
This is where the next step comes in. Information is data that’s been structured and organised into some form of context – often presented via spreadsheets, visualisations and dashboards. We only get to the insight stage once we’ve analysed that information and formed conclusions. At this point, we’re ready to take action.
Some insights aren’t actionable – they merely answer a question – but when you obtain an insight that actually allows you to act upon it, you’ve hit the treasure trove of analytics. However for an insight to be truly actionable, there are certain fundamentals that need to be present.
- Context counts: Insights can’t exist in a vacuum. There needs to be a contextual element that enables you to put it into some form of perspective and decide if you actually need to act on it. For example, if your company generated 10,000 sales this week, your response to this figure may change if you normally generate 20,000 sales but have changed pricing. Does that correlate and, if so, does it mean you need to switch back or have net margins increased?
- Alignment with goals: If you’re not sure how to react to an insight, this may mean it’s not necessarily pertinent to your business goals. You’ll know you need to do something when insights are closely aligned with your business goals and relate to key performance indicators.
Ask yourself what you’re really looking for, then put your data and insights into context, and you have a perfect recipe for acting on them – and seeing results.
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