The idea that you need to have information in order to conduct business and make decisions is so fundamental that it almost seems simple. So simple, in fact, that gathering it can become an afterthought.
Companies know they need to know about the products they’re buying, their suppliers, the products they’re selling, and much more, but often they don’t put the effort into setting up a process to collect and manage that data. Instead, systems develop on an ad hoc basis, creating inefficiencies that result in wasted time money, and other resources. Companies end up with either not having enough information or having more than they know what to do with.
A better approach is to recognize that gathering and managing data should be a core business activity and to deliberately create a process, or information gathering campaign. Taking the time to think through the steps and how each will be managed will pay off in the long run. While it helps to use customizable software that integrates data collection, communications and analysis but effectively using this program still requires a thoughtful plan.
The process of creating this plan is the same regardless of the size of the company, the type of data to be collected, how much data must be collected or what will be done with it. This plan should be created prior to collecting data and updated regularly. However, if a company has started data collection without such a plan, it is not too late. The steps for creating an effective plan are outlined below.
Identify who will be gathering data
The first step of developing an effective information gathering campaign is to determine who within the company will be responsible for what parts. This may be handled by one person or by a team. If more than one person will be involved, it is essential to know who will be directing the effort and making decisions about how the campaign proceeds. Additionally, everyone on the team should know his or her role so there are no gaps or duplicated efforts.
Determine what information is needed
It can be disastrous to go to great lengths to get information only to find that there are significant pieces that weren’t collected. Conversely, there are so many bits of information to collect that a company can easily get bogged down in gathering information that will never be used effectively. When deciding what to pursue, consider how it will be used to make decisions and drive the business forward. Keep in mind that you will be asking people to provide the information and the more you ask of them, the more you increase the likelihood that they won’t respond or give complete answers.
Once you know what information you want, you need to write out the questions to get it. It’s a good idea to test the questions to make sure they are clear and will elicit the response you want. These questions should be reviewed throughout the data collection process to ensure that they are working.
Figure out how you will Obtain the information
Once you know what you need to know, you need to figure out from whom you will obtain it and how you will approach them. This often seems more straightforward than it turns out to be in practice. It’s not always clear who within a company has the information needed or the authority to share it. Additionally, people are busy, and they may not feel compelled to find the time to respond. Your plan should address these issues.
Your customized data collection system will be useful in these situations because requests for information can be sent to multiple respondents within a company. Additionally, it’s easy to see who has responded and who has not and to set up reminders.
For your plan, lay out the process of reaching people and following up if they don’t respond. Set out the time frames for initial responses and reminders.
Put the Data to Use
No plan is complete without details about where the information will be stored, how it will be retrieved, how it will be analyzed and how it will be disseminated. Looking at these things ahead of time will help set things up more efficiently.
Consider such issues as who needs the information and how will they get it? At what point should data be put into graphs or reports and who will be responsible for making that happen?
Your plan should include a way to show how effective the system is. This is especially important for companies that are revising an existing system. Metrics to consider include:
- Response rate for information requests
- Amount of data collected as a percentage of requested
- Effectiveness of data collected