a neon sign that says "Data has a better idea" with window view of city overhead
PHOTO: Franki Chamaki

First published in 2003, the best-selling-book-turned-movie "Moneyball" is generally credited with launching the analytics revolution that today dominates the baseball landscape. It chronicles how then Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane leveraged data analytics to help the small-budget A’s take on deep-pocketed rivals such as the Yankees and Red Sox.

In reality, however, analytics had been part of the baseball landscape long before Beane took it mainstream. Bill James, widely regarded as the father of modern baseball analytics, published his first Baseball Abstract in 1977, and the Society for American Baseball Research, the organization now synonymous with analytics in baseball (hence the term, “sabermetrics”) was formed six years earlier.

But while analytics was part of baseball for decades, it remained largely beneath the surface until the early 2000s when, confronted with dramatically escalating player salaries, small-market GMs such as Beane had no choice but to become more efficient with the comparatively fewer resources available to them. In other words, the analytics were always there and available. It just took a spark — in this case, the growing payroll gap — to bring them fully into the mainstream.

What does any of this have to do with the virtual economy? Everything. Consider the current state of data analytics in the workplace. Analytics are undoubtedly part of the modern business landscape, with new capabilities coming to market seemingly every day. But, much like with baseball in the '80s and '90s, analytics still linger somewhere beneath the surface for most organizations. Sure, we have a data analyst or two and we’ve got some cool dashboarding tools, but for all the hype, we hadn’t yet had that spark, that transformative occurrence that left us with no choice but to dive headfirst into analytics and use it to drive our business.

Until now.

As has been detailed in this space and others, the onset of the COVID-19 crisis has transformed the way the world does business and in the process, provided the spark that should finally force organizations to fully embrace analytics. Even as some physical storefronts begin to re-open, the virtual economy is here to stay. In a world where remote work and digital interaction are the norms, using data to better understand your business is essential.

Let’s look at a few areas where the need for a data-driven approach has been exacerbated by our new all-virtual reality.

Customer Experience

Chances are your schedule doesn't have a whole lot of face-to-face customer meetings on it right now. Yes, you can schedule Zoom calls, but while doing so may help keep you top of mind with customers, it’s unlikely to provide the depth of understanding and empathy needed to provide great customer care. In an all-virtual environment, where you can’t see or interact with customers, data is really all you have. Better use of data can help you understand not only who your customers are and why they buy your products, but how they engage with those products post-purchase and how that experience can be improved.

Usage data is often a more reliable indicator of what your customers truly need than what they might tell you in a face-to-face interaction anyway. So, don’t be afraid to let the data do the talking.

Related Article: The Data-Driven Organization Is an Endangered Species

Marketing Insight 

Many traditional marketing staples have been sidelined in the new virtual landscape. There’s no telling when we’ll next converse with customers at an in-person event, or when we’ll next get the rich feedback of an in-person focus group. You can’t do a lot of things right now as a marketer. One thing you can do, though, is leverage data to make smarter decisions.

Focus on data-driven strategies such as A/B testing of web content and digital messages to better understand what resonates and why. Understanding where you’re already getting significant return on investment is critical as marketing budgets come under increased scrutiny.

Testing Smarter

Speaking of testing, testers and developers probably aren’t the first folks that come to mind when you think of analytics. We tend to think of developers building analytics capabilities, not using them. But here’s the reality facing testers and developers in the all-virtual landscape: web and mobile applications aren’t just part of your business. They are your business, and they have to be updated frequently and deliver an experience that’s representative of your brand. As such, testers and developers alike have to find ways to work faster and more efficiently. Insight and visibility can help them do just that. Testers, in particular, should focus on using data insight to quickly identify and remediate common test failure patterns.

Related Article: Where Testing Fits in Your Omnichannel Experiences 

Internal Efficiency

The shift to an all-remote work posture represents a great time to become more data-driven with regard to your internal tools and processes. What collaboration tools are being used? Which ones are still collecting dust? Where is there overlap and redundancy in your internal systems that you can consolidate? If there were ever a time to collect input, dive into the usage data, and get a better understanding of who is using what tools and for what purposes, this is it.

Data as a Positive Force

One of the lasting impacts of the analytics revolution in baseball was the identification and celebration of previously underappreciated players. The same can and should be true in the workplace. So much of the analytics conversation revolves around negatively connotated concepts like weeding out inefficiency and eliminating redundancy.

So, as you go forth on your analytics journey, remember to accentuate the positives too, especially by highlighting and celebrating those previously underappreciated performers. Especially in these times, finding new ways to acknowledge success can boost morale and provide a roadmap for others to do the same. Democratizing data can have a transformative impact on your business. Now is the time to make it happen.