Our Voices

Do you really need data to grow?

This is a question that most entrepreneurs and small business will ask themselves if they haven’t already. It was the starting point for a project that we were invited to work on earlier this month to help Dutch small businesses with up to 10 fulltime employees grow. 

We were invited to bring our data science and digital inclusion expertise to the week long cocreation session. During the week, I was part of one of the two teams that were tasked with coming up with an innovative, useful and accessible solution for small businesses. On our team, we had a UX designer, a serious gaming expert, two program managers from the customer and me. 

While we were working through our scenarios and thousands of Post-It notes, the theme that I kept pushing for was accessible data. Make it useful, make it relevant and make sure that the small business has the skills needed to work with it. After all, if the knowledge isn’t something that’s available in your environment, you are less likely to use it.  

As the lone data person on the team and small business owner, I was able to give form to what data would be useful to someone. What is every business busy with? Finding customers, delivering amazing service and having the right information to make strategic decisions with regards to resources. As a small business, I need to be able to do that in a way that involves a minimum of steps 

I also wanted to have someone in the business have an understanding of data, the skills needed to make the data useful for all. This doesn’t mean a full fledged data scientist. It means someone who has data skills in addition to their expertise. This person needed an identity and I named them the DEX (Data Expert). The DEX would not be alone, the idea was to build a supporting community around regions or sectors that DEXes could come together and continue to learn and share knowledge. 

On the 4th day of our cocreation, our prototypes were tested with various real world entrepreneurs, from sole proprietors to firms with 100 employees. We learned a lot! First of all, when they started the test, they all thought that data was something too difficult to understand or only for really big companies. They didn’t think it would be relevant to them. Three experiences later, they were fascinated by what data could and did mean for them. Their reactions to what we were able to show them inspired them to start problem solving and making different decisions, entirely based on the prototypes that we used for an imaginary company. 

The last portion of our prototyping focused on becoming the DEX. Here’s where several surprises came to light. The business owners who self identified as not that digitally savvy were the most curious and the most open to becoming the DEX themselves rather than recommending someone in their company. I loved seeing this result because it shows the power of data to stimulate curiosity and problem solving!  

The week ended with a pitch to the customer’s national board and regional directors. The other team had proposed a localized information platform for small business. They ended up winning the prototype pitch and will go on to develop further.  

What does that mean for me? Our company will continue to go on helping people become a DEX, through our SkillsUP Lab programs that we run to reskill and upskill people with practical data science and data analytics skills. Does your company need a DEX? Or want to learn more about growing with data? Then let’s talk about it! 

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