Steven Leaney is a Senior Account Manager at Xero and Chartered Accountant. Steven is incredibly passionate about using technology to help improve business success and the lifestyles of their owners. At Xero Steven helps Accountants and Bookkeepers across South Australia and the Northern Territory become highly efficient businesses who are fast growth leaders in the new cloud economy.
Editor’s note: As we gear up for 2019, we wanted to get your thoughts on what to expect in the year ahead. So we’ve asked some of the most influential voices in accounting, bookkeeping, technology and public policy to weigh in. Today, we hear from Steven Leaney, a technology enthusiast and Xero Senior Account Manager.
Every time I drive into the city, Google Maps presents me with two options. If I take route A, it will take me about 17 minutes to get there. If I take route B, it will only take 15 minutes, so I can save two minutes on my trip.
To tell me this, Google uses an enormous amount of historical traffic data plus data from drivers who are using the Google Maps app and anonymously sending off their GPS data. By calculating the speed of drivers, Google can generate a live traffic map that gives you super accurate predictions of your travel time to a destination.
But here’s what Google doesn’t know about my trip.
On the faster, route B, trip, there’s a train crossing. If you’re unlucky on the trip, you’ll have to stop for a long cargo train, and it’ll add at least another fifteen minutes to your trip.
So you have two new options to consider:
Take route A, and you’ll get there in 17 minutes. Take route B, and it might be 15 minutes, but you’re also taking the risk that it could be 30 minutes.
Which do you choose?
If you’re in a hurry and have to be there as soon as possible, you might take the risk on route B.
But if you have a bit of time to spare, you’ll probably take the safer route A.
That’s not a technology decision. That’s a human decision.
You see, these days it’s not about technology versus humans in making decisions. It’s about both complementing each other to get the best result.
There’s never been a better time to be human
As the world generates more data than ever before, and we see new technology that borders on magical, there’s just never been a better time to be a person making decisions.
Sift through the lists of the most in-demand jobs at the moment, and you’ll see titles like data analyst, data engineer and data scientist.
These are the people who, in 2019, will be assisting industries and businesses to clean up their data, sort it into a manageable form, send it queries, and gather predictions about the future.
Technology has given us access to never-before-seen amounts of data, and the cloud-based tools you can use to process and make sense of it have never been cheaper.
This means data specialists now have tools readily available to help business owners make better decisions around topics such as:
- improving customer acquisition and retention
- financial risk management
- supply chain management
- human resources allocations, and
- which new markets to enter
But as the technology and the ability to form insights from data gets cheaper, the results and decisions we make as humans from the data become more valuable.
Using data for better decision-making
One of my favourite examples of using data to make better decisions comes from a team who attempted to predict the future of coffee in New York City.
They looked at the locations of existing coffee shops in New York and then created a data model that factored in variables like commercial zoning areas, the culture in different places and wealth of residents in different areas. They also factored in the price of coffee in the different boroughs, and the expected quality of a coffee in a cafe based on customer reviews.
Once they refined their model to a point where it accurately mapped the location of actual coffee shops in New York they were then able to ask a fascinating business question, “Where are the best places for the next 200 coffee shops be located?”.
I’m sure it’s a question that every coffee lover who dreams of opening their own cafe would love to know the answer to before they open up.
Having this information could be the decision on whether they succeed or fail. (FYI the answer was the Bronx.)
Data can change the world
Working with the data and creating city models can do more than help a business owner understand the best place to start a business.
It can also help governments and communities understand where to build housing to support businesses, develop the infrastructure that will bring people to those places, and locate the schools and hospitals that will look after customers and business owners alike.
The increased accuracy from the data inputs and insights makes the decisions we make from them ever so much more valuable.
It’s a big statement, but these are the decisions and data that literally change the world we live in.
So we as humans now have a big responsibility.
We need to make sure we’re using the right data in the first place.
We need to understand what the data includes and what it doesn’t include.
We need to understand how the insights were arrived at and what the predictions mean.
We then need to cast a knowing eye over everything and make sure that the answers we’re delivering make sense in the real world.
What’s so exciting is that, as humans, we’re right in the driver’s seat of this new data revolution.
So get your data roadmap ready now because it’s time to buckle up and strap yourself in. It’s going to be an incredible ride.