The Power of Information Getting the Most Out of MI
Getting The Most Out of MI
Knowledge is power as the saying goes. But with power comes great responsibility. Jeff McCracken looks at the importance of accurate management information and how to use it to have your say.
Knowledge is power, but what if that knowledge is incorrect or misused? Jeff McCracken looks at the importance of accurate management information and how to use it to have your say.
Management information (MI) is easy to get; all back office systems provide it. It is just a set of data or statistics that we can all collect to measure performance and drive change for improvement. MI can be a key to unlocking the potential success for a business – providing there is understanding of how to use it. Yet, given the sheer amount of data available, particularly as an increasing volume of business is transacted electronically, how many brokers really make good use of, or understand, the data they have at their fingertips? How can brokers ensure they unlock the potential of their management information?
The art of the possible
The first challenge is to understand what you do not yet know. What data is available? It is often the case that system and business knowledge reside in different brains; the data is readily available to be analysed, but the people that would benefit from it are not aware of it. This is usually because the MI system can be complicated to operate, or because staff have not been trained to use it. Coding or database skills are often required to access the data correctly. Whatever system you choose, ensure the method of accessing the data is user friendly, menu-based and intuitive – and when investing in training do not just focus on the front end. People will all too often invest in training staff in how to use the front line of a system, but forget to invest in training on non-directly revenue generating functions such as MI. This leads to a general lack of knowledge of the art of the possible. It is very important that any broker wishing to use a MI system should ensure they have training before they can use the tool. Data in untrained hands can be as dangerous as no data at all.
Quality data input
The information that comes out of a system is only as valuable as the data put in at source. If your team is inputting data incorrectly, taking shortcuts in processing business and using data fields inconsistently, any MI will be suspect at best. How many brokers train their staff effectively and issue process guides, also explaining the importance of data input accuracy? Not many I suspect.
Quality data inputting is essential for a broker to report accurately on the success of marketing campaigns, run industry segment client analysis reports or look at the quote conversion rates by product line or insurer, for example. Sometimes a bit more work in training staff and a bit more care and attention in processing business can reap huge benefits in improving the effectiveness of a broker’s future trading strategy.
Escape the shackles
All too often a system will drive the MI process. A standard report run is produced and management works from it the best it can, but this is unsatisfactory. The management team needs to decide on the exact detail of the MI it requires, in what format and at what frequency. No two brokers are totally alike, so make sure your MI process has the flexibility to allow you to adapt and change standard reports and also to create totally bespoke reports yourselves. These reports should have the ability to be saved, shared and even scheduled. This needs to be an intuitive process, as reports will need to be refined as the broker’s requirements and the market changes. A broker cannot be a hostage to its MI, it needs to use its MI to escape the shackles of the current status quo and work towards a better future.
MI but not at the expense of core business process
How would you feel if you lost a sale or a client as a result of your team spending time in manually creating your reports, when they otherwise could be serving your clients? But if your team is spending time in doing this, they cannot be selling insurance and retaining clients at the same time. Manual MI is also error ridden and tends to be slow due to its nature. You end up with Disney-MI. The numbers look good, but do they accurately reflect the true position of your business? MI needs to be automated, accurate, and timely – and not add extra work for your business. Use MI to drive performance improvements.
MI for MI’s sake? Pretty graphs but no results?
Presuming that you have tailored your MI so the reports are bespoke and provide you with valuable intelligence, then the final hurdle is ensuring that intelligence is used to put operational improvements into practice. If the management team is not making effective use of its MI and, as a result, the front line team is spending time in the creation of manual reports without seeing the benefits of improved operational effectiveness, then the MI is pointless. This feedback loop is self-destructive as less care is taken over the production of reports perceived to be valueless. The whole cycle grinds to a stop as management fails to react to incorrect data.
So what does this all mean in the real world? We have worked with the Oval Group for a number of years and seen how it has applied the use of focused MI to drive further efficiency through the business. Analysing and understanding specific data on e-trade penetration levels, for example, has allowed the firm to significantly increase the usage of e-trade products and control the costs associated with processing SME business – one of the key challenges for any broker to conquer. By pinpointing the opportunities for efficiency and using in-depth MI, it has allowed Oval to improve its processes and focus its efforts where they are most needed. In summary, all parties in the MI process, including the creator of the MI and the end-user of it, need to have a good knowledge of what is possible and what the business requires from its MI. The MI created needs to be business relevant and must be created as an integrated part of the business process without creating an unnecessary burden on the team. All members of the team need to understand the importance of the MI and, as a result of the intelligence gathered, see business and process changes put into practice with demonstrable positive results. MI needs to reflect accurately what is happening in a business and be a catalyst for change where change is required. Used well, it could be the best pound-for-pound investment a broker can make in its business.