How data accuracy costs you $1.8 trillion a year [and how to fix it]

In business, our companies go to battle figuratively inspired by a mission. In the military, soldiers go to war literally on a mission. It’s easy to draw metaphors between business and the military or sports. In business, we like to envision our missions as critical as championships or human causes. While digital transformation and revenue operations are business aspirations, reinvention in the military is necessary to save lives.

Military reinvention relies on two things: communication and data. Similarly, at the heart of any well-run business stands clear communication and accurate data. Millions of people rely on precise communication and data daily to perform their jobs. From domestic flights to food handling, building homes, and reconciling balance sheets. 

A recent report by Autodesk shows that bad data cost the global built environment $1.8 trillion in 2020. Autodesk defines bad data as “inaccurate, incomplete, inconsistent, or untimely” data. Unfortunately, most companies' software systems are rife with inaccurate data lurking in CRMs, ERPs, spreadsheets, emails, and more. Autodesk’s study estimates that a contractor with a revenue of $1 billion could lose as much as $165 million—all because of a lack of quality data. 

Bad data is bad business. Bad data increases the likelihood of costly mistakes such as ordering insufficient or too many supplies contributing to miscommunications between teams. Bad data results in expensive change orders and time delays. In the military bad data means the ultimate cost—loss of human life.

Don’t let bad data eat into your bottom line. Let's dive into three mission-critical communication and data lessons learned from the military and how you can apply them to your business.

Know your business’s tooth-to-tail ratio

The term “tooth-to-tail” in the military describes the number of non-combatant personnel (tail) it takes to support a combatant soldier (tooth) successfully. Its mission is critical for success at war and in business.

Imagine your organization has impressive people working in the right teams, but you still are not seeing the financial results you expect. A low tooth-to-tail ratio results in a team that costs too much and can’t win the battle. The more bureaucracy a “tooth” deals with, the less effective it is.

We often think everyone in our organization is a part of the “teeth,” directly leading the impact with our customers, but that shouldn’t be the case. Customer relationships are challenging and time-consuming. Without support, those “teeth” in our organizations get spread too thin. Therefore, members of our teams need to be in support roles, indirectly supporting customers through their work that supports the “teeth” in our organizations. In business, we often categorize indirect roles as administrative or overhead—but the “tail” in business encompasses more than just administrative functions.

In a service organization where the product is the service your team provides to another organization, the “teeth” are the direct customer point of contact. Often these roles are project managers, property managers, brokers, or account managers. All other supporting staff would be the tail: engineers, designers, accounting, customer service, and other back-office operations, including leadership.

In a product organization, where the product is the actual delivery of tangible goods, the “teeth” are those who make the product itself and conduct the actual sale. All others fall into the tail role. That includes those who install, service, package, ship, transport, and support the product post-sale. 

When the tooth-to-tail ratio gets too low, front-line teeth must deal with burdensome red tape and wait days or weeks for a response. This creates poor customer experiences and disempowers those on the front lines. This mission is to serve the customer, yet they are not supported and empowered in that mission. 

By leveraging accurate data within your organization, you can positively affect overall organizational efficiency and empower “teeth” roles without additional layers of oversight. In addition, real data creates transparency within an organization at all levels and increases the effectiveness of “tail” roles as they can directly align themselves to serve those who serve your customers.

Clearly defined mission

A staggering 63% of employees don't clearly understand what their company is trying to do and why. Worse, a Gallup poll found that only 1 in 4 employees strongly believe in their company’s values. With the great resignation still in play, no organization can afford to have a poorly defined mission and vision. 

The U.S. Army appears to be an extremely rigid system to a civilian. The management system adopted by the Army is not designed to reinforce authoritarianism. Instead, it enables an organization to act with a singular purpose to achieve an assigned mission. Confusion around mission often accompanies military history’s most significant failures. When you ask someone to give their life, they deserve to know why. 

The same goes for business. Employees deserve to know what mission they are working toward for the organization and the greater community. Adam Grant succinctly sums it up: "An organization who authentically creates a higher purpose (North Star) and leverages it with their recognition, accountability, and hiring practices, can be wildly successful in creating high engagement and belonging.”

The second tenet in RevOps Manifesto identifies the company mission as critical to serving the company’s stakeholders. Your business stakeholders include people within the organization and outside of it: employees, customers, and the larger community.

When your company’s mission isn’t aligned with its actions, the result can lead to (you guessed it) bad data. If you find your organization's team members initially resistant to training or data accuracy best policies, the cause is likely confusion about the overall goal and impact of clean data. You can change this outcome by improving the communication of your company's mission. Simply, leadership can't expect employees to care about data if they don’t know why they should. Likewise, you shouldn’t expect them to embrace change if you are not communicating how what you ask them to do aligns with the greater vision for the company.

Standardization not personalization

Reliable data enables U.S. Army leaders to make informed decisions, uncover complex information, and develop successful solutions. However, reliable data doesn’t happen on its own. The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Data & Analysis Center, known as DEVCOM DAC, is the data source for the U.S. Army. They attribute their success to data standardization. 

Andrew Barnett, chief of DAC’s Joint Data Branch, believes data standardization creates a single source of truth: ”We need to be on the same page, making the same underlying assumptions. Without a single source for authoritative data to represent the interaction of U.S. and threat forces, there’s potential for inconsistencies in the simulations that the Army uses to inform decision makers.”

The same is true for your business. Data inaccuracies result when data and operational systems are manipulated for a single user. It can be challenging to create and enforce data standardization, but data inaccuracies are part of the root cause of operational inefficiencies. But, again, this is not the place for personalization.

DAC facilitates continual discussions with stakeholders across the spectrum to establish standardization and transparency. They involve themselves early in the acquisition process to make sure specific methodologies are appropriate and have accurate representation, and that the focus is relevant to particular needs. As a result, your organization can use the same method. 

However, compliance is required for these systems to work once standardization is set. For the success of any automation, data must be accurate. At Illumine8, we follow the Army’s example when creating automated CRM data systems by gathering information from all stakeholders during a planned discovery, from both the teeth and tail of an organization. Once this blueprint is approved, only then do we automate systems. Often personalization of systems without the involvement of all stakeholders leads to data inaccuracies that will break any automation and lead to misleading statistical outcomes. 

Data accuracy before automation

An agile organization that seeks to evolve proactively has perfected its data communication. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t meet the military’s data accuracy and communications standards. And like the military, our businesses’ resources go up and down over time. Defense spending gets cut, just like our customers’ budgets. Supply chain issues affect both the private and public sectors. Human capital training and management is an evergreen challenge. 

However, the strategic difference between your business challenges and the military’s is simple. The worst-case scenario that keeps me up at night is imagining the worst—the business would have to close. The worst-case scenario for any commander in the military is losing the lives of their soldiers, as well as civilians.

To recap, no matter the stakes, data accuracy in your organization is critical to success. It's a stepping stone to unlocking your company's potential and your bottom line. 


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