• Laura Landmark

Standardization qualifies customization

We are all special, right?

I met someone recently at a networking event who owns a beauty salon specialising in doing only one procedure well. Being a boutique company, not a chain, she has an unrestricted freedom to source special materials from many suppliers. She then mixes and matches the products to create a customised result. Her customers enjoy her individual attention and her focus on quality over quantity. She is a master in her field, and everything about her service speaks to the customer as an individual. She satisfies a deep seated need for recognition, to be seen for who we are.

Customisation in itself is a wonderful thing, it's what we all crave, we are all “special”. In our data driven world companies often expect or demand customised IT solutions. These are tweaked to fit their needs, their company and their way of working. But over the years we have also heard a lot about the virtues of standardisation.

Standardisation means you don't fit the system to your needs, but you fit yourself to the system. Standardisation symbolizes efficiency and effectivity. Standardized routines, processes, systems are what many organisations strive for.

So what is it we should aim for, to standardize or customize?

I argue it is both, standardisation at the back-end and customisation at the front-end. But we have to do this the right way round.

A lot of companies look like this, they are TOP HEAVY with inefficiency and weak foundations:

And we aim to help them look more like this, solid well structured foundations supporting efficient and effective use of data for adding value into organisations.

Why should we start at the bottom?

Starting bottom-up and structuring your data sources then streamlining your routines and processes at the foundational level means you achieve a much better result when functioning at or designing the top end. The top end being the bit the end user relates to, the visual output or interactive interface. In other words the bit the consumer sees and touches. Our beauty therapist would not create a good finish if she didn't have a plan. Good techniques, organised materials and quality tools are essential. She is not working in a random manner, but an organised and orderly way. I would hazard a guess she organises herself in pretty much the same way (at the back end) for every job.

Working in Business Intelligence leads people to assume that we are all about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. That is 100% true to a certain extent. Those powerful modern technologies are part of what we do, but there is no point in thinking the machines will move in and fix everything for us, we need to get our own houses in order first. We need to pay attention to our back-end. Maybe it cannot be “standardized” as such, but it needs to be clean and connected.

From shambles to structure!

Imagine that you lived in a very disorganised house, mess in every room, no system, no storage or style. Imagine there was different colour on every wall and a different flooring in every room. Imagine all the windows are locked shut and there were no stairs or interconnecting doors inside the house. Imagine instead that all the doors were on the outside walls of the house, so you had to walk through the garden to get from the kitchen to the lounge, and then outside again to reach the bathroom. It would be chaotic, impractical, annoying and uncomfortable. In this day and age it would be totally unacceptable.

The first step in a house like that would be to streamline and standardise. You would use your mallet to bang through some doorways and install some stairs. Clear the dust, throw out the rubbish, trim down the baggage, clear and organise the mess and label boxes. Only after you had done that should you think about stylising, decorating, putting in some new furniture and throwing a party!

Get your house in order

Your company is no different. Before getting sophisticated with modern technology do your repair jobs and housekeeping on your data stores, routines and processes. Or at least identify where you have issues. Where are your bottlenecks and time wasters and money pits?

I can almost guarantee that one of your biggest time wasters will involve double keying or the moving of data due to the lack of internal “doors”. Data goes first into one system then another, either that or everything gets downloaded into excel creating a duplicate version of the truth. This opens you up for errors and omissions and is highly person dependant.

Open your digital doorways for a quick return on investment

To put a positive spin on it, one of the biggest potential initial wins is to drop the need for shuffling or duplication of data. Breaking through the walls to make doorways is not a glamourous process. But this first essential (“banal”) step of standardising, joining or sorting the back-end before you customise the front with reports and pretty dashboards is so often overlooked or underestimated. Yet the potential gains are massive both in quantity and quality.

Someone told me they opened one digital "door" in their organisation to allow data from their time system (where their sales invoices lived) to travel to their economy system (where the cash/bank information lived). He said this one change made a significant difference.

Previous to this it was very difficult for them to trace their outstanding debtors (ie who still owed them money), so their liquidity was suffering and their cash balance deteriorating. It was taking them much longer to pull in their money than it was flowing out. After opening this door their cash position not only stabilized but rapidly improved. He estimated that the investment in this new “door” (which came at a price) repaid itself within a year.

Little steps pave the way for giant leaps

So much as we would like to say our job is all about the "cool stuff", heat maps, predictive analytics and algorithms, it is certainly our goal to take every customer on a journey where they are ready for that. The fact is every journey starts with a single step, and we advise our customers not to be afraid of taking small steps in the right direction, but only of standing still. The reality of keeping our customers relevant most often means we working on the inside of a house of disorder or disarray with our hard hats and hammers and rolled up sleeves, making doors in walls and advising our customers on how to tag their storage boxes!

Contact us if you would like to find out more about what could be done to make your life easier and your organisation more efficient. There is no doubt value that can be unlocked by making the most basic and mundane of changes.


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