Originally published August 15, 2012, on SAP Business Trends.
My response to people who talk about real-time information as if it’s the newest innovation on the planet is always the same: where have you been since 1998? That’s the year I discovered the joys of how real-time data can solve tough business challenges. I remember it well, the day I met the clients I’ve come to view as among the most challenging in my entire career so far. As communications manager at a high-technology public relations firm, I managed four or five teams, totaling about twenty people who worked on various client accounts.
Perennially on overload, completely disorganized, and no doubt pressured from myriad senior management demands, my clients established the ground rules of our relationship immediately. Every single day, sometimes more than once, this client wanted to know how many hours the agency had billed, to what projects, and what the balance of the spend looked like. Would another project break the budget? How could they possibly have spent so much in just seven days? Exactly what was the agency team doing to earn such huge amounts of money? This is on top of dozens of ad-hoc requests throughout the day, sent directly to junior team members bypassing me altogether.
Don’t get me wrong. Having been on my own as a communications pro for many years, I was motivated by a rock-solid service ethic. This was my valued customer, and I’d meet their needs. Once I realized that this job had nothing to do with creative thinking and writing but rather understanding the numbers to manage the resources, I was fully on board—armed with a reporting solution. I began looking forward to generating reports weekly, daily, and often hourly. With the click of a few buttons, I easily unraveled the mysteries of where the money went.
This kind of access to information made the monthly ”day of reckoning” meetings to justify the billings relatively pain-free. After all, the numbers don’t lie. And, since I’d kept the clients informed throughout the month, there were few surprises.
Fast forward to 2012. Not much has changed in the past 14 years. Managers still need immediate data to run the business well, whether they manage goods or services or have to meet the demands of customers inside or outside company walls. And today’s reporting solutions have evolved to offer the latest innovations, including mobile. The only difference now is we call it real-time software. Back then, I called it my lifesaver.