How to Leverage Data to Impact Your Business


Waste companies that understand the connectivity elements and prioritize it are the ones that are going to get ahead. By elevating your business to the point where you are informed and speak fluently about the interconnectivity of the data from generation to end use, you will be able to truly understand your business end-to-end.

By Ashley Patel

While data is important in every sector, given the capital-intensive nature and ever-evolving regulatory requirements, it has become paramount in the waste industry and utility as a whole. Companies with a desire to grow are coming to the realization that providing good service to their customers is not enough to keep up any longer. Having the right software system in place has become foundational in what these businesses require to move ahead. Whether your goal is to win larger jobs by supporting diversion targets, to satisfy your local regulatory requirements, or to simply have the ability to be more proactive about your business’ future by better understanding your cost basis and biggest revenue opportunities, prioritizing transparency into your data is going to be the first step in moving your business in that direction. Companies that are forward-looking and have started to put those puzzle pieces together are the ones growing and becoming credible and trusted partners in their respective markets.

Often, data is extremely fragmented across the pillars of the waste industry due to the lack of data connectivity and aggregation across systems and processes. Most of the time you will see waste companies using multiple systems that do not “speak to one another,” using a system that lacks data integrity due to insufficient guardrails or using spreadsheets and/or pen and paper to run their businesses. As a result, their data is not centralized in a single repository where they can easily or properly make sense of it. This pain point often surfaces as many waste companies have employees spending weeks at a time, and in some cases months, working on specific regulatory or customer required reports just to keep up with the demands of the industry. That is not the best use of their time, nor is it the most efficient way to execute these tasks —scraping together data from many different sources is a big challenge industry-wide.

Overall, most companies are either not using an all-in-one encompassing solution or they are simply not using tools that have good quality, accessible, and digestible data.

Part of a Successful Business

When considering a software solution for your business, you should consider how the data and workflows can help support your current day-to-day needs and drive near-term revenue growth and stability for your business.

Support Day-to-Day Needs

Transparency into your base level data can help you make more strategic and informed decisions about your business both financially and operationally.

Financially, you should be looking for solutions that help you understand where to cut costs, areas where you can increase revenue, and how you better optimize your cash flow. When it comes to cutting costs, you will need to understand where you are spending the most and gain insight into how you can better allocate your resources or find efficiencies. For example, maybe you have your drivers dump at a facility that is a bit further away, but it offers extremely competitive rates. As far as increasing revenue, you will want to understand which products or parts of your service offering have an opportunity to be priced higher, but still be competitive enough to win the business. Lastly, you will want to look for a solution that helps you better service your debt by improving your cash flow, so you do not have to chase customers for money owed.Operationally, look for solutions that help you dispatch and route your schedules more efficiently, which will help save both time and money. Additionally, it is critical to have access to the trends around your day-to-day operations to ensure that you can keep a pulse on your business. Things to consider are: Is your customer base increasing? Is a particular type of customer ordering more than others? Where should marketing dollars be focused for the best growth potential?

Drive Near-Term Growth and Stability

On-demand, digestible, and good quality advanced level data will help scale near-term growth and enhances your credibility as a trusted source in your market. For example, having accessibility to sustainability metrics can help your business grow in a number of ways. Contracts with larger customers (e.g., Google, Amazon, etc.) often require transparency into diversion targets being met. Additionally, any large job sites typically require LEEDs compliance. If you are able to provide that data easily, you have a better shot of winning these bigger jobs and growing your business.

Also, if you have more access to this type of information, you can start to understand your average cost per square foot for a particular type of job. In turn, this can help you better predict the flow of different material types and optimize where materials should go to save your business money on existing and future projects. This will allow you to go into bids better informed, so you can price competitively to win the bid, while also making sure you will make a profit from the job. Additionally, you want to be empowered to make more proactive decisions about your business’ long-term growth opportunities and understand your profitability. Productivity and profitability are most important as you are trying to move up in the market because those components are going to provide insights on what your next steps should be to take your business to the next level (e.g., deciding when it is time to start offering a new service, acquire a business, or upgrade your fleet).

As your business gets larger, all of your stakeholders (e.g., brokers, customers, regulatory bodies, etc.) will have different requirements and they will always be asking for something specific. If you can give them what they are looking for, that is where your credibility lies. You will prove that you are the trusted source in the market. You want to ensure that a software solution has the right tools that will help you become that credible partner they can rely on.

Key Considerations During Your Search Operational Insight

While you may not be able to work with just a single software solution for all of your needs, you will want your core operating system to integrate with your other key systems (e.g., fleet management, maintenance, scale, accounting, telecommunications, etc.) and aggregate that all into digestible and actionable data. A system that brings it all together gives you more insight, empowers your business, and allows you opportunities to make more proactive decisions. It will also help streamline your daily operations and processes by centralizing all of your key information into a single source to make your business run more efficiently.

Additionally, when looking for a software solution, you should consider the current stage of your business and what you want the future to look like. For example, as a newer business, overbuying an enterprise-level system at this stage could cripple your business financially and overcomplicate your daily operations. However, if you are a bit more established, you need to ensure that the system is robust enough to provide you with all the data you need and will not be a tool that you will outgrow quickly. Overall, you should be looking primarily for a solution that can help support your current business needs as well as be a tool that you can grow into and scale your business with.

Workflow Insight

When it comes to workflow, it is important that you align with a software solution’s workflow methodology and the key data points that they capture. There is a unique balance of having proper guardrails in place in order to keep data integrity strong while also providing flexibility for operational nuance that inevitably happens in the field (e.g., accidents, breakdowns, dry runs, etc.). Ideally, the logic set to capture the key data points you need has been set from the foundation of the software, otherwise, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to retroactively capture them. So first, gain an understanding of the key data points you absolutely need and then ensure that the solution you choose can support getting you that data.

Next, it is important to understand your key business processes and ensure that your software solution’s workflows can be successful for your needs. There are many different personas within a waste company and they all rely on one another to get accurate data—the salesperson closes the deal, the customer service representative takes the order, the dispatcher sets up the routes, the drivers service the customers, the accounting team bills and collects —and gaining an understanding of the current state of those communication flows and processes should be your first step. After that, you must evaluate what parts of the business are experiencing the most pain and/or where the greatest improvements are needed. At that point, you can then better determine the key workflow improvements that you need software to solve for you and what features to look for. It is also important to be mindful of the needs of the teams that do not struggle with your current processes, to ensure that they will be able to adjust and keep their efficiency levels high with the new solution as well. All of these personas need to work together effectively; a break in that chain can result in inaccurate data if not managed correctly.

How to Prepare Your Company and Team for the Transition

Foundationally, for any transition to be successful, it must start with owner or management buy-in and may require a mindset shift. This often begins when a business decides they want to digitize or change software solutions because they want to grow or take their business to the next level. Transparency and buy-in from your team on the direction of the company is also key. So, communicating the goal of moving towards being a data-forward business and why is really going to help give your team context on the direction of the company and ensure that they are aligned with that vision. After that, it is about communicating how each persona within your business will play a role in the new processes and how they should start preparing for the transition. If you have been doing things one way for a long time and then switch to a new way of working, change management can be challenging. Bringing your team in early and getting them engaged is essential. With that in mind, it is also important to keep an open mind while going through this process, as you may discover that some of your current processes can also be habits and not necessarily best practices. So, when implementing software, this is a great time to rethink how technology can help improve and streamline your current processes.

As far as timelines go, the duration it will take your business to implement a new software is largely dependent on the complexity and size of your business, your team’s bandwidth and buy-in, what platform you are transitioning off of (and how easy or difficult it is to get your data from them) and which system integrations you require. For example, you may be a small business, but running off pen and paper, and therefore getting that data into a system will require a great deal of manual effort. So, while you feel as though your business size is small, the data migration process can be lengthier. For a larger company or municipality, your timelines will likely be affected by the amount of data that requires migration, the scraping from different data sets, the integrations required, and your departments aligning on how to configure the data sets in the system for optimal workflow across the company. Ideally, you want to consider all of these factors and figure out how to mitigate risk on potential delays to your implementation timeline, as the earlier you can transition onto the right platform for your needs, the better.

How Better Data Can Position Your Business for the Future

Having the right software should be part of your thought process. Ultimately, we must recognize that waste is a privatized utility. It is a part of our everyday infrastructure, just like electricity and water. It is critical that we move towards centralizing and connecting the data across all of the pillars of the utility in order to truly understand the end-to-end waste flow across the ecosystem. This is the direction that the industry is headed and the technology solutions that you are using to run your business should be helping you move in that direction as well. They should strive to be an integratable partner to all of the pieces of the industry and not just one in order to help facilitate the alliance of the utility that is waste and empower their customers. As we continue to see source separation/diversion requirements coming down the pike and efforts toward focusing on a circular economy, we need to start setting that foundation now. Operations and data tracking mechanisms need to start being put in place to facilitate initiatives like that, that will help move the industry forward.

Forward looking, it will not be as simple as providing good service. Waste companies that understand the connectivity elements and prioritize it are the ones that are going to get ahead. By elevating your business to the point where you are informed and speak fluently about the interconnectivity of the data from generation to end use, you will be able to:

- Truly understand your business end-to-end
- Become a leader in the space
- Comply with regulations
- Win more business and put yourself in a better position to become a multi-regional or enterprise-level business
- Lastly, not only will you be a trusted partner in your market, but also in the industry; as a trusted partner you can become a thought leader, influential, and make real and actionable change

Overall, businesses focused on making interconnectivity part of their DNA and having the right tool to support that will have the ability to be nimble and adjust, while others will have trouble keeping up. Ultimately, you have to ask yourself, with stricter regulations coming and consumers expecting more transparency, will your business be able to adapt and thrive, or will it fall behind?

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