In this post we share a simple strategy for analyzing relevance and utility of products and services inspired by the way computers manage frequently accessed information.

An easy-to-read article on computer caching published by Hazelcast describes the basics of computer memory caching. The article notes that caching is especially efficient when an application exhibits a common pattern in which it repeatedly accesses data that was previously accessed. This “most frequently accessed” data is set aside in the memory cache so that the application can access it more quickly than if it had to repeatedly retrieve it from a more permanent and slow storage resource – like a hard drive.

Switching gears – We have found in our experience that often the only criteria many credit unions consider for continuing a given product or service is that it has a user base. If a handful of members are happy with the offering, then the product or service in question lives on – even if the whole of the membership infrequently utilizes the offering.

Absent any constraint imposed by a need to be efficient, this isn’t a bad calculation. Keeping members happy is a noble endeavor. But… whether we acknowledge them or not, we do live in a world of resource constraints. Consider basic financial efficiency as measured by the efficiency ratio. The efficiency ratio is calculated by dividing expenses by income, and the result tells us in cents-on-the-dollar how much we spend to make one dollar in income. If the ratio is less than 1.0%, then the organization in question is spending less than a dollar to generate a dollar. If is is greater than 1.0%, the organization is spending more than a dollar to generate a dollar.

To survive, a business cannot spend more than it makes – at least on an ongoing, regular basis. If it perpetually spends more than it makes, capital will erode and the business will eventually fail (or in the case of some tech companies, find a new sucker to recapitalize it).

The point is, we ARE constrained, and we cannot live beyond our available resources forever. So, back to the question of product and service continuation. When we acknowledge that constraints exist, we are then forced to confront the question of the value of products and services.

That brings us to the lesson we can learn from memory caching.

A Helpful Lesson

Caching systems determine what information is most valuable in terms of need – information that is then stored “close by” so that the data is efficiently and easily accessible by whatever application, system, or process needs it. It does this because the overall computer is constrained by its own resources.

Cache systems help the computer better utilize its limited resources. One of the criteria caching systems use to determine value of data is how frequently that data is accessed or requested. If the data is in frequent need, then the cache system knows to hold onto it. If not, and resources are limited, the cache system discards it (and yes, this is a very simplistic description).

It is here that we find a strategy to leverage when attempting to “value” products and services. When thinking about what is valuable, and worth supporting given limited resources, use the “most frequently accessed/requested” test. Considering how frequently a given product or service is accessed by the whole of the membership will give you a metric to argue for keeping, cancelling, or working harder on said offering. If something is infrequently accessed, it may be worth cutting. Conversely, if something is frequently accessed, it may be worth additional investment in feature development and process improvements.

Objections Anyone?

I do, of course, anticipate the objection many will raise against the helpfulness of this simple test: products or services that make “lots” of money but that are not frequently accessed would be potentially slated for cancellation, which would be bad for the bottom line. My response… perhaps.

Consider these two points.

First, identifying something as “infrequently accessed” should inspire a more diligent cost-benefit analysis that brings to the table for consideration all of the direct and indirect costs (dollars, time, resources) for supporting the product or service. The effort should also drive the development and consideration of (1) alternative investments that could be made in other areas if that product or service went away, and (2) strategies for making this lucrative, but infrequently accessed product or service more frequently accessed. This simple analysis may result in better strategy for increasing member engagement in an already-lucrative product or service offering.

Second, sometimes you find that the benefit of not doing something, even if is considered lucrative, is outweighed by the benefit of focusing more on what is most beloved (used) by the membership. In other words, you could make up the loss of the one through improving (cost) efficiency gains in the other.

Dive In

Consider the value of ranking your products and services in the context of most-frequently to least-frequently accessed. What would you gain? If nothing more, you’ll have a means to illustrate the volume and frequency of engagement with your products and services. For me, that data view would be worth the effort.

But truth be told, the results would undoubtedly launch an even more worthwhile dive into details and, I believe, organizational change that inspires the kind of “laser focus” extolled by Jim Collins in Good to Great. Not a bad outcome at all.


Have questions? Want to talk about this? Feel free to give us a call to discuss. You can schedule a complimentary 30-min. discussion using our online scheduler here:

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