Shifts in technology--smartphones, cloud storage--have changed business forever. Consumers have access to more information than ever before, while what businesses know about customer behavior is growing at an exponential rate.

However, access to more data hasn't automatically meant smarter products. New tools need to be deployed strategically. I'd offer the following six key points to get any entrepreneur thinking about how best to use data to benefit their business.

Use data to build a product platform, not a pipeline

Twenty years ago, all consumer-facing businesses were pipelines, pushing products and services out to consumers. At Credit Karma, we look at ourselves instead as a technology platform, where consumers and financial services providers can interact in a meaningful way. Technology platforms, built on data, have disrupted the pipeline model by allowing businesses to facilitate more organic interaction between producers and consumers and scale at greater pace. Pipelines, by comparison, are inflexible.

Look for opportunities where data isn't being properly utilized

Massive inefficiencies develop in markets when buyers and sellers lack key pieces of information. When you take these information gaps and apply the types of data made available by advances in technology you can create powerful new market opportunities. For example, banks spend many billions of dollars each year in the U.S. trying to reach new customers, a cost that is greatly inflated by having to turn down a large portion of applicants that don't meet the underwriting criteria. The problem is two-way: consumers aren't educated enough about financial services products, and banks aren't reaching the right customers with their current marketing. Improved access to information becomes a win-win for all.

Use data to bring consumers and producers together in a meaningful way

When our site launched in 2008, our first offering as a company was free credit scores. For us, this was an initial step in creating a platform that understood the needs of consumers and banks. When one of our members pulls their credit scores or credit report, we can use that information to find better financial opportunities for them. Offering free credit scores and reports helped us acquire a large member base and give those members the power to educate themselves and take control of their financial lives. Our monetization, using our platform, comes from matching each member with potentially better financial products based on their credit profile. Our members are less likely to be turned down for new lines of credit because they are better educated about available products. In turn, banks can spend less of their resources on ineffective marketing.

Make better use of the data available

Big data used haphazardly is just as likely to be confusing as it is to be helpful. Think about what data there is available, how it is being used currently and how it might assist your business. The United States has one of the most developed and sophisticated credit reporting systems in the world. So instead of needing new data, the issue we identified was making it less complicated and expensive for consumers to access the data that already existed.

With data, transparency is not optional

In an online world, the most powerful companies use data to shine new light on previously opaque processes. Glassdoor uses workplace reviews and data analysis to reduce the mystery for new jobseekers of what companies are really like to work for. Companies like Zillow help new buyers through the bureaucratic and emotional strain of house hunting with access to better real estate information. At Credit Karma, we help educate members about the impact of credit on their life and how they can take control of this. Consumers want relatable and relevant content. They want to use the internet to know things they didn't before.

Once you have customers, data helps you understand what they really want

When you develop a customer base, data is an asset in helping you understand and refine your product and grow your offering. Data shows you where your users are coming from and what they're finding either difficult or engaging about your product.

Published on: Mar 3, 2015