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Data for all: SMES, scalability and the big Big Data tools

Data is the essential fuel for businesses in the age of connected devices, online engagement and the Internet of Things. For small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), from start up to mid-market player, it’s essential to be able to gather and analyse data on everything from customer habits to major news events, market fluctuations and social media events. An in-depth data gathering and management programme is essential to help give SMEs the edge over their competitors and help them make the difficult jump up to the next level of profitability. The more insight a company can extract from the ever-larger pool of data available to it, the more effective its sales, customer relations and business development programmes will be. Or, put more simply, the better your insights, the more accurate your decision-making will be.    

However, many SMEs are faced with a chicken-and-egg problem when attempting to develop this sort of comprehensive data strategy. The tools required to make successful data management an achievable prospect often require an up-front capital investment, which a lot of companies are simply not in a position to meet. As such, many SMEs are finding that their ability to implement powerful data strategies, which could help generate greater amounts of business and thus end the deadlock, is stalled at the first hurdle. They are trapped in a vicious cycle.   

Op-ex subscription models with no upfront cost provide a more manageable way in for some, but there is still the problem of longevity to consider. Say, for example, a tech start-up is looking to execute a major expansion project, and wants to use data analytics to assess which of its sales leads to target and which of its customers are likely to accept an up-sell. While it may be viable to engage a cloud-based data analytics tool for the duration of the project, if the company encounters cash-flow problems during the engagement period, then the tool may have to be dropped. Similarly, if the company experiences a rapid growth period the organisation needs to quickly and cost effectively scale on the same platform with the ability to flex in the future if the demand then reduces. Both of these scenarios are a distinct possibility for companies which live from month-to-month. 

Flexibility for data succes

In a fast-moving environment, SMEs need maximum flexibility if they are to react to fluctuations in the market. Indeed, a recent Gartner report predicted that global expenditure on IT services would rise by around $28 billion to $940 billion in 2016, driven primarily by buyers’ increasing acceptance of the cloud purchasing model. In-cloud tools are on the rise, and SMEs need to lead the charge in adoption if they are to grow and thrive.   

One way to help achieve this and overcome the cash flow problem is a by-the-hour op-ex model, enabled in-cloud. In effect, this allows companies of all sizes to access in-cloud data management tools on-demand, on a pay-as-you-go basis, allowing them to spin up capacity whenever it is needed without needing to commit to a monthly or annual subscription. By moving operations into the cloud they can also roll out new tools when required. For example, rather than committing to just an integration platform at the beginning of a project and having to renegotiate additional capabilities, with an hourly model companies can add on data analytics when needed. As such, they can pay just for what they use as it is required, enabling them to build insights out of newly discovered datasets once they have been made available.    

Once SMEs have a scalable cloud-based data system in place, they will be better placed to make data democratic within their organisation - in other words, making data available to employees on the ground, enabling them to make rapid business decisions informed by in-cloud analysis. Up until now, there have only been a ‘select few’ who have the resources and skills available to extract the true value from data. However, by implementing a flexible, granular op-ex model, SMEs can ensure data is made available for anyone who needs it, maximising its value throughout the business. 

A worked example

The retail industry provides a good illustration of what this will look like in practice. 

For example, members of retail teams can now have access to pertinent data that will make their job easier – and this is most important for front line staff, who are on the shop floor building relationships with customers.  The physical representation of this development is that we see more people walking through physical stores with mobile devices such as iPads, using applications that can feed them data directly. For example, they may be informed of a particular customer’s purchase history, which then allows them to suggest related items which may be appropriate to that person. This has democratised the analytics process in a way that now allows a staff member who previously had no insight on the customer in front them to immediately build a rapport and offer a better customer experience.   

Businesses which take advantage of the availability of real time data will also open up unprecedented insight into predicting future trends. Think of it like a blindfold being taken off a business, which can now clearly see what actions to take next. For example, companies like Airbnb and Uber have made massive changes in their industries through clever exploitation of information and identifying room for a new approach. This level of connected awareness in real time is the true benefit of data for the masses. 

Take the jump now

There’s a lot of new opportunity out there for the SME sector. Information resources which were previously reserved for major corporations are now filtering down to the smallest of organisations, and with pay-as-you-go cloud apps in place, that data flood can now be sorted and analysed without the need for major investment of time and personnel. As a result, SMEs need to ensure that they make the most of accessible apps to extract value from their data - as this approach becomes more widely accepted, smaller companies who fail to do so will risk being outdone by more savvy competitors.

Greg Hanson, vice president cloud EMEA, Informatica (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Wright Studio

Greg has over 15 years’ experience of data integration initiatives. He joined Informatica in 2000 and since then has worked on hundreds of data initiatives with Informatica’s clients and partners.