It's Time for Small Business to Embrace Big Data

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Ten years ago, if you asked the question, "What does a small business need to be successful in marketing itself?" you'd likely get answers such as direct mail, email, or search engine optimization. Five years ago, the answer to the same question would have been something along the lines of creating a successful online presence and using social media platforms.

See a common thread? As technology has evolved, every aspect of the way businesses operate has transformed to keep up. In today's digital age, it's now all about engaging your customers seamlessly across the buyer's journey and delivering the right message, at the right time, via the right channel. Customer experience is expected to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in the very near future. With customers' digital footprint available to us through myriad touchpoints online, data is the name of the game.

According to a 2016 study conducted by IDG, large enterprises have already embraced the rise of data and analytics, with 78% agreeing that data strategy, collection and analysis have the potential to completely change the way they conduct business.

Yet small businesses, despite an increasing use of software resources, are not reaping the same benefits of being digitally interconnected, in real time. According to a recent SAP-sponsored survey of global small businesses, decision makers in these organizations say that they are only at the "early stages" of digitally transforming their companies to make the most of their data. The survey also found they tend to overestimate the potential challenges of adopting new technology -- with 80% indicating that technological deployment was easier than they anticipated, and 70% responding that technological investments exceeded their expectations.

So, the question is, why aren't small businesses taking full advantage of data strategies and how can they best leverage technology for the success of their businesses?

The cost of doing business

Does it all come down to budget? There's a perception that only large organizations can afford analytics platforms, and that the ROI simply doesn't warrant the cost. While this may have been true in the early days of big data, it simply isn't true today. Easy-to-implement, budget-friendly tools are available for all sizes of business.

Small businesses should recognize that their size is their selling point. They are inherently positioned to enjoy speed to market, closer customer relationships and the ability to adapt quickly to customer feedback. By leveraging the right kinds of technology, small businesses can capitalize on their agility to not only simplify how work gets done, but also fully transform the customer experience -- especially when they foresee growth on the horizon. Consider, for example, a Boston-based small business that makes and distributes high-end hair products. The business recently moved its manual processes to cloud-based solutions, which in turn exponentially increased efficiency -- yielding an exponential rise in production and distribution capacity by 400%.

Ease of use

Most business owners aren't data scientists. As they continue to embrace tools that enable increased data collection, especially considering the proliferation of the Internet of Things, organizations will find themselves sitting on more data than they know what to do with. Despite this increase in access to data, many businesses still lack the ability to translate it into actionable insight. Spreadsheets with vital information may accumulate but without a way to analyze and communicate the findings, they're effectively useless. It's like having the answers to a test, but in another language that's untranslatable. Furthermore, having to hire a full time data manager is likely out of budget.

Luckily for small businesses, this too is soon to be resolved. These types of self-service data analytics will be a top trend of 2017, according to research advisory firm Quantzig. Today's foremost predictive and prescriptive analytics platforms, those most likely to be paired with IoT, are quickly embracing a simple user experience.

What are you waiting for?

Startups and small businesses have a history of leading the charge in adopting innovative technologies. The most experienced CIOs look to small businesses as an indicator of where the market is heading. But in the rapidly changing digital economy, small businesses need to take a page from the enterprise playbook. As technology advances and more information is created on a daily basis, being able to access, learn, and react to big data in real time will be the standard of success.

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