As mountains of customer data and increasing competition continue to overwhelm small and medium businesses, many will find themselves making key decisions on little more than gut reactions – potentially putting their business at risk, and failing to harness the golden nuggets this data hides.
To survive and thrive SMBs must be highly responsive to rapid changes in customer behavior and larger market dynamics. Competitive forces insist SMBs develop effective and timely responses to these customers along with better visibility into both the current and future state of the business and market.
Often thought of as only being only accessible by large companies, increasingly business intelligence (BI) tools are being leveraged by SMBs to deliver this insight, without compromising their agility or their budget. When making the transition to a data driven business model, SMBs need a platform that can be deployed quickly with a low total cost of ownership. Selecting the right business analytics options to fit your company’s needs is critical to attain these goals.
When selecting a business analytics solution, look for a provider that offers the following capabilities:
- Robust visualization: Strong visualization capabilities will empower users with even limited technical skills to: interactively explore large amounts of data to spot anomalies and hidden trends; build analytical models in a point-and-click environment to eliminate the need for manual coding as well as share and present these results using easy-to-understand graphics.
- Support for advanced analytics: Seek to go beyond simple query and reporting and OLAP drill-down capabilities. The solution should support a comprehensive set of advanced analytical techniques, including data mining, forecasting, scenario modeling and optimization – all the solutions many larger companies are now using to their benefit.
- Prebuilt analytical models and associated task support: Choose a solution that offers prebuilt analytical models that address common business issues. One that offers model assessment tools will enable users to evaluate various models and select the best for the task at hand, then to deploy and monitor the models.
- Suited to a range of users: Find a solution that recognizes the talent constraints facing SMBs and supports both basic and intermediate-level modelers and business users. But, also look for features designed for more advanced users. Since skills sets change rapidly, you will want to choose the product with the most flexibility.
- Ease of Use: Look for a solution that includes data management, analytics and reporting capabilities through familiar interfaces such as Microsoft Office. This helps ensure that users won’t be intimidated by complex, technical-looking interfaces therefore preventing them from fully using the solution’s capabilities.
- Balanced user autonomy and IT control: Select a solution that allows business users to work on their own, but within a well-defined IT environment. This helps ensure that your already limited IT resources are not pressured to manage metadata, security and data integrity requirements at multiple locations.
- Modular solutions: As the needs of SMBs can quickly change when business grows, choose a solution that allows your organization to purchase the functionality or capability you need the most right now, while making it easy to add more as you go – without incurring expensive integration costs.
- Training and technical support: Since even the best solution is useless if no one knows how to use it, select a solution that includes appropriate training and technical support. Look for resources to ensure your business users get quickly up to speed on functionality and can access additional support when needed.
- The ability to scale: Many of today’s large enterprises were SMBs in the not too distant past. As you grow your own business and accompanying data, you need a solution that can grow with you.
- Low total cost of ownership: Don’t choose solution just because it has the lowest per-user costs – it is important to consider additional costs that you may have to pay that are associated with implementation, integration, training and technical support.
How should an SMB go about adopting analytics?
First, define the specific challenge your company is facing. Step back and ask yourself what insights will make you more competitive. Once you have a clear picture of what you want to achieve and why, you’ll be in the position to better determine the solution that’s best for your company.
The next step would be to start small with your immediate business issues. By focusing on your most pressing business issues and achieving quick wins you and your team will be able to start seeing how analytics can drastically improve your business.
Finally, extend your use of analytics over time to achieve continuous performance improvements. By exploring the capabilities of analytics, you will undoubtedly see how the solutions can improve business across all lines of business from operations to supply chain to marketing and customer support and much more.
With these tips in mind, SMBs should be better prepared to adopt game-changing business analytics tools and move from being overwhelmed by data to using it to gain a competitive edge.
Pat Finerty is the Vice President of Alliances and Business Development for SAS Canada