Big Data and the SME: Prepare to Succeed

Big data is often discussed within the context of large businesses with huge budgets. But its focused application can also help SMEs succeed.

March 4, 2018
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Questioning the average person about big data reveals that most associate big data with big business. Global enterprises like Amazon, American Express, and Netflix are just a few commonly cited examples. The reality though, is that companies in the SME space are the real drivers of the big data revolution. Studies reveal that businesses with 100 or fewer employees report business intelligence and big data adoption rates that are as much as triple that of their larger corporate counterparts.

There’s a whole host of reasons that big data is proving to be an excellent match for SMEs, but the most important of which has to do with the natural advantage that SMEs have over larger competitors: agility. Big data and analytics are all about detecting trends and gleaning insights in order to adapt to a changing business environment, but it’s the ability to quickly react that makes big data such a natural fit for SMEs. Success, though, does not come without effort.

To wield big data to the greatest advantage, managers of SMEs must prepare their organizations from the ground up to make use of it. Here are the key steps for SMEs to take before getting started with a big data platform.

Define Success When Crafting a Big Data Gameplan

Before making any attempts to integrate a big data solution into an SME, managers must first outline clear-cut goals that they hope to achieve through its use. It’s all too easy to get lost in an ever-advancing world of big data tools and technologies for businesses that haven’t defined what they hope to gain from big data. While this may seem like the obvious first step, it’s one that is often overlooked.

It’s worthwhile to create a working group of key decision makers to create a consensus view of what business improvements are desired, and how any benefits will be measured. Only then can the work of designing a big data plan proceed. Once there is a broad agreement among the group, make a short list of measurable goals for the big data project.

Organize Data Collection

Although a typical SME won’t have access to the same volume of data that a larger company can amass, they can turn that perceived deficiency into a strength. In most cases, SMEs will begin with a more focused dataset which actually makes analytics a much easier task. That being said, the more information that is brought to bear, the better the potential for actionable insights.

To build out data collection operations, businesses in the SME space can employ a variety of strategies. An excellent starting point would be available internal operations data such as sales reports, website statistics, and customer service query data. Businesses with an existing CRM system will also be able to extract contact data for analysis as well.

Educate Staff

In order to support ongoing data collection efforts and facilitate easier use of analytics and visualization tools, an SME workforce must be trained to understand how their work connects to the company’s big data plan. It’s helpful to invest in courses that teach employees skills such as the advanced use of Excel, as it’s a commonly accessible platform that is also used for cleaning datasets. By having employees master such skills, they will better understand the underlying concepts of data organization that will keep data operations running smoothly. These employees will comprise the support system of all future big data initiatives, so they cannot be overlooked.

Decide and Conquer

Only after all of these crucial steps have been completed is an SME ready to embrace a big data future. Failure to prepare in this way before reaching out to vendors and consultants will only result in wasting precious IT dollars and will guarantee subpar returns. After all, while an SME may not have the big data expertise to go it alone, nobody will know their market better than they do. That’s why creating a clarity of purpose and laying the groundwork beforehand is the best and only way to unlock the true potential of big data for an SME.