Thanks to innovations in technology, data analytics is now much more accessible and affordable for a range of businesses, from start-ups to enterprises. To date, benefitting from data analytics has been a challenge for smaller companies as they either don’t know how to do it or cannot afford the technology involved. Big data has therefore been the domain of the larger corporations who have large technology departments and can invest in new, innovative solutions and the skills needed to make them a success.
In the digital era, being a data-centric organisation is now crucial for businesses to be able to operate competitively. Thanks to the cost of technology coming down, as well as a shift towards the cloud and Software-as-a-Service, analytics technology now has a more acceptable price-tag. In addition, smaller, more agile data analytics businesses exist today - they understand SMEs’ needs, talk their language and are more supportive. Their customer-centric approach means they can help plug any skills gap and guide them through the process of getting going. The time has never been better to get going with data analytics and the rewards of investing in big data will not take long to come to fruition.
But there are a few stepping stones to be considered before diving into the world of analytics:
Make sure your data is clean, tidy and easy to access
First and foremost, it is important that your data is clean. There is no point using data that is out-of-date or stored incorrectly as it will not give you real-world insights. Similarly, if your data is difficult to access or you don’t have a standard way to save data, then employees are more likely to create alternative data sets on other devices, meaning you are not getting a holistic overview of the latest information. We’ve all been there - endless Excel documents, full of useful information, but not saved centrally and certainly not in a standard format. Your data is an incredibly important business asset, so it is important to look after it and make sure it is as clean as possible.
Have a strategy for your data analysis
What do you want to do with your data? Do you know if your data is structured or unstructured? Are you planning to use it to improve sales, know your customer better or optimise processes in your business? These are some of the most important questions you need to answer before beginning to analyse your data. Whatever the rationale may be, you need a clear plan for how you intend to use the data you have at your disposal. It is important to remain focused in order to be able to find the correct analytical tools you need to generate the best results.
Use the right tool for the job
Do your homework and take the time to research analytics tools available. Will you need a SQL or a non-SQL database? Do you need BI and reporting tools as well? There is a wide variety of analytic databases and open source solutions available to start-ups that can work better for some data sets than others. Most vendors should have a free trial option or community edition, which you can experiment with in the first instance before committing. It is advisable to test these solutions with your data to ensure that you are generating the insights that are relevant and actionable for the business. Make the right technology choice for your data needs.
Make sure the vendor understands you
As mentioned above, there’s a lot of technology options. It’s not just about choosing the right tool, it’s also about choosing the right team. Don’t get locked-in to a vendor relationship that doesn’t meet your needs. Make sure you enjoy working with the team and that they provide the right support. And, above all, work with vendors who show passion for not only what they do and offer, but for you, your needs and your use of the technology.
Opex v Capex
Cost is clearly going to be a deciding factor in the choice of analytical tool - not just the immediate price tag, but also the cost of maintenance and servicing of the tool in the future should be considered. If you can acquire the tools as a service, it will be far more cost-effective and manageable for you. As a small business, you only want to pay for what you need and don’t want to be throwing money at hardware such as servers in a data centre. This outlay is simply not needed in the digital era.
There are many Software-as-a-Service solutions available on the market that run in the cloud and they are all being improved all the time. You can upgrade to these new tools as you go along, making sure that you are up to speed and competitive with your rivals.
It is very unlikely that there will be an analytical solution that will fulfil everything you want it to do. Using a blend of analytical solutions - for example a database solution, business intelligence tools and data visualisation software - may be an effective means of fulfilling your business needs.
Make sure your solution is ready for the future
When investing in any technological solution, it is important that the technology has the flexibility and capability to grow with the businesses. As businesses grow, the data sets grow, too. The tool you choose today must be able to cope with influxes of data and continue to produce the insights required as quickly as possible.
By considering these options and asking the right questions at the beginning of the process, it will ensure that your data analytics can be used to its full potential and you can make the best-informed decisions possible. By getting the right data in the right place, using the right tool for analysis, then you can develop actionable insights that will drive business growth.