I recently wrote about the wisdom of thinking small when dealing with big data and I would like to expand on that theme a little further and what it means for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that may not have the same IT resources as their larger cousins.
Having access to streams of structured and unstructured data is only a small part of the data processing puzzle. The data itself, especially in its raw format, is of very little value – but when combined with a combination of business knowledge, technology and data management experience the results can be truly staggering.
But SMEs may not have all of those skills in-house, so how can they ensure they are not left behind in utilizing their data stores and yet avoid spending big dollars for little result?
Again, starting small is key. Focusing on one key area that needs attention – and can prove the concept of using data to effectively analyze and resolve a specific business challenge – is key. Using little data to show the power of data analytics in assisting decision-making is much smarter than focusing on big data, but it should not restrict you in the future. It is important at this stage to select a flexible solution that can grow as you gain experience with data analytics and get better at turning it into business information.
Don’t make the common mistake of assuming that data analytics and Big Data are IT-led initiatives that serve the purpose of running the business more efficiently and effectively. This must be a business-led initiative with buy-in from the management team so that they sponsor it and allow the necessary staff time to work on it.
It’s not much use starting any analytics process without a clear goal of what is to be achieved at the other end. This will involve the relevant business resources to define the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be produced. This includes defining the KPIs, what the KPIs will be used for, who will receive the information, and how frequently it will be delivered.
If there is a need to compare with other similar businesses it may be possible to find industry associations that collate and distribute standard KPIs that can be used as a guide to the SME’s own performance.
IT needs to understand the KPIs in order to identify the data sources, where the data is stored, how it will be processed and what format the results should be delivered in. Dashboards have become very popular for this purpose because they provide a graphical interface that is easily understood or interpreted by almost anyone (even the business managers!).
Probably the most important thing to remember is to keep in line with the business processes. Data, after all, is produced from a business process and should never be considered in isolation. Therefore, business processes must also be aligned with the KPIs – the accuracy and usefulness of the KPI produced will be determined by the effectiveness of the business process that produces the underlying data.