The onset of the digital era has had a major impact on consumer behaviour, purchasing patterns, payment methods, consumption habits and increasingly high expectations of service.
These changes in behaviours are happening in both the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) environment, across industries and geographical borders. In essence, every organisation irrelevant of size and location will have to transform to remain relevant and competitive.
Data and analytics are major enablers in the digital era. It is a well proven fact that organisations that ignore or fail to employ data and analytics will inevitably cease to exist.
‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’
Two of the major components of leveraging data and analytics in your organisation are culture and strategy.
Getting your business strategy or vision right will set your organisation’s flight path which, in turn, drives the operating and performance frameworks for your employees.
It is not an easy task and in most cases for small organisations, it is never completed mainly due to the inability of owners or managers to step back from the operational aspect of running the business.
However, without documenting the strategy or vision, it is near impossible to map the data and analytics strategy beyond operational needs. Take for example, a specialist screw manufacturer.
The strategy could be, ‘The only screw manufacturer in Malaysia’, ‘The best screw manufacturer in Malaysia’, ‘The most value for money screw manufacturer in Malaysia’, ‘The biggest screw manufacturer in Malaysia’ or ‘The most reliable screw manufacturer in Malaysia’.
Each of the statements will point to a different data and analytics strategy and approach – from what data you should collect to how to visualise the data to data science application.
However, without changing the culture of the organisation, we know that no matter what strategy we put in place, it cannot be executed. Small business owners need to acknowledge that they are the major and, in some cases, the only driving force of the organisational culture.
Resistant to change, hesitation in adopting new technology, suspicious of the benefits of data and analytics and a reluctance to investment are all hallmarks of an unhealthy culture. Also, be prepared to change your existing business model.
‘It is not, big will eat small, it is, fast will eat slow’
Wise words from Rupert Murdoch the media mogul – never has this been truer than in the speed of change that we are living in now.
The wait-and-see attitude of yesteryears is one of the cultures that we need to change. Ironically, being small in today’s world will work in your favour.
The availability and affordability of data and analytics technology makes it a level playing field between large and small organisations when it comes to leveraging data. It means that small organisations can adopt the same technology as the bigger players.
‘It’s the people that make the business’
It is crucial that you understand the roles within the data eco-system, namely; the data engineer, the data analyst/visualiser and the data scientist.
In a large percentage of small businesses, you will not have a need for a data scientist at the adoption stage.
The key role you should focus on is the data engineer. Getting your data right is your main priority. The data engineer will be responsible for the capture, transfer and storage of your data.
Next, is to visualise your data in a format that can be easily digestible and used in your business – what is happening now.
In most cases, Microsoft Excel will do for small businesses. But the important thing to remember here is what to visualise, and to whom.
Once you’ve got your data right and visualised, it is then the turn of the data scientist to start building models to predict what will happen next.
All these talents could be outsourced as managed services – these should not cost the small business an arm and a leg.
The time is now…
As data size and velocity continues to increase, stop worrying about big data and what you can use big data for.
Start by understanding and documenting your business strategy and lay the foundations for the business direction.
Create the right culture for data and analytics adoption within your workforce – drive business conversations and decision-making based on data.
Seek advice on the types of free “open-source” technology that you could adopt. There is nothing wrong with Excel if that is all you need.
Get the right talent help from external vendors or hire the right talent. But most important of all for the small business owners or managers, the time to act is now.
Dr Farouk Abdullah is the chief data scientist of Natural Intelligence Solutions. He will be speaking about how to leverage big data for business growth at The Climb – a two-day workshop specially designed for SMEs on 19-20 September, 2018. Visit The Climb 2018 for more information and to register.