On a level playing data field for a small business

Running a start-up or a small and medium business has lots of challenges. The ability to get new clients, marketing and media exposure, attracting new talent, everywhere Davids are up against the Goliaths. More so when it comes to the use of data for taking decisions. Large companies have been at the forefront of adopting technologies to foster innovation for strategic advantage. They procure the latest in technology, build strategic partnerships with leading technology vendors, have an large of analysts and developers to build highly focused analytical solutions for helping executives take smarter decisions. That is like giving a fishing net to a polar bear.  But small businesses don’t have to left out in this data driven journey. Given the growth in innovation on the technology front and especially cloud, they can gain some advantage back from their large competitors.

Where do you start?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

As a small business, you are always short of time. But don’t get that come in your way. Don’t postpone, take any data, literally any meaningful business data available within your organisation and start building some analytical models around it. Once you start the journey, ideas would automatically start flowing. Build a bare bone decision model, share with a colleague. They would have completely different perspectives on the data, ask you questions and that feeds back into your thought process. Before you know, deep and insightful models start to form.

Having said that, start one and only from a business perspective. Don’t jump into a technology or a tool, just because a sales associate gave you a flashy demo. As a start-up we are finding our feet in the sales process. But, we too have built jazzy dashboards and models to impress during a customer demo. Obviously, as an organisation, we have to put our best foot forward. But technology alone shouldn’t excite a business to start the data journey. Instead, the end result of taking smarter decisions and competing on a level playing field with your competitors should.

Don’t spend a penny to start with

I can’t believe, I am saying this. I have a lot of explaining to do to our Sales team!

When you are ready, don’t spend a penny on any tool or product to start your data journey. There are many reasons why. Cloud based or not, all the analytical tools on the market have some form of trial period. Use it as much as possible. Ok, it could be just 15 days or one one month. Still, you want to be sure, 100% about that the product is a fit for you before you open the purse strings. If you making full business use of the platform, the vendor is highly unlikely to turn up to you and say I am switching off your access when the trial ends. The more you use means you will eventually convert.

Also, if you are starting from scratch, it is guaranteed that the right licensing model for your needs is unknown. So, even with the bare minimum pricing plan, you could be overshooting the quota for the chosen pricing model or under using it.

Even when you are ready to move to a paid plan, you should explore pay as you go plans first.

Self-service and not IT driven

If you are a small business, it is more likely that the core operational systems are always in flux. So, rather than a highly structured Data Warehouse/Mart that needs IT involvement to clean, transform and report on, you are better off building your own analytical models using a self-service platform. For even a mid-size business, changing an incumbent operational system is going to involve lot of effort. But in a small business environment, you are always looking out for faster and cheaper solutions. So, spending lot of time and money into building a structured analytical solution will lead to redundant applications when you move. Rather keep the development effort minimum, so if you migrate to another operational application just rebuild the models.

Having said that, if you see that the business users are getting increasingly dependent on the self-service analytical models, it is economically nonviable to keep building new models when the source systems change. Probably a case for bringing in some structure and governance through an Enterprise Data Warehouse. Bring in your IT experts!

So, what next?

There are plenty of products available in the market including our Business Options modeller. What ever you choose, a product you have used before, heard of from colleagues or friends, saw on a billboard or even spreadsheets (another explaining to do to my sales team), start today. Because, before long you would have forgotten reading this blog, your business as usual activities take over your to do lists. You are just one click away from taking the smart data driven journey.


Image Source: Ford vs. Smart by Sivi Steys on Flickr