Nowadays, if you watch Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice, the majority of the proposed business ideas – not necessarily that receive investment – are online-based businesses or apps. Therefore, it’s no wonder that companies such as Amazon.com, Uber and AirBnB, the fastest-growing companies in their respective fields, are both the inspiration and envy of SME owners.
There isn’t a silver bullet answer to how you can make your business “the next Uber” as so many claim – but one vital aspect of the Uber culture these businesses have instilled in their employees, customer service and operations is, understanding and using data. Mantras like “Data is the new gold”, “Data = profit” and “Data holds the key to our future” are bandied about, and it can hardly be denied that for a company that does not produce any products of its own, data is arguably its most valuable asset.
The ubiquity of technology in our daily lives and the growing digitisation of services means that our lives are becoming more and more “connected”, in terms of being connected to the internet and to data from multiple sources which are linked together and used to make another service relevant. Now it’s time for SMEs with an appetite for growth, or that want to increase their value proposition to existing customers, to make data a key part of their business culture.
The proof of the success of data for driving business growth can be seen in the “Sharing Economy” trend, which began in the early 2000s, and saw savvy entrepreneurs monetising the sharable aspects of the consumer’s life – from car ownership to peer-to-peer lending. This relied on gathering data on a changing consumer through advancements in technology to monetise key daily aspects of the customer’s lifestyle, and saw start-ups become household names in less than a decade.
SMEs in the world of 2017 now need to take advantage of the vast amount of data being created, collected and analysed around them, from trends like the Internet of Things (IoT), and need to use data as the driver for reinvestment in their business. As consumers, we’re constantly connecting intelligent cars, speakers, watches, lightbulbs and more to the Internet. Experts are therefore predicting a 4300% increase in data production in 2020 compared to 2012.
By utilising the data at a company’s disposal from any and every relevant channel, SMEs stand to gain in two key ways. Firstly, they can use the data for their own strategy, improving competitiveness and operational efficiency, while being able to create new products and services with real, actionable insight into the target customer. This is crucial for SMEs who have much smaller budgets than their enterprise rivals with which to develop and research new offerings, and can be a key driver in allowing SMEs to compete on a larger scale.
In order to fulfil this, SMEs will have to consider their IT infrastructure and look into storage and analytics solutions that can support both the volume of data required, and the processing capability necessary to transform huge amounts of raw actionable data into useable insights.
Secondly, for SMEs who either can’t, or don’t want to directly use data themselves, there is also a financial opportunity presented by the growth in data. Data sets can be sold on to third parties who may be able to transform it into exciting new innovations and services.
We are living in a data-powered world, where data, devices and systems are unifying to produce the best products and services for customers, and the best ROI opportunities for businesses – SMEs and enterprises alike. As more devices become connected, we are moving towards a future powered entirely by data – and SMEs can’t afford to miss out.
By Nick Thurlow, Managing Director, UK & Ireland at NetApp