For business owners, it has become imperative to have data analytics and business intelligence solutions in place
From political volatility to power outages and difficult operating conditions, South African business owners face challenges on several levels. Economic growth has been slow for some time, and advances in technology and automation are threatening established industry players. Yet for savvy business owners, technology offers new and potentially transformative platforms and solutions. Arguably, developments in data analytics and business intelligence (BI) provide some of the most tangible and accessible means of harnessing technology to boost growth. From a market value perspective, the global Business Intelligence market was valued at USD 17.15 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach USD 147.19 billion by 2025 – growing at a CAGR of 26.98% from 2017 to 2025 according to MarketWatch.
Such rapid growth should come as no surprise: the actionable value of data is immense when it is intelligently analysed and displayed for business owners. This value is increasingly being identified and leveraged by businesses around the world, particularly as the solutions become more affordable. A few years ago, BI tools that analysed client or operational data were exceptionally expensive and were often built solely for specific data sets and circumstances. Now, however, with Microsoft Office 365 and other software platforms, smaller businesses can benefit from data analytics. Indeed, the clever analytics capabilities that are now built into most cloud solutions allow users access to dashboards that represent real data from the business in a highly accessible and user-friendly format. With these tools, anyone can essentially assume the role of a data scientist – with no prior training or specific expertise required!
For business owners who are unsure of where or how to begin, the first step is to start moving IT operations to the cloud. Today, leaders and decision-makers are beginning to realize the value of engaging with IT solutions in the cloud. Often, this means adjusting business models to incorporate operational expenses like subscriptions – rather than large capital expenses such as servers, software and long-term license agreements. This more agile, cloud-based model thus enables continued access to the latest and greatest in software and management tools that are continually being updated and perfected by the providers themselves. As a result, business owners no longer have to worry about being “up to date” as it becomes the cloud provider’s responsibility to remain current and best in class.
Once cloud migration has been achieved, the business can then make the most of market-leading software and analytics. Today, Office 365 is the easiest and cheapest way to start benefiting from cloud solutions and built-in business intelligence. First, however, move all business email to the cloud to ensure that communications are no longer at risk of failing and that the business is ‘always on’ and connected.
Once you are in the Microsoft stable, you will have access to many other key platforms – tools like Delve, OneNote, and OneDrive that have built-in analytics. These platforms can tell you, for example, how much time you are spending in meetings; whether or not someone viewed a shared Excel spreadsheet; and many other collaborative tools that allow staff to work together from different locations or offices.
Data Management is Key
While businesses can make fast progress with basic BI tools, the real magic in the Microsoft cloud starts to happen when users engage with Sharepoint. To maximise this tool, however, it is critical to work with a data management specialist to establish safe ways of storing and sharing data. This type of specialist will essentially build a ‘library’ and create data management methodologies and processes.
Without this professional engagement, business owners run the risk of creating massive volumes of data and storing it in a place where everyone has access – which is inadvisable for many important reasons. Worryingly, many companies are already at risk because they have not established rigorous data management processes with a specialist. In many instances, businesses are using DropBox or similar tools that they believe are clever ways to store their data in the cloud – but are unaware that this has been done without security or permissions being addressed properly. In addition, users are often unaware that if their device or machine is infected with malware, they can transfer this malware to the business’ cloud data store simply by accessing the shared DropBox files – potentially resulting in data loss or theft (and non-compliance with data protection regulations such as GDPR and POPIA).
Looking ahead, while business owners will be required to invest in key platforms and data management expertise, the long-term benefits of business intelligence are difficult to ignore. By enabling business owners to identify operational weaknesses as well as unique market opportunities, business intelligence and analytics can be the key to scaling and achieving true sustainability.