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Unlocking Business Success: The Vital Role Of Data Analytics For SMEs Every business can transform to tackle the challenges of today -or pre-empt those of tomorrow- by refining raw data for insights.

By Karl Crowther Edited by Aby Sam Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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We are in the midst of one of the greatest periods of data creation in history, and this data surge is providing new opportunities for delivering decision intelligence at scale. Regardless of their scale, every modern corporation produces a large volume amount of data, but in this intelligence era, it's no longer about how much data one company can generate, it's about how they use it, and knowing how to ask the right questions to get the right answers.

Analytics can serve as the differentiator between making informed, real-time business decisions and being outpaced by competitors who prioritize digital skills, particularly data literacy. But, while data-driven insights have become the lynchpin of faster and more informed decision-making across the business, transforming this data into valuable insights for decision-making is still out of reach for many SMEs.

If we look at the five most profitable companies in the world, they all have one thing in common, and it's neither cash reserves nor real estate. Each of these companies can collect, analyze, and act on data -at scale- to make effective decisions. However, data science and analytics does not need to be reserved for the large enterprise. While many SME leaders may consider it too difficult to free data from silos that have grown over decades, or that the use of data is often associated with complex data science buzzwords and require years of experience, this is a misconception. Ultimately, every business can transform to tackle the challenges of today -or pre-empt those of tomorrow- by refining raw data for insights.

So, how can a company, especially an SME with limited resources, get started on their analytics journey? Here's a step-by-step guide to begin your data analytics journey:

1. Define your data analytics goals Begin by articulating specific goals and business objectives that you aim to accomplish through data analytics. These objectives might encompass enhancing the customer experience, optimizing operational efficiency, or boosting revenue. Simultaneously, identify key performance indicators (KPIs) that will serve as benchmarks to gauge progress. For instance, if customer retention is an objective, consider KPIs like churn rate or customer acquisition cost.

2. Scope out your data ecosystem Comprehensively catalogue the data sources within your organization. SMEs often possess data in various forms, including sales records, customer data, website analytics, social media, customer reviews, and others. When selecting data sources, assess factors such as data quality, volume, and diversity. Start by organizing and analyzing this existing data to uncover trends and patterns. Utilize tools like spreadsheets or visualization software for this purpose, gaining insights into customer behavior, sales trends, and website traffic. This understanding will enable more informed decision-making, and reveal areas for enhancement.

Related: Five Tips For SMEs Wanting To Harness The Power Of AI Analytics

3. Equip your analytics arsenal Select data analytics tools and technologies that align with your specific data needs and objectives. Depending on your requirements, you might need a data analytics platform, a database management system, a visualization tool, or a combination of these solutions. Consider factors such as budget constraints, the availability of internal resources and skills, and the nature of your data sources and formats.

4. Cultivate a data culture Embed a culture of continuous learning within the workplace to overcome some of the current macroeconomic issues facing businesses. A report by PwC highlights that 84% of the region's CEOs plan to invest in automation, artificial intelligence, and cloud technology in 2023, while 74% intend to invest in upskilling their workforce. To establish a data-driven culture, organizations must promote data literacy among employees, deliver clear data processes that help create a culture of data-driven decision-making, and encourage experimentation. By supporting employees across all departments in data skills, they will quickly be empowered to drive the business faster and more efficiently through data-driven decision intelligence. The resulting culture will value data, and use it to drive business success.

5. Collect and clean data Establish data collection processes to systematically gather data from your sources. This may involve implementing tracking codes, integrating application program interfaces (APIs), or utilizing data extraction tools. Simultaneously, implement processes to ensure that collected data is clean, accurate, and free of errors. For instance, surveys conducted via email, social media, or the company website, and run through feedback analysis tools can help SMEs understand customer needs and preferences. Such analyses empower SMEs to refine products or services, and gain deeper insights into customer behavior. Then, evaluate data analytics tools and technologies for their ability to automate these tasks, such as removing duplicates, handling missing values, and standardizing data formats.

6. Evaluate and refine your strategy Data analytics is an iterative process that enables SMEs to adapt and improve, enhancing their competitiveness, and achieving sustainable growth. With data collection and cleaning processes in place, leverage the insights gained to optimize your operations. Continuously monitor and evaluate your performance against established KPIs. Tools that provide dashboard visualization would be ideal for monitoring. Use these performance insights as a basis for continuous refinement of your data analytics strategy.

Embracing data-driven approaches is not just a luxury for large enterprises, but a necessity for every business looking to thrive and stay competitive. Those aiming to be future-ready and harness the potential of data for their growth imperative must consider a business analytics solution as an essential tool. With a clear strategy, SMEs can use data analytics to enhance customer insights, streamline operations, and adapt to competition. Continuously evaluating and refining their approach ensures agility in the evolving business landscape.

Related: How SMEs Can Compete With Big Brands Amid Market Uncertainty

Karl Crowther

Vice President - MEA, Alteryx

Karl Crowther is Vice President for the MEA region at Alteryx. Alteryx delivers easy end-to-end automation of data engineering, analytics, reporting, machine learning, and data science processes, enabling enterprises everywhere to democratize data analytics across their organizations for a broad range of use cases. 



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