There is no question that Internet has leveled the playing field for SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) when they compete against large enterprises. But with big data harvesting and "smart" business analytics entering the competitive fray, many SMBs now find it harder to keep pace with larger companies that have many more IT resources at their disposal.
If you are an SMB and you know you can't afford to bring high-dollar analytics solutions and data analysts into your organization-just what can you do to improve your competitive position?
The answer may well lie with pre-built business analytics that take your big data and turn it into a productive business intelligence data warehouse without a major time and effort investment from your IT department. A number of both package-based and cloud services provider solutions now offer turnkey business analytics for specific industry verticals (e.g., retail, healthcare) or for specific areas of the business (e.g., supply chain). These turnkey analytics come with hundreds of pre-built reports and online viewing dashboards that can quickly get your management team going with big data analytics.
Just how much can you save in actual IT time and effort?
Well, no one can help you with the initial big data task that everyone faces: identifying the areas of the data that you want to "mine" with business analytics. This initial identification of the correct big data to isolate for analytics is a project area that IT and other key members of the corporate management team need to get their arms around.
However, once you have identified the areas of big data that your organization wants to utilize, many business analytics solutions providers can take over implementation from there. In other words, they can integrate the analytics components, networking and storage required to run your business analytics, normalize your data so you are running your analytics against a "single version of the truth," and even perform the IT architecting of your big data analytics strategy.
Is it too good to be true? Well, it could be.
If you choose to use pre-built business analytics designed for either your industry vertical or for a specific business area within your company, what you get is a "best practices" assortment of the business analytics that most companies like yours are likely to use. You don't get the benefit of advanced strategic questions that almost no one thinks to ask-but that could provide you with a unique business advantage.
If you choose to customize one of the standard business analytics reports that you obtain from a public cloud services provider-the provider warrants that your custom report will always be yours and will not be shared-but reserves the right to take the idea and potentially incorporate it into its public reports library that is available to every organization on the network-meaning that you can risk losing the exclusivity of your own ideas.
If you choose to maintain your big data repository with a cloud services provider, your information will be secure because these providers operate in multi-tenant environments where each company has its own data and analytics partitioned off from those of other companies. However, there can still be a general data breach or compromise of provider systems-so always perform security due diligence before signing up with any provider.
With all of these things being said, starting your company off with pre-built business analytics that can capitalize on your big data can still be a great strategy. Pre-built business analytics enables many organizations to accomplish at the onset what they might not be able to initially do on their own. The pre-built reports "teach" management how big data mining can answer tough business questions. It also builds confidence and comfort with analytics in the organization.
Since most managers come to big data and business analytics with almost no background or experience, starting out with a pre-built solution is a good way to get everyone's feet wet. It can also pave the way to a future where the organization develops enough internal expertise to run its own analytics.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.