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Growing businesses need to focus on ‘little data’ first

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Organisations have always had to manage data. But today, the sheer volume of it generated from traditional business activities such as sales and marketing, through to social media, email and even point-of-sale terminals, has earned it its very own label: ‘big data’.

Managing this data with the advanced analytics tools that are increasingly hyped today is a pipe dream for many small and mid-sized businesses. Firstly, it requires expensive hardware and software. Secondly, you need analysts or data scientists to make this data meaningful; something that’s only affordable for larger organisations.

So, where does that leave the majority of UK organisations that are looking to make better use of their data to drive informed decision-making and achieve rapid growth?

Before big data comes…

For most organisations in the UK, it’s not big data that’s important. They need to get hold of vital bits of little data about their business. How it is performing, what the sales pipeline looks like and what current customer activity is are all vital elements of running a successful business. Yet many organisations are still failing to extract that data from a myriad of business systems. And if they do, many businesses certainly don’t have this information in real time to be consolidated across markets, subsidiaries or branches.

What I call ‘little data’ can be used to support demand planning, deliver market performance insights, provide real-time analysis of customer conversion rates and inform customer or staff incentive programmes as needed. But this little data can be incredibly difficult to compile and visualise, particularly as the complexity of a business’s structure grows.

So what is stopping organisations from getting hold of ‘little data’? Often it is held in archaic or disjointed systems and isn’t readily accessible. Businesses are often ‘spinning plates’ when it comes to running their IT and business systems; dealing with multiple spreadsheets, databases, inventory management systems as well as ERP and accounting systems. In many cases, trying to manage with all of these processes and systems is a job unto itself.

Not only do businesses need to have the systems in place to capture this information; it needs to be readily available to anyone within the organisation, from the managing director through to a sales rep, whenever they need it.

‘Little data’ for little suitcase manufacturer

This is by no means an impossible task. For example, famous luggage manufacturer Trunki made the switch from using Excel spreadsheets and an on-premise Sage accounts package to a single, integrated web-based platform. Everyone from the financial director through to sales representatives now have access to all financial and sales data, as well as demand planning and advanced financial and budget forecasting.

The root of its issues lay in having disparate data sources. Now access to this real-time data is supporting the company’s expansion overseas: Trunki now ships to almost 100 countries around the world. In practical terms, Trunki’s key execs no longer need to turn to their finance or customer team for key updates or business information. It’s all accessible via a couple of taps through the NetSuite app on their iPhones.

Making little data work for you

The first step to leveraging little data is identifying the key performance metrics you need that inform decision-making. This could be real-time insights into sales data, performance of marketing campaigns, inventory information, subsidiary or international performance. Next, brace yourself for change – something that’s necessary to deliver growth in today’s markets – and find a business system that covers the different capabilities you need. Whilst few people enjoy change on this scale, the transformation on business visibility and performance justifies the investment.

The hype around big data will no doubt continue and will produce competitive advantage for some large organisations. However, businesses of any size can get on to a path of more effective and agile decision making by applying the above principles to the ‘little data’ they do have and deploying the right technology.

Pete Daffern is President of NetSuite EMEA & EVP of Verticals at NetSuite

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