by Humberto Farias, CEO and co-founder at Concepta
The digital revolution is disrupting the traditional business model for small and medium businesses (SMBs). Buzzwords like data science, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics are being used by big companies with the ability to invest. This investment in a refined digital strategy is setting large companies up to satisfy needs only an SMB used to be able to. The good news is that the digital transformation also makes it possible to compete with much larger companies like never before.
The traditional advantages of small businesses over corporations are personalized service and an inventory of niche products tailored to their local market. New data-powered solutions give companies that would ordinarily be too large to customize their offerings the insight to do so. If SMBs don’t also embrace and maximize data, these large companies could steal their client base and market share. The problem, is historically, the investment in time and resources required for traditional digital solutions can feel out of reach, and the type of programs used by corporations aren’t practical for SMBs for daily operations like reporting, inventory, or accounting.
In a very real sense, SMBs are better positioned to benefit from digital transformation than large companies. Surveys show SMBs recognize the advantage they have of less bureaucracy surrounding the decisions, which often leads to a higher success rate of implementation.
In light of this, software developers are beginning to cater to the digital transformation needs of SMBs. Solutions aimed at SMBs are more widely available. Owners no longer have to buy management software meant for big business. SMBs no longer have to choose between hiring an in-house data science team or off the shelf enterprise analytics software. Previously, this was a popular option among SMB owners. In 2016, SMBs used an average of 4.8 apps to manage their operations, up from 3.8 in 2015. However, some do run into trouble with premade offerings and try to solve it by stringing together a collection of apps. SMBs falsely assume that custom analytics platforms and data science is too complicated. In reality, embracing the digital transformation with custom solutions is now more affordable, analytics is easier and cloud technologies mean more options when faced with limited shelf space.
A Look at Commonly Implemented Data-Driven Solutions.
Enterprise apps rework everyday functions of the business into streamlined processes that can be managed via user-friendly apps. They cut down on internal confusion since everyone has the most up-to-date information in the palms of their hands and in one place. This also creates a place for hosting all of your data. With BI capabilities, departments can now get rid of spreadsheets and visualize data through a central dashboard. This means finance, operations, sales, and marketing departments as well as leadership can all access the same data. Implementing enterprise apps at the operational level eliminates redundant operations, increase efficiency, and improves employee morale.
Automation involves creating a list of processes that trigger other actions or processes without needing to check with a human first. One example would be generating order confirmation emails after a customer completes a purchase online. Automation can also walk a customer through basic troubleshooting after an error is reported. It’s often confused with artificial intelligence, though automation uses set rules to complete its tasks instead of analytical reasoning. When combined though, artificial intelligence and automation takes tedious or repetitive tasks out of human hands, leaving employees free for more skilled projects. Here’s a sample of tasks an AI can do using machine learning techniques:
- Sort an incoming business lead into the proper category
- Post to a social media network
- Decide if a forum comment violates community guidelines
- Check whether a form has been filled in correctly
- Identify a strange behavior or pattern (such as suspicious purchase activity)
- Update a spreadsheet.
Big companies can absorb more loss when it comes to advertising; but not small businesses. Predictive analytics help determine the most effective markets for adspend, suggesting areas where the product is being well-received and those where the cost of customer acquisition is unreasonably high. CMOs who employ AI-powered marketing report significant gains in customer retention, engagement, and lifetime loyalty. The benefit comes from a more personalized customer journey made possible by analyzing internal data (loyalty programs, site activity, CRM data) to build a portrait of the customers that is supportive of the mobile app or custom software system being used. This analysis is referred to as intelligent customer profiling, one of the latest applications of predictive analytics. Knowing the customer leads to knowing what motivated them to choose a company and what might alienate them. Those with the highest ROI can also be targeted for special incentives and support.
Planning Out Your Digital Strategy.
To get the most out of data-driven solutions, it’s critical to outline how it will be used in your particular organization. Artificial intelligence, data science, and other solutions work best when applied to a specific problem. Start by identifying every method you currently have of collecting information, including marketing data, website metrics, feedback collection and analysis procedures. Essentially, anything that measures how your company is performing and how consumers are interacting with you.
Next, you need to clearly define what you want your data to do and the goals you are working towards in gathering it. While these will, by nature, be loosely defined, try to narrow it down more than “growth” and be specific.
Additionally, it’s important to understand your needs and your options for data storage based on asking yourself, “How much data do you save?” and “What are your storage limits?” Cloud storage is the future of data warehousing, but not everyone has made the switch yet. Some companies have in-house systems they’ve invested heavily in, and uploading everything to the cloud doesn’t make sense for them. There are also “hybrid warehouses” where some incoming data flows get tagged for in-house storage while others are directed to the cloud.
Despite the challenges, digital strategy should be a priority for SMBs. Many industry leaders believe that technology levels the playing field between small businesses and large corporations. Digital transformation is the most reliable path to maximizing an SMB’s resources to gain an edge against their bigger competitors.
Humberto Farias is a seasoned technology professional with over 18 years of experience guiding companies around the world through the custom software development process. As a dynamic business leader and a Certified Scrum Master, Humberto leads a team of highly skilled software engineers and developers as CEO and co-founder at Concepta, providing tailored web and mobile applications to small-to-medium enterprises.