Creating and keeping a competitive edge is critical to building a successful business. Developing a plan, monitoring the plan to make sure the business remains on target, and setting goals for growth and profitability are foundations of business success. But great strategy and detailed planning cannot ensure success because the economy and business environments are unpredictable; no amount of planning is a guarantee that bad things won’t happen and the business won’t experience challenges. On the other hand, regularly monitoring small business performance data can reveal trends and indications that things are not going as expected, and provide a basis for making the decisions necessary to get the business back on track and regain the competitive edge.
Business owners must be prepared to make adjustments as conditions change, acting on decisions made based on business performance data. While business analytics are more important than ever, with businesses facing volatility in financial markets and increasingly globalized competition, finding a way to approach the matter is often the biggest barrier. The growing difficulty – the increasingly expanding problem facing business owners and their advisors – can be distilled down to three particularly noticeable trends.
An Aberdeen Group report from Nov 2011 titled “The Analytical SMB” identifies these trends as More Data, More Users and Less Time.
- The volume of data flowing into organizations is already high and is increasing.
- The data is complex
- The data lacks similarity (data is disparate)
The volume of information flowing in to businesses is already high, and is increasing steadily. With all the data collection applications and tools available, and as the business seeks to gain more information and intelligence from more sources, the volume of information gathered by businesses has increased at astounding rates. Technology has adapted to this need, allowing businesses to gather than store vast amounts of data. To be of value, however, the data must be analyzed to find the answers to questions posed. What technology is only now beginning to address is the complex and disparate nature of the collected data. Coming from varying sources and in equally varying formats, data must be “normalized” and related for it to make much sense.
- More business decision makers in more job roles and functions are getting involved
- More people approaching the problem with their own “brand” of analysis
In a very small business, decisions are generally made by the owner. This is most often due to the fact that the owner is the person who not only knows what’s going on in the business, but is generally the one doing a lot of the work. As businesses grow and bring in personnel to manage various functions, these managers become decision-makers. Decisions are made in businesses at all levels, and as management layers are compressed, those “closer to the action” are being handed more responsibility for the decisions impacting their areas. Without a comprehensive and company-wide framework for data analysis and reporting, these individuals and workgroups find ways to capture and analyze the data they feel is pertinent to their requirement and within their own realm.
- Timeframe for making decisions is shrinking, and is shrinking at an “alarming” rate
- The “velocity” (rapidity of motion) of business is increasing
It may be that, in some businesses and markets, certain decisions don’t have to be made with any great speed. Businesses or markets of this type are tough to find these days because the Internet, information technology and connected systems have all but eliminated the effects of time and distance. Just about everything in business today moves at a rapid pace, and that means that business decisions are often demanded on-the-spot, providing little time for detailed consideration and working through the problem. Without the tools and data providing meaningful real-time visibility into business performance, decision-makers may be able to act fast but not wisely, and are most frequently guided by their “gut feel” as to what the right move is.
Driving Small Business Analytics
Business decision makers are now recognizing the need to know more about the business and how it is operating and competing in order to effectively address the choices and decisions faced each day. The cause for this recognition may be due to variable elements, but the conclusion reached was the same: good business decisions require business analytics to support them.
Not surprising was the report finding – that the majority of small business owners felt pressured to adopt a business analytics solution primarily due to the fact that “critical business decisions rely too much on “gut feel”. Surprise! Other drivers listed were lack of visibility into operational metrics, the growing number of people in the business who want analytical capability, the business’s inability to identify and act upon business opportunities, and having less time to make decisions.
Steps to Get There
As with any business project, there are “degrees of success”, and the ultimate success of a business initiative requires that all parties be on board with it. Businesses who recognize a need to improve their analytical capability, but who do not then empower their systems, processes and people, will not achieve the same result as those who do.
Focusing on the business data, it is important to address both the volume and disparity by creating formal data management practices and policies, and implementing systems and processes which assist with the intelligent capture and storage of business information. Simply retaining the data is not useful; it must be presented and applied in a meaningful manner for it to become useful as decision-supporting information. The value of the information increases dramatically when it becomes truly useful to the business. Additionally, by empowering a broader framework for data collection and analysis, businesses extend the “intelligence” to others in the organization, supporting individual and workgroup efforts to make better decisions for their respective areas of responsibility. Of course, if the information is not provided in a timely manner, its value is reduced if not eliminated (hindsight may be 20/20, but that doesn’t help you see where you going to step next). Any approach to building business intelligence should leverage connectivity and integration to provide a timely delivery of complete information how and when it is needed.
What’s the Proven Benefit?
The obvious benefit of business analysis is that business owners are provided with data to help them understand more about the business operational and financial performance. The real and proven benefit is that the information provides a basis for gaining insight into trends and conditions which impact performance, and which support making the necessary decisions which facilitate improvement in various business areas.
The highest level of proven benefit, according to the Aberdeen Group report, was achieved by those businesses who embraced the requirement to know more about the organization and operation, and who implemented a focused effort at building business intelligence.
Fast Facts: Best-in-Class SMBs Achieved 24% year over year increase in new customer accounts sold compared to 12% for the industry average, and 11% for the laggards.
These organizations which achieved the greatest improvement operated from real data rather than being guided by gut and emotion, enabled the entire organization to participate in the development of organizational and business intelligence, positioned themselves to identify and act on new business and market opportunities, and ensured that those who must make decisions have the information and insightful data to support making the right ones.
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