Data is the great digital enabler. It’s the topic of conversation in every boardroom and the meat in every survey and analysis done by research giants such as Gartner, IDC, and Forrester. It’s been  described as the black oil of the business world, the key to unlocking the secrets of a sustainable future, and the answers to potentially tricky business questions. And yet, for the small to medium enterprise (SME), data often  feels a distant and unavailable  dream. The technology that creates it, the tools that analyse it and the individuals that interpret it are expensive or difficult to find. For the SME, finding the insights in the data can seem  as attainable as a short  visit to the moon.

But this is changing Data and the insights it offers are not just for the enterprise with a weighty wallet, not anymore. Yes, the technology and data scientists that are lured into the enterprise are far more likely to be the cream of the proverbial crop, but equally the tools that are now available to the smaller business are more cost-effective and accessible than ever before. Any organisation, regardless of its size, can leverage this technology to glean digital insights that will help them to better understand their customers.

Why bother?

Digital insights, in a nutshell,  are digital output insights that can lead to better decision  making. The value that these insights bring into the organisation is exponential, and the insights themselves are critical.

They allow for business leaders to make informed decisions  that can benefit the business over the long and short term because these insights are relevant to the business. They are the insights pulled from the organisation’s own data and they allow for richer visibility into the organisation’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. From strategic changes made based on these insights to improved marketing practices

to operational efficiencies,  data is crucial to your company. They allow you to pivot – be it a large pivot or a small – and they help shore  up defences in difficult times. SMEs are fragile entities and if decisions  can be made that will guarantee better business, then  why not?

But, how?

The first step  is to develop a clearly defined  plan that identifies  where  the technology is being used and how the data can be extracted. For example,f you use a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) platform,  then  you can leverage the data it generates to better understand your sales pipeline and your growth.  You can potentially use this for business projections and to assess  what your business needs in order to achieve  its budgets. This may sound simple, but imagine being able to predict budget achievements months before you get there? With the insights that this data gets you, you can increase your pipeline through other activities  to ensure you get there. Or perhaps even over achieve your goals.

There are, however, challenges. No technology is plug and play, no matter what it says on the box. And no digital insights extraction journey  is going to be without its hiccups and learning curves. One of the biggest  problems in most companies – SME and enterprise alike – is the lack of buy-in from the executive.

A culture  of data is only effective from the top down as executive and leadership lives the data and showcases the benefits. People  are resistant to change and this has to be addressed throughout any data insights journey. Another issue is the fact that a lot of people don’t know where to start so they simply leave it. This is relatively easily addressed – define what you want to achieve,  focus on the end results, then execute on them through investment and collaboration with experts that understand the technology and the risks. It won’t be perfect, but you need  to start  before you can iterate and fine-tune.

For example, if you’re in the customer service business and want to improve customer engagement, then  you can easily add in a ‘Rate our Service’ function so that customers can feed back to you. This is direct insight into how they perceive your company and products. It not only creates a NPS value around how the market interprets your value but also opens the door to understanding which customers aren’t satisfied  so you can build strategies that improve

“The tools that are now available to the smaller business are more cost-effective and accessible than ever before.

Any organisation, regardless of its size, can leverage this technology to glean digital insights that will help them to better understand their customers.” your service  or service  delivering. It can take almost no time to implement but these digital insights can give you the tools you need  to action  a solid and strategic customer engagement plan.

Digital insights offer your business multiple advantages. You can use them  to shore  up the sustainability of your company, building in new revenue streams and improving on those that you already have in place. They also provide you with a view over the market and customer that can ensure your relevance in an ever-changing market. As brands come and go the one lesson that needs to be learned is this – agility. Be willing to use the insights and the data to pivot and adapt so your business can always remain relevant.

Chris Ogden is MD of RubiBlue and author of ‘Build  a business. Plug the gaps. Know when to fail.’ Visit: www.rubiblue.co.za.

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