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Can a small business benefit from business intelligence?

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Business Intelligence (BI) has evolved and is now becoming accessible to small and medium-sized businesses but how can it benefit them?

Analyzing data is proven to bolster business, but this is no longer purely in the domain of large companies. Business Intelligence (BI) has evolved and is now becoming accessible to small and medium-sized businesses.

This is not a new concept, since the dawn of business time people have been trying to analyze their data to make their business better. For instance, if you happen to have a time machine at hand you could zip back to Roman times and meet, let's say… Lucius, a merchant in the street. He may have noticed that positioning his wagon in the shade during the midday sun would increase his sales by 25%. Therefore it was worth the trouble of hunting around for the perfect spot to reap the benefits.

This is business intelligence at a very simplistic level, looking at the data he has available and making a decision to better his business. The way we collect data today goes beyond simple observation and intuition. The days of big data are upon us and getting the most out of it can be challenging.

So that’s where business intelligence software comes into play. You can analyze your data, pulling out important decision-making information in seconds. We need to thank the big companies for getting it to the stage it is today. With millions of dollars of investment, especially in the early 90s, they have now tailored business intelligence into comprehensive systems.

Today large companies are using business intelligence to calculate the profitability of millions of customers daily, track their interaction with websites, and identify hundreds if not thousands of transactions in real-time, whilst giving employees a 360-degree view of every customer.

Amazon and eBay wouldn’t be as successful as they are without business intelligence. For example, think of when you visit their sites you have recommendations of other products you may like, or similar items to what you were searching for. Plus to top it off they store your previous visit’s data creating a better user experience the next time you log in. Business intelligence has given them nice cross-selling opportunities against the data they have collected from you.

So does business intelligence work as well for an SME?

I know I’ve rattled on about business intelligence in a larger company but what if you’re a Chihuahua and not a Great Dane? Can you still get your hands on some of that business weaponry?

In a word, yes. There are now many business intelligence options out there for small and medium-sized business owners to implement. No longer do they cost millions of dollars and take an entire IT team to maintain; now they are simple and low-cost. Options have changed too as in the early 90s most business intelligence was in-house, however, today you can use software online.

SMEs can now level the playing field with big companies and also competitors of a similar size. Every business can benefit from taking a look at the numbers and creating strategies to improve. If you don’t then you risk falling behind your competitors who are probably using business intelligence already.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it wouldn’t be suitable either because your employees are avid users of Excel. Don’t get me wrong, Excel is a fantastic program but it is not designed as a business intelligence tool. Excel falls over if you ask it to process large quantities of data and prodding it with a stick doesn’t help either (I know I’ve tried). Get the right tool for the job and you’ll get your desired results.

Are there any constraints for business intelligence for SMEs?

Any business intelligence solution that requires a lot of IT intervention is not feasible for a small business. Therefore SaaS or Cloud services could solve this problem.

The key to business intelligence is the quality of your data. At the end of the day, this is what drives BI. If your data is poor then you will be unable to pull the reports you need.

Finally, think about whether your business needs a business intelligence system. Do you have questions that your current IT systems can’t solve or would take a long time to do so?

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