Unlocking Insights To Unleash Growth

John Morris

06 Apr 2013, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada --- Group of entrepreneurs working in creative office space --- Image by © Hero Images/Hero Images/CorbisSmall and midsize businesses (SMBs) that use business intelligence and analytics solutions are more likely than their peers that do not to expect revenues to rise. But SMB Group research shows that “getting insights you need from the data you have” is a top business challenge for most SMBs, who find it daunting just to think about moving beyond spreadsheets to an analytics-driven approach. But it doesn’t have to be.

SAP’s monthly tweetchat, #SAPSMBChat, is a discussion designed to help entrepreneurs and business owners build a simpler path to growth. Our most recent tweetchat featured Laurie McCabe, a co-founder and partner at SMB Group, as its guest. Laurie’s research at SMB Group focuses on how small and medium companies use technology in their businesses.

The topic for our #SAPSMBChat was “How to Unlock Insights to Unleash Growth.”  We focused on the business drivers for analytics, what factors to consider when selecting an analytics solution, and how analytics can help you access the insights needed to thrive and grow. Below is a transcript of our conversation with Laurie.

SAP4SmallBiz: Tell us about the research SMB Group has recently done on the small-to-midsize business market.

Laurie McCabe: SMB Group surveys thousands of small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) each year on different topics, from business apps to mobile adoption. Our research shows SMBs rate “getting insights you need from the data you have” as a top business challenge.

SAP4SmallBiz: To stay in business, entrepreneurs must grow revenues and increase profitability. What stops them from obtaining insights to make better decisions?

Laurie McCabe: It’s tough to meet business goals without reliable, relevant insights about customers, competition, and your own operations. Today the question small business owners need to ask is: Can I keep pace with customer expectations? To answer this question, they need access to insights. They need to understand what is happening and what levers to pull to create change.

SAP4SmallBiz: Why is it so hard for business owners to make sense of their data when they are using spreadsheets or other apps?

Laurie McCabe: Many small business owners struggle with using spreadsheets to cobble together data that will help them run a better business. Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out where and how to start. In addition, most small businesses don’t have data specialists. They need the analytics to be accessible, consumable and without a lot of technobabble.

SAP4SmallBiz: What do you say to entrepreneurs who still use spreadsheets or multiple reporting tools to gain insights on with their business?

Laurie McCabe: If you use different tools and separate reports, it can feel like a “paint-by- numbers” project, and you’re missing half the numbers! Data from various sources can also be different and difficult to reconcile (i.e., errors and wasted time). Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of data in spreadsheets. It is difficult to get that “aha” moment from rows of data.

SAP4SmallBiz: How about keeping data up-to-date, so that you are making decisions on current as well as historical data?

Laurie McCabe: Current, real-time data helps employees make better tactical choices, and helps managers make better strategic decisions. Start with the most critical aspects of the business, address that first, and then take the next step.

SAP4SmallBiz: Do business owners need to analyze all the data they collect? How can they find the needle in the growing data haystack?

Laurie McCabe: Irrelevant data can obscure what’s going on in the business, rather than illuminate it. Think about what questions you need fact-based answers to, and how you could improve your business if you had this information.

SAP4SmallBiz: What can businesses do to address data problems when most don’t have data experts on staff?

Laurie McCabe: Try to get siloed data together into one consolidated, standardized system for a “single version of the truth” to query. Most small businesses lack analytics expertise; work with an experienced solution provider who can fill in the gaps. Lastly, look for a provider that listens and can provide a solution that will grow with your business.

SAP4SmallBiz: What do you suggest to business owners who are trying to find the right solution for their data needs?

Laurie McCabe: There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for small business owners. Today, there are a lot more easy-to-use, affordable tools than in the past. Do your research and find a solution that addresses your business needs today, but one that is also scalable for growth.

SAP4SmallBiz: Is there anything else to keep in mind when considering solutions for the data needs of small and midsize companies?

Laurie McCabe: Employees must be able to interact with data and get the information they need, when and how they need it, to perform most efficiently. To have value, data needs to be accessible, consumable, and actionable.

SAP4SmallBiz: What final words would you give to entrepreneurs on working with business intelligence and analytic solutions to help them grow their companies?

Laurie McCabe: Don’t get derailed by analytics buzzwords. Remember the end goal is to get answers to your business-critical questions. Don’t be over-confident and buy a solution without the necessary support. In the long run, support will save you time and money.

Thanks, Laurie McCabe, for your wonderful insights and for sharing them with our audience of small and mid-size business owners.

For more on tools that boost business, see Networks that drive net worth.

John Morris

About John Morris

John Morris is the Senior Director of Competitive and Market Intelligence at SAP. His specialties include program management, enterprise software, email marketing, go-to-market strategy, cloud computing and product management.