For the first time, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have found themselves in a position to access previously unattainable technology and systems, thanks to the emergence of The Cloud. Ed Thewlis, Managing Director of The DataShed, explores how SMEs can use that technology to reduce costs, improve productivity and increase profit.
Growth in business terms traditionally needs to be supported by technological growth. Your IT system may have been perfectly adequate a couple of years ago but now your data requirements have increased and you need to be able to extract the value from new data almost immediately. Unfortunately, the hardware you invested in three years ago is now struggling to meet your demands and it could cost you thousands of pounds just to keep it running.
Fortunately, technological advancements in cloud computing – such as virtualisation and cheaper storage costs – have now made it easier for SMEs to access big data analytics.
Analytics projects work by trial and error; some result in significant value while others lead to dead ends. While this is fine if you’re a big enterprise, if you’re an SME facing the prospect of spending a considerable amount of money on hardware, this is a risk you often can’t afford to take.
What the Cloud delivers to SMEs is affordable scalability. Traditional data analytics were built to be used on site and required additional investments in order to build a supporting IT infrastructure (such as a data centre), maintain it and employ an in-house IT expert (or experts) to oversee its operation. Additionally, organisations often needed to purchase expensive big data analytics software to get the most out of the infrastructure, resulting in a bill that many SMEs simply couldn’t afford to pay.
The Cloud can significantly reduce the total cost of ownership of IT for SMEs as they no longer have to go through the process of creating and maintaining an IT infrastructure for internal service delivery, as well as being able to gain instant access to big data analytics at any time, without any upfront cost. For example, ApacheSpark, an open source processing engine which can be run on Amazon’s EMR web service, allows SMEs to quickly and cost-effectively process vast amounts of data without having to make changes to their infrastructure. In the case of small retailers, for example, it can enable instant scalability at key trading periods without any additional expenditure. For others, it can simply allow them to experiment without having to worry about the cost of doing so.
Some SMEs still believe that data analytics are irrelevant to them but, by deploying cloud services, they suddenly see disparate sources of data coming together and giving them easy access to previously unseen areas of their business, operations and customer interactions. This allows SMEs to better understand their customers and enables them to improve the ways they serve and sell, whilst also gaining better insight into their business performance and allowing them to invest in new development more wisely.
By adopting the cloud, some SMEs may even start to consider making use of the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT incorporates an intricate network of devices, each gathering data about their users, their users’ environment, or their users’ experience. This data gives SMEs the ability to measure and analyse data from multiple sources, giving them access to valuable new insights. This information also provides SMEs with the tools to make savings in resources, time and operational costs, whilst driving sales by enabling more effective interaction with their customers.
The availability of pay-as-you go technology on the Cloud is a real boon for SMEs as, in today’s world, the need to collect and manage data is absolutely imperative. Analytics have never been more important and the Cloud has created a more even playing field for SMEs, allowing them to access analytical tools without the intimidating capital expenditure. Thanks to the Cloud, SMEs can now pay-as-they-grow.
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