If you’ve read anything about business intelligence software, you’ve probably heard the same story roughly a million times.
It goes like this: business intelligence solutions used to be for larger enterprises, but now they’re for small businesses, too!
That story’s true, but the bulk of articles about BI software still focus on larger businesses. If you want to make a solid game plan for your small business’ BI strategy, you’ll be hard pressed to find strategies suited to your size and skills. Why? Large enterprises are still more invested in data and analytics than small businesses.
The world of business intelligence solutions is like Cold War-era Olympic ice hockey; anyone can play, but you figure the same big players—Canada and Russia—will still come away with the gold.
But, sometimes, an underdog shines. The big teams dominate, but we still get great moments like the 1980 Miracle on Ice, when the U.S. beat the USSR for the gold in hockey.
So, how can your small business use a business intelligence solution to be that type of underdog?
In this article, I’ll give you the information you need to know how to win. Buckle up; your path to victory has some similarities to the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team.
SMB business intelligence solutions: where’s the info?
As long as enterprise players dominate the BI solutions market, the small business shopper seeking business intelligence solutions may find general, useful information as hard to locate as an opening in a Soviet goal.
This information scarcity is partially due to the differences between how small businesses interpret their data. “Even for two similar businesses, like pizza shops, they can have different data models, and they can need different things,” says Jonathan Milne of business intelligence vendor Klipfolio.
Even the same metric, such as churn rate, can be interpreted differently. “You’d think churn rate would be an industry standard term that’s the same for everyone, but that’s not how it is,” Milne continues. “I read one article that described five tools that calculated churn differently.”
All of this can make it difficult to find reliable, basic information about how small businesses can use business intelligence solutions.
That said, there are commonalities among small businesses seeking BI software. Many small businesses collect data from email software, CRM software, website traffic, and advertising/marketing efforts (whether online or off). Regardless of how you define and model your data, there are ways your small business can use it to get ahead.
Consider Allrecipes.com, which used business intelligence vendor Tableau to determine where site visitors were spending the most time. Thanks to Tableau’s visualization of their multiple data sources, Allrecipes can tell which foods interest site visitors, and where visitors are sharing their content.
Why your small businesses needs a business intelligence solution
No matter what data you collect or how you define it, business intelligence software can help you combine it to reveal hidden value. You may not have as many email subscribers or advertisements as an enterprise, but you can compensate by seeing how those data sets work together.
A BI solution helps small businesses compensate for a comparative lack of resources by showing the value in different combinations of the same old variables.
That’s also how Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team, made up for his team’s skills deficit. Knowing he needed more speed, he moved one of his quicker forwards to defense.
There was hidden value in that change: speedy Soviet forwards were less likely to out-skate a quick defenseman. Though Soviet forwards may have been better athletes overall than their American counterparts, Brook’s unorthodox slicing-and-dicing of his roster found value that could meet his opponent’s challenge.
The 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team
Business intelligence software can provide the same surprising value in the data you already have. Elena Rowell of BI solution Looker describes how one customer did just that.
“One small company had some adwords investments not performing.” But, she stated, by “looking at that plus purchase data, they could see which expensive ads weren’t giving them high quality customers.” Those ads were cut, and the company saved money.
BI software as a game changer
Finding value in unexpected combinations isn’t the only way an underdog can get ahead.
A small business’s greater speed and agility is another advantage. The same was true for the Miracle on Ice crew. Herb Brooks made the decision to focus less on skill and more on “speed, conditioning, and discipline.”
U.S. men’s hockey coach Herb Brooks
Small businesses have fewer employees than large enterprises, which means less people need to be involved in a decision. The decision approval process is far less bureaucratic, and far more direct.
Small businesses are also less likely to already have a business intelligence solution installed, letting them avoid the lengthy move from an older system to new software. Enterprises can spend months integrating an older, traditional business intelligence software program with their newer solution.
Small businesses getting started with BI software don’t need to worry about syncing old and new programs. While larger enterprises spend months on integration, small businesses can have their data in the right place from the get-go.
If you want that sort of success, however, you’ll need to find a product that’s easy to use. Gartner research found that execution— actually using the program—is one of the biggest struggles for small businesses who purchase a business intelligence solution. If you want to take advantage of the agility offered by such a system, make sure you find a program that’s easy to use.
Another way to ensure agility is to invest in a cloud-based BI software program. A cloud-based solution “can provide more flexibility in terms of deployment agility, scalability and service versus on-premises solutions,” according to Gartner (full report available to Gartner clients) research.
With cloud software, your information is stored on servers that are more secure and more powerful than anything you could buy and maintain. If something breaks down, the BI vendor can fix the issue faster than you could. Not only that, but the vendor’s cloud servers will be faster and more efficient than an on-premises server.
How does your small business go for the gold?
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