What useful information is buried in your IT systems?

Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, has recently called data “the next natural resource”, and predicts that information will be the basis of competitive advantage in the future.  The better your capability as a business to make some sense out of the mass of data you hold, the better placed you will be to outstrip your competitors.

In addition, Rometty has predicted that the sharing of information will also be critical in the way we are viewed by others as business people.  Because we are now all so interconnected via multiple social media platforms, our credibility will be measured not so much by what we know, or our traditional expertise, but by what we share.  In a data-driven world, our worth is in the information that we create, as opposed to the tasks that we carry out.

So the decision-making process for businesses will become more about data than ever before, as we look for more and more subtle opportunities.  Never before has the old adage “knowledge is power” been more relevant.

We all know that for many years large corporations have gathered as much information as they can about us as consumers.  Supermarkets are the obvious example – loyalty cards have for many years given them the ability to link all our purchases together and determine patterns, which they can exploit to their advantage.

Up to now, though, this sort of initiative has been seen as the preserve of the multi-national, or at least national, corporations.  It isn’t the sort of technology that small or medium businesses (or even many large ones) are in a position to utilise.

But today, with the potential for huge numbers of small businesses to reach a massive audience at relatively little cost, it becomes more important than ever to have an edge.  As a result, small businesses are accessing technology that would previously be out of their price range, and very often the systems are “software as a service” offerings, or “cloud-based” applications.

This article isn’t about the pros and cons or the rights and wrongs of cloud computing, but there is no doubt that it has opened a lot of doors for small businesses, and the indications are that more and more companies are taking advantage of the opportunities on offer.  With a vastly reduced hardware and infrastructure requirement, and “Martini” availability (for the younger readers, that means any time, any place, anywhere, as in the old TV ads!) collaboration amongst employees and other business partners is straightforward.

Recent research in the Indian SME sector has seen growth, and forecast significant further growth, in cloud-based business systems, especially those with a focus on CRM, Business Intelligence and productivity.  This confirms the view that these businesses are waking up to the value of the information that they may already hold, but have never really used.

How often do you, in your business, make use of the information that sits in your systems?  Do you perhaps even know what’s in there, and are you collecting the right information in the first place?  It’s worth spending some time thinking about what would give you an advantage over your competition, if you were able to analyse it, and then give some thought as to how you can collect the data.

Business Intelligence doesn’t need to be expensive – there are open-source technologies that work really well, and give you visibility of things that you never knew that you didn’t know and, more importantly, never knew that you had!  All you need is a bit of data-mining.

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