SMEs turning to big data to seek competitive gains

Nearly two thirds of small businesses are looking to big data to benefit their business, according to new research.

Nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of small businesses are looking to big data to benefit their business, according to research by Smith & Williamson.

‘Big data has been collected, analysed and used for many years but until recently it has only been government and big corporates who have the resources to do so. However, we’re beginning to see the development of tools and equipment which are affordable, and user-friendly, for those in the scale-up community,’ says Fergus Caheny, head of the tech group at Smith & Williamson.

‘Intelligent data use allows SMEs to explore potential new markets, analyse customer information and cut out unnecessary costs. A business that can better understand what it is doing right, or wrong, is in a much better position to scale up.’

The cloud: the solution to big data problems?

Routinely storing data can result in the rapid accumulation of petabytes of information and the parallel development of cloud computing provides SMEs with a ready-made solution. Three quarters of respondents to our survey are looking to the cloud to increase their own business efficiency.

‘Cloud solutions offer scale-up businesses the potential to store the data they have accumulated in an affordable place. With the cloud, you only pay for what you use, so you don’t have to worry about having hardware sitting dormant while you wait to capture more data,’ says Caheny.

‘The combination of big data and cloud business solutions allows a business to scale-up rapidly should an opportunity arise. With cloud solutions, a business leader can store huge quantities of information and use big data to spot new opportunities and move quickly to secure the benefits.’

SMEs underestimating the potential of artificial intelligence (AI)

Only a third of small business leaders believe that AI plays a role in their day-to-day business activities.

‘Some within the general public can see the use of AI confined to robots or the movies. However, there are a number of unheralded uses of AI which most businesses will be taking advantage of on a regular basis which most business already take for granted. For example, almost every Google product employs AI, from their maps to their email. If a business orders items from big sales sites there are often cues to order related items. Even simple things like music playing in a shop or workplace usually incorporate a form of AI,’ adds Caheny.

‘However, we’re barely scratching the surface of the possibilities of AI: the opportunities it offers businesses are top notch. Many AI companies at the scale-up end of the market are still at the early stage but the wider investment community is taking a very keen interest. Direct investment in AI that improves operations and efficiency is likely to continue to professionalise the sector and result in real benefits for the consumer and real bottom line gains for business.’

In addition to the forward-facing uses of AI, it now forms the key ingredient in other tech solutions. Almost all innovations in the cyber security sector deploy machine learning, for example to detect unusual network behaviour, to highlight vulnerable code or to flag up new threats.

SMEs wising up to online threats

Sixty per cent of all businesses have a developed cyber security plan for their business: a 15 per cent increase in the four months since the last time the market was questioned. During that time, there have been high profile cyber-attacks including WannaCry and Petya.

‘SMEs have seen the effects these attacks have had on bigger businesses, both operationally and to their reputation, and do not want to be caught out. For an investor, this is great news; a business that has thought about their cyber security and has more control of their tech estate is often more attractive for investment. It shows that the business takes these things seriously, reflecting their culture and values,’ finished Caheny.

Further reading on big data

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the