Welcome to the new data revolution

Data analytics and business intelligence are no longer the exclusive domain of the big-end of town.

Data analytics and Business Intelligence is transforming Australian businesses. According to a recent research report by IDC, 80 per cent of businesses have already implemented data analytics, or intend to do so over the coming 12 months. There has been a particularly high take-up of data analytics in the past year among mid-market companies, who realise that to remain competitive, they need to be able to access deep insights about their business on a real-time basis.

Executives are realising that transformation isn’t a one-off project; it’s a perpetual business process that has to be embedded in business operations to stay ahead of the game. It’s data analytics that enables this.

Data and the insights that can be drawn from it have become the backbone of every leading business. The technology sector has a responsibility to the mid-market to understand how the three components of the analytics revolution work in tandem.

ERP: the foundation stone

If business intelligence was a car, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software would be the engine. It’s the machine that helps businesses collect, store and manage data across the different areas within the business. It’s ERP that produces the information that helps drive essential functions including product planning, marketing and sales, finance, the supply chain and inventory management. Put simply, it takes the guess work out of business so executives have an objective base on which to make important commercial decisions.

Analytics: the secret sauce

Every business produces vast amount of data from every area of its operations. But data in its raw form is practically useless. What is of most value is the insights that are able to be drawn from this data. So any software in which a business invests must be able to give people across the entire business easy access to insights they need to make informed decisions. These learnings should be able to reflect the latest international accounting standards. They should give people on the road, in head office and in the warehouse exactly what they need to do their job to the best of their abilities.

Mobility makes sense

The third and final component of the analytics revolution is of course mobility. Today savvy businesses are giving employees right across the enterprise access to data analytics in real time. This means staff need the ability to plug data into the system in real time, from the device of their choice. Mobility has made a two-way flow of information into and out of a business a real-time reality. It means management can get a clear picture of operations, sales, revenue and, therefore, what needs to happen to plan for the future, as the information comes to hand.

This is particularly exciting for the mid-market, which up to now, has not had the same access to this information as larger organisations. But now with advances in business technology and more deployment options, it is simpler and more cost efficient for businesses to access this intelligence. The vast majority of organisations in this category have realised that it’s an opportunity they cannot ignore if they wish to remain competitive.

Take for example, Gasweld Tool Centre, one of Australia’s largest specialist gas, welding and tools suppliers. Gasweld has seen significant improvements in its operational efficiencies through the adoption of a fully integrated ERP and BI system.

Previously the team would run reports and someone would pull out key information and deliver it to senior management. Now, reports are written and scheduled in an automated fashion – produced in their ready format, reaching the right person’s table, inbox or smartphone, at the right time. It’s a huge labour saving for the business and enabled staff to think more laterally. By tying data between receivables, inventory and manufacturing, the team can easily identify new opportunities to further expand the business.

Servicing the mid-market

In our experience, the mid-market requires the same degree of sophistication and depth of product functionality as large enterprises, but at a realistic cost.

Compared to larger businesses, mid-market companies don’t have the same access to capital. Managers and business owners are judicious about how they use funds. They have to be able to understand their return on investment before they feel comfortable making a decision to invest in their technology infrastructure.

This means vendors have to be able to clearly communicate how data analytics has the ability to contribute to a healthier bottom line, and relate to the exact needs of that organisation. For businesses in this category, making the wrong decision can make or break the organisation. If they make the incorrect choice, they will waste time and money implementing a system that’s not right for them. But if they choose the right partner, it can help streamline their business operations and give them an edge in a tough market.

It’s also essential to recognise that many businesses of this nature don’t have in-house dedicated IT resources. This is an opportunity for technology providers to become their trusted adviser and in some cases, operate almost as a part of the internal team.

Many mid-market businesses are family-owned. There might be multiple generations working in the enterprise. Usually, they are exceptional at what they do. They are focused on winning business, maintaining relationships with existing customers and improving their competitive position. They know technology can help them achieve these goals, but often, require the business flexibility that customisation allows.

This is where trusted technology partners come in. My advice to organisations exploring business management software providers is to look for a technology partner that listens and adapts its technology to your needs. Take your time to ensure there is a sense of collaboration and a genuine interest in undertaking a growth journey with your business. When you partner with the right organisation, it’s incredible to watch your business data go from numbers to wonders.

Chad Gates is the chief operating officer, Pronto Software