Every small business knows that today the data that they gather, analyse and act upon is the life-blood of their enterprises.
And the quantities of data that businesses manage are massive - and only liable to get bigger. IDC states: "Between 2009 and 2020, the information in the Digital Universe will grow by a factor of 44; the number of 'files' in it to be managed will grow by a factor of 67, and storage capacity will grow by a factor of 30."
But vast quantities of data alone are no advantage. What counts instead is the ability to manage these huge data stores and the devices that access them, and this creates what PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) refers to as a business' "digital IQ."
Smaller companies now have access to data management tools that in the past were the province of larger corporations. SMBs need to pay close attention to their company's digital IQ and how it can be improved.
"It is no wonder that those firms that have a better digital IQ can deliver and innovate in a world where the rapid pace of technology is fundamentally reshaping global commerce," said Chris Curran, a PwC principal and Chief Technologist for the US firm's advisory practice.
Today, every small business owner can advance their company's digital IQ in a number of key areas, including:
- Data analytics
- Social media use
- Mobile data technologies
- Cloud computing
Taken together, these are the key components of a business' digital IQ. The task for small business owners is to develop each of these aspects into a detailed strategy that will enhance their businesses. In last year's digital IQ report John Sviokla, principal at PwC, stated:
"Raising a firm's digital IQ means improving the way it leverages digital technologies and channels to meet customer needs. The core of the ecosystem for innovation has moved from inside the firm to out in the marketplace. Customer and employee expectations are being shaped by this new, dynamic and exciting environment - if you miss this trend you will be increasingly irrelevant to the market."
Developing a digital IQ is clearly a task that all small businesses must adopt.
In their book, Becoming Virtual, Jane Klobas and Paul Jackson describe a "growing diversity of organisational form as organisations use new technologies to reconfigure work, distributing it more than ever across distant locations, different time zones and even diverse organisations."
The use of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and the continuing adoption and expansion of cloud services across the small business sector are clear examples of how a digital IQ can be built and then improved.
A study from Regus, the office space service suppliers, concluded: "78.7% of people feel they now have the right technology to be productive in their workplace. Increasingly they are being given the technology enablers to be able to work from anywhere. Of those working for large organisations, 50.8% cent are enabled with everything they need, while 42.6% have a few tools but 'it could be better.' The barriers to agile working are now being removed."
For small businesses, digital IQ can be developed with some simple steps:
- Build next-generation digital devices into your business: adopting the principles of BYOD now, and making the necessary security adjustments, will mean your business can exploit what agile working has to offer.
- Social media is about more than just Twitter and Facebook posts. Businesses that fully engage and use social media within their customer services will have a high digital IQ.
- Using public, private and hybrid cloud services is the key to efficient data management. The cloud continues its march to dominance. Small businesses are perfectly placed to leverage these services.
- Exploiting the entire data landscape to inform business decisions. Using big data in a small business may seem counterintuitive, but these datasets are a goldmine of information all small businesses can use.
- IT can inform all aspects of a healthy digital IQ. Technology should, of course, not be used for its own sake, but developing IT systems as a platform within a small business offers a solid foundation that every other aspect of the company can be built upon.
All small businesses can develop their own digital IQ. Today using IT in even the smallest business means a multifaceted approach to its development and deployment.
With the cost of access falling with each passing year, businesses can use the technology they have to become agile and dynamic.