Despite being the buzzword de jour for large enterprises, the concept of “Big Data” is still in its infancy with small businesses, writes David Smith, GM: worldwide SMB at Microsoft.
This is because the process of capturing, storing, extracting and analysing large quantities of data always required far too much in the way of IT resources and technical expertise for the average SMB. But just because SMBs don’t want to maintain servers, hire data scientists and pay for expensive analytics suites doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from business insights hiding in their own data.
Microsoft has a business analytics service designed to help the non-data-scientists among us uncover those insights and make more informed decisions about their business. It’s called Power BI, and it gives people working for companies small and large a straightforward way to analyse and visualise their information.
At its core, Power BI is a centralised hub that allows users to easily pull in, visualise and interpret the vast amount of data that their business generates on a daily basis. SMBs use a wide range of tools and services to run the different aspects of their business. By generating unified charts, graphs, maps and statistics, Power BI allows users to spot trends that would be difficult or impossible to identify by looking at an unorganized assortment of different spreadsheets and dashboards.
The greatest analytics tool on the planet is worthless if it doesn’t provide a simple and reliable way to connect with the information that matters to your small business, which is why we created content packs for Power BI. Content packs provide a way to automatically bring together data from different sources so the full picture can be analysed in one place. And these connections extend beyond services like Excel or Dynamics CRM, so even if an SMB uses Google Analytics to track website traffic, MailChimp for email marketing campaigns and QuickBooks Online for accounting and payroll they can grab and analyse all of that data instantly.
We also know that small businesses aren’t always run from behind a desk. With Power BI apps for Windows, iOS and Android, users can view personalised dashboards and reports anywhere, interacting with their data in a touch-optimised experience.
Say you’re the owner of a small online retail shop and you want to run a flash sale on a certain product to a specific set of customers. To do this effectively you need to have access to data that depicts your customer set to gather demographic information, online traffic that shows your most active customers, likely times to buy and historical sales data that shows you what worked well and what didn’t with the last flash sale you ran. Imagine if rather than searching each data set in its respective location and digging through everything manually, you could view all the information in one simple dashboard that illustrates trends and easy-to-spot insights, enabling fast and informed decisions about when to run the sale and who to market it to.
Best of all, you don’t need to learn a whole new set of skills to use Power BI. Power BI uses natural language query technology, which allows you to ask a question like “show me sales data from January to July.” In other words, you don’t need to be a data scientist to get at the information you need.
We’re often expounding the virtues of the cloud for small businesses because it provides the benefits of large-scale IT without the cost and complexity. Power BI is a fantastic example of exactly how the cloud is levelling the technology playing field for businesses of all sizes. A few years ago this type of solution would have been out of reach for just about every SMB. Now it can be set up in minutes with no up-front costs, making data analytics viable for even a single-person business. In fact, much of the functionality is available for free, without trial period restrictions.
Removing the price and technical hurdles means that many more small businesses will be able to capitalize on the value of analytics as a competitive tool and point of differentiation. Putting your data to use can give you a leg up on your competition. You’ll have real-time insights that allow you to adjust and adapt your business plan, so you can stay focused on what’s really driving results for your company. Basing your decisions on data not only helps you act strategically but allows you to be more in touch with your customer needs.
As an SMB, you have a lot on your plate already and exerting unnecessary time mining through endless data across multiple platforms doesn’t need to be one of them. Power BI makes your life easier and allows you to become more nimble and efficient, ultimately driving more results for your business.