Nowadays, if you watch Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice, the majority of the proposed business ideas – not necessarily those that receive investment – are online-based businesses or apps. At the very least, budding entrepreneurs are advised to ditch the traditional retail store. Therefore, it’s no wonder that companies like Amazon.com, Uber and AirBnB, the fastest-growing companies in their respective fields, are both the inspiration and envy of SME owners.
There isn’t a silver bullet to make your business “the next Uber” as so many claim, but one vital aspect of the Uber culture these businesses have instilled in their employees, customer service and operations, is understanding and using data.
Mantras like “Data is the new currency”, “Data = profit” and “Data holds the key to our future” are bandied about, and it can hardly be denied that for a company that does not produce any products of its own, data is arguably its most valuable asset. Central to this mantra needs to be a cloud storage solution like NetApp, aimed at simplifying data control and mobility across on-premises, hybrid cloud, and public cloud infrastructures.
Fostering a ‘sharing economy’
The ubiquity of technology in our daily lives and the growing digitisation of services means that our lives are becoming more and more “connected”, in terms of being connected to the internet and to data from multiple sources which are linked together and used to make another service relevant. Now it’s time for SMEs with an appetite for growth, or that want to increase their value proposition to existing customers, to make data a key part of their business culture.
The proof of the success of data for driving business growth can be seen in the “Sharing Economy” trend, which began in the early 2000s. As consumers, we’re constantly connecting intelligent cars, speakers, watches, lightbulbs and more to the Internet. Experts are therefore predicting a 4300% increase in data production in 2020 compared to 2012. In order to address the data overload, SMEs need to rather invest in a hybrid cloud solution, such as one built on a Data Fabric, to place the control in their hands. With that solution they can:
- Synchronize data between on-premise and cloud storage for data analytics purposes;
- Back up data securely to on-premises, hosted, or public clouds by using cloud-integrated storage;
- Gain insights into their cloud workloads across on-premises and cloud environments with.
By having full control over data workloads, connecting to consumers can be made easier than ever before.
Building out the necessary infrastructure to take data to definitive success
By utilising the data at a company’s disposal from any and every relevant channel, SMEs stand to gain in two key ways.
Firstly, they can use the data for their own strategy, improving competitiveness and operational efficiency, while being able to create new products and services with real, actionable insight into the target customer. This is crucial for SMEs who have much smaller budgets than their enterprise rivals with which to develop and research new offerings, and can be a key driver in allowing SMEs to compete on a larger scale.
In order to fulfil this, SMEs will have to consider their IT infrastructure and look into storage and analytics solutions that can support both the volume of data required, and the processing capability necessary to transform huge amounts of raw actionable data into useable insights. The NetApp ONTAP storage operating system is one such example, and can be used across cloud and on-premises infrastructure to create a Data Fabric that acts as a single system, meaning that data is more easily managed and controlled.
Secondly, for SMEs who either can’t or don’t want to use data directly, there is also a financial opportunity presented by the growth in data. Data sets can be sold on to third parties who may be able to transform it into exciting new innovations and services.
We are living in a data-powered world, where data, devices and systems are unifying to produce the best products and services for customers, and the best ROI opportunities for businesses – SMEs and enterprises alike. As more devices become connected, we are moving towards a future powered entirely by data – and SMEs can’t afford to miss out.
* Sekete Patrick Maphopha, NetApp Africa CTO and Technology Evangelist