The Cloud revolution has made previously unattainable systems and technology accessible to SMEs for the first time.

Growth in business terms will generally need to be supported by a comparable expansion of technology. Perhaps a few years ago your IT set up was sufficient for your needs, but now your data requirements have grown and you can’t afford to wait the hours or days to extract the value from that new data. You may have bought some hardware 3 years ago, and now it’s creaking – and you’re facing the prospect of spending another 10k just to keep it running. The good news is technological advancements in cloud computing – mainly virtualisation and the reduced cost of storage – have removed some of the barriers that stand between SMEs and big data analytics.

Analytics projects are all about trial and error. Some result in significant value and others lead to dead ends, which is fine if you’re a big enterprise, but if you’re an SME facing huge capital expenditure on hardware, it’s a risk you can’t afford to take. What the cloud delivers to SMEs is affordable scalability. Traditional data analytics were built for use on site and required relatively large investments from companies. First, the supporting IT infrastructure (e.g. data centres) had to be built which, in turn, resulted in high maintenance costs and the requirement for in-house IT expertise . Organisations then needed to purchase expensive database management systems and big data analytics software to supplement that infrastructure – leaving SMEs out in the cold due to the prohibitive costs.

The cloud can significantly reduce the total cost of ownership of IT for SMEs as they no longer have to create and maintain the inherent IT infrastructure for internal service delivery and can gain immediate access to big data analytics without any upfront cost, whenever they need it. For example, Apache Spark, a powerful open source processing engine, can be run on Amazon’s EMR web service, allowing SMEs to quickly and cost-effectively process vast amounts of data without making changes to their infrastructure. For smaller retailers, it could mean instant scalability at key periods without additional expenditure. For others, it might simply allow them to experiment without fear of the investment it might otherwise require.

Many SMEs assume complex data analytics is a distant concept not relevant to them. In fact, deploying cloud services could unlock the benefits of data analytics for SMEs, allowing them to truly understand their customers, allowing them to better serve and sell whilst gaining better insight into their business performance and allowing them to invest in new development more wisely. Piecing together disparate sources of data gives organisations easier access to hitherto unseen areas of their business, operations and customer interactions.

By adopting the cloud, and associated analytical platforms, some SMEs may even be able to start to consider making use of the Internet of Things (IoT), such as native applications, wearable technology or vehicle technology. IoT incorporates a complex and ever expanding network of devices, each gathering invaluable data about their users, their users’ environment, or their users’ experience. This data gives SMEs the ability to measure and analyse a complex range of data from multiple sources, giving them access to unrivalled insights. This information also provides SMEs with the tools to make savings in resources, time and operational costs, whilst driving sales by enabling more effective interaction with their customers.

This availability of pay-as-you go technology on the cloud is a game changer for SMEs. Although there are huge operational differences between small businesses and large enterprises, one thing they have in common is data and the need to manage that data and filter out the irrelevant to find the real value. Analytics have never been more important and the cloud has created a more even playing field for SMEs, allowing them to access analytical tools without the vast capital expenditure. Quite simply, SMEs can pay-as-they-grow.

Ed Thewlis

Ed Thewlis

Contributor


Mr Ed Thewlis, Managing Director, The DataShed