SMEs need effective information management

Turning mountains of data into meaningful information is a top priority for mid-sized businesses, divulges recent IBM research.

November 19, 2009

By David McWilliam, Manager: IBM South Africa Business Intelligence & Performance Management

Turning mountains of data into meaningful information is a top priority for mid-sized businesses, divulges recent IBM research.

The study, titled “Inside the Midmarket: A 2009 Perspective”, which concluded in May of this year, was conducted among mid-sized organisations from 17 countries across the world, and reveals that 75% of respondents view information management, and the Business Intelligence (BI) and Performance Management (PM) technologies that enable this, as the highest priority when it comes to IT solutions.

This result is not entirely surprising, as even though BI and PM have long been considered to be solely the realm of large and multi-national enterprises, the truth is, mid-sized businesses have exactly the same drivers and pains that these information management technologies would help them to address.

Even though the economy is currently in a downturn, this has done nothing to halt the ever increasing amounts of data that organisations have to deal with on a daily basis. In fact, digital information is growing at a rate of around eight times in volume every day, according to the study. Such a rapid rate of growth means that many mid-sized businesses are drowning in data and cannot extract the real value of this information for it to be used as a competitive advantage.

These businesses need smarter ways of dealing with their information in order to use this to its full potential as a driver of better decision making within their organisations. BI and PM can help mid-sized organisations to better cope with information, and as a result, we are seeing the emergence of tools such as these aimed and priced specifically at the mid-market.

Investment into IT solutions is one of the most important aspects in helping businesses to come through economic crisis leaner and smarter than before, using solutions like BI and PM to improve financial reporting processes and management reporting and increasing efficiency across the organisation.

Improved efficiency is a key driver for many mid-sized businesses, as well as enhancing customer services, keeping existing customers happy, and increasing the efficiency of business agility and decision making. This once again points to a need for effective management of information.

While the needs of mid-sized companies are similar to those of large enterprises when it comes to information management, they are not identical and there are certain tools that provide significant benefit specifically for these smaller enterprises.

Business analytics is a vital component that enables organisations to drill down into vast amounts of data in order to improve decision making ability and see what has happened to the business, why it has happened as well as what is likely to happen in the future. An analytics engine provides the capability for multi-dimensional analysis, reporting and planning.

Query and reporting tools are another important aspect for mid-sized businesses, enabling users to extract meaning from data and deliver exactly the reports that are needed, when they are needed, in the format they are needed in, from a web interface to PDF, Excel spreadsheets, email or a portal.

Analysis and visualisation provide another feature vital for improved information management; allowing for real time analysis, with the ability to slice and dice information and drill down further into data, and providing powerful high impact visualisations of all the information, allowing for business changes to be made on the fly. This gives mid-sized business a competitive edge, as they can react quickly to changing market conditions and take advantage of opportunities that may present themselves.

Finally, mid-sized organisations need the ability to create automated planning, budgeting and forecasting, because mid-sized businesses do not necessarily have the time or the resources to conduct these processes manually, and automation reduces the capacity for human error – something that can prove to be immensely costly to businesses working on tight budget constraints.

At the moment, as highlighted in the results of the study, the most pressing business challenges for mid-sized organisations in the current economic climate include increasing efficiency and productivity, improving customer service and using information better. All of these issues point to an increasing need for BI and PM within this market, and the desire by these enterprises to optimise business processes in order to yield better returns.