Business intelligence (BI) solutions have always been considered an enterprise service. Aggregating data, analyzing reports, and forecasting results have been luxury only midmarket or larger companies can afford. But a recent study from market research firm Techaisle shows that small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are beginning to use BI to better understand their businesses, and early adopters of this increasingly affordable technology are all potential clients. According to the study, 22 percent of SMBs use BI and another 27 percent are planning to in the next year. Cloud business intelligence usage is expected to jump 47 percent in the next year.
In this Q&A, Anurag Agrawal, CEO of Techaisle, sits down with EH Publishing Web Editor, Elaine J. Hom, to BI trends. Due to cloud adoption and the increasing dependency on smartphones, cloud-based BI products, customized BI dashboards, and mobile integration are increasingly being used.
EH PUBLISHING: How do SMBs use business intelligence (BI)? How does BI improve an SMB’s operations?
AGRAWAL: In the last few years, when SMBs started to use newer technology via the cloud and on-premise solutions, they began to realize that there is some info that can be gleaned from this data we are collecting, whether through the customers or generating it themselves. There are two key business issues that SMBs have—one of is reducing operational costs and the other is improving their sales and marketing. Both of these revolve around knowing customers better and growing revenue. The way to do that is the smartest possible way. That’s why they’re starting to look at BI.
This does not mean that every SMB is looking at data from a BI perspective. But knowing and unknowingly, they’re starting to consider the information. Many of them have been using spreadsheets to track revenues and cash flows, which is a basic form of BI, but the early adopter SMB has started to move to a formal BI solution. This is fueled by the fact that many common applications now come with some form of embedded BI. For example, Salesforce.com offers the capability to extract data. SMBs are finding many technology options for BI, including how to mine social networking and how to improve search engine marketing.
EH PUBLISHING: BI is known to be an enterprise tool. Why has this moved to the SMB market?
AGRAWAL: It’s still well known as an enterprise tool, which is why many SMBs are afraid of the costs. They’re afraid of the implementation. They’re afraid of the skillset that they may not have. That’s why they approach channel partners, and ask for help in building a BI strategy around existing information and data. Channel partners are becoming smarter. They are recognizing that BI is now moving downstream to these small and midmarket businesses. They are building software solutions for these SMBs or using a cloud-based BI for them.
If you look at the BI market, the highest adoption is still among midmarket businesses. As you start to move down to smaller businesses, BI is reduced to a rudimentary intelligence system. If you go down to companies with less than 15 employees, BI is absolutely nonexistent. It’s only existent in the form of spreadsheets or maybe elementary cloud-based BI solutions. But the intent is there, the need is there, and SMBs can only move as fast as the channel partners are able to move them.
EH PUBLISHING: Why BI in the cloud?
AGRAWAL: The initial cost of acquisition of solutions on the cloud is always lower. Because you are talking about a subscription model, there is no capital expenditure required, no ideal skill set required, you can be up and running in a few hours. That means the application becomes useful to you almost immediately.
Cloud has now become imperative for SMBs to have. Service providers have become savvy in being able to provide integration. IT professionals need to actually go and investigate the BI options with their vendor, and they have to understand what BI really does for SMBs, how it can become affordable.
EH PUBLISHING: How does BI fit into this increasingly mobile world?
AGRAWAL: It’s a pretty huge market right now. There are many SMBs who want BI on their mobile devices, whether an Android or Blackberry or iOS. This is one of the fastest growing markets. SMBs want intelligence on their mobile devices because SMBs are no longer working out of a central location–they’re working in a distributed environment where employees are in different locations at different points in time. All of this depends on the service provider. Service providers need to have increased dialogues with their vendor partners and read studies, build up a business model, and go in and investigate the SMB market.
Mobile BI itself is still in its infancy, and the intent to use mobile device BI is specifically for sales tracking and forecasting, as well as financial analysis. According to the study, 18 percent of SMBs are using mobile device-based BI, with another 18 planning to adopt. 43 percent of SMBs would like the ability to deploy BI on mobile devices. However, lack of budget, ease of use issues, and expertise are the biggest barriers.