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Big Data 02 Oct 2017

Big data: SMEs’ key to success

In Spain, while large companies and startups are already well aware of the value of data, small and medium-sized businesses are starting to awaken to this notion. In this article we take a look at three dimensions where ‘big data’ can make a substantial difference to boost the prospects of business success across companies of all sizes.

Much is already being said about big data and how it seems to be the magical ingredient in the recipe to business success.  However, not all companies have yet figured out how to translate access to huge data sets into better financials. Doing so requires not only a new mindset, but training workers and teaching them how to work with data.

For over a decade now, Carme Artigas has been at the helm of Synergic Partners, a company specializing and pioneering the big data movement in Spain. According to her, “more than a merely technological aide, big data has to be a driver of business.” The key here is not “what ‘big data’ is, but what it can be used for. And therefore, whoever is going to use it will have much to say.”

One of her biggest worries in Spain, said the expert, is the digital gap that separates small and medium sized enterprises. “In the digital world we have two worlds: On the one hand, big corporations that are betting on the technology and, on the other, native digital startups. Small and medium sized enterprises —the prime sources of job creation in our country— are at risk of falling by the wayside. We need to help SMEs access smart services through new technologies.”

A chemical engineer by training, Artigas was invited to deliver a keynote speech, entitled Big Data, Big Opportunities at Espacio Fundación Telefónica, in Madrid. She started by sharing her personal take on Big Data:  “For me, big data is the mass-democratization of low-cost data processing: It is accessible and already available to all.”  A “democratization” that, according to the expert, is allowing companies “today and for the first time ever, to make the leap from the quantitative —the amount of data that we are able to process— to the qualitative —the capacity for new things that we are able to discover—.

The impact of big data, she noted, can be summed up on three dimensions:  “It can help us to either tap into new sources of revenue, improve operational efficiency or prevent and predict fraud and risk.” Every industry and sector has a case of use that fits into one of these three dimensions, said the specialist, which she explained in detail.

The first one is the use of the data to tap into new sources of revenue through customization. Indeed, big data enables companies to gain a much deeper understanding of their customers. This technology is already powering automated recommendation engines everywhere. “There will never again be a single price for things, and companies need to identify their high-value customers, those who are able and ready to pay more for something because it is customized,” she noted.

For Artigas, in a world where competition barriers are becoming increasingly blurred, customer knowledge and loyalty will be key elements to any company’s success. “All companies will be data-driven, and differential competitive advantages will depend on the unique data that we are able to collect and the unique insights that we are able to draw based on these data,” he said.  The expert pointed out that, as customers also become increasingly savvy and better informed, they will only be willing share their data in exchange for value. “There are no retention barriers beyond customer satisfaction with the service and here’s where we have to win the battle for customers and earn their trust,” he added.

Carme Artigas, at Espacio Fundación Telefónica

The second dimension has to do with how big data helps boost operational efficiency: All data-based real-time decisions can be verified and this translates into increasingly streamlined production processes. “It expands the possibilities of what we now call industry 4.0, which is precisely the merger of ‘big data’ and the Internet of Things,” she said.

The third dimension of big data is fraud and risk prevention, critical for everything from environmental safety, to predicting network failures or predictive maintenance.

Big data, and using data to increase efficiency, earn customers’ loyalty and prevent failures, errors and fraud, has become one of the most pressing issues for boards of directors all across the world,” she emphasized.  And she used banks as an example.

Artigas said that in “the banking industry we are even seeing a change in the branch designs.” To check your account’s balance, she explained, “you no longer need to visit your branch, you can do it straight from your smartphone. Now you visit the branch to talk to your advisor.” This shift in branch-customer relationships, according to the expert, “also affects the space itself: If we are able to create a ‘datified space —where we can see customer-employee interactions— we can boost customer service levels.”

Creating talent

Artigas stressed during the event that “data will be the new alphabet; everyone will need to learn how to work with them”.  Is this already happening at companies?  The specialist pointed out that the first thing companies need to do before they embrace the world of data is “to overcome a cultural barrier.” “Big data technologies have been around for 10 years, the technology is ripe and already there at a very low cost. The problem we face is cultural.  We need to build analytical talent, and that’s something that companies like BBVA or like ours are working on.”

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