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Big Data, Big Deal?

Guest blog by George Walker, Associate Director, RSM UK

Big Data is a common term used to describe the exponential growth and availability of both structured and unstructured data. But what does this mean for the SME market and how can this proliferation of data be harnessed to add value to an SME?

Data on its own has limited value, it needs to be transformed into information that can be used to assist business decision making. This is typically achieved by a combination of business knowledge, technology and data management experience. Many SME’s typically don’t have the necessary skills in-house to cover all these areas.

So, where should you start? At RSM, we specialise in the SME market and our advice is to take steps towards Big Data adoption rather than dive straight in and drown in a sea of data.

The key steps we recommend are as follows:

Start small

The hardest decision is to decide where to start since there will be many challenges facing the business. Focus on a single key area and use this to prove the concept of using data to analyse and resolve a specific business challenge. At this stage, rather than focusing on Big Data, use little data to show the power of data analytics in assisting decision making.

One caution here is that, although you start small, don’t constrain yourself for the future, select a flexible solution that can grow as you get experience of data analytics and turning this into business information.

Get buy-in

Big Data sounds like an IT initiative, however, this must be a business-led programme. It’s critical to get the buy-in from the management team of the area of interest so that they sponsor the initiative and allow the necessary staff time to work on it.

Clearly define what has to be delivered

With the appropriate business sponsorship in place, involve the relevant business resources to define the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that will be produced. The business team must clearly define the output that will be produced, including; defining the KPI’s, what the KPI’s will be used for, who will receive the information, and how frequently it will be delivered.

IT do have a key role in delivery since they need to be able to understand the KPI information to identify the data source, determine where it is stored, how it will be transformed into information and the delivery mechanism for the KPI information.

Align with business processes

Data (whether big or little) is produced from a business process, so should not be considered in isolation. Business processes must be aligned with the KPI’s that have to be delivered since, ultimately, the accuracy and usefulness of the KPI produced will be determined by the effectiveness of the business process that produces the underlying data.

A consideration here is that although this initiative started as delivering KPI’s, it will typically highlight process inefficiencies and data clean-up requirements. So be prepared to review the business processes in place and look at ways to improve/automate key steps to enhance data accuracy for the ultimate KPI delivery.

In summary

Get success from a little data and plan for a Big(ger) Data future.

The future steps to success for SME’s from this initial initiative are:

  • Prove the benefits within the business area selected for analysis
  • Share the benefits of this little data initiative with other teams
  • Leverage the initial investment and capabilities built to expand into new areas of interest

About the Author

George Walker, Associate Director, Technology Consulting
RSM UK Consulting LLP

George is a Chartered Accountant with 25 years international experience in leading strategic change programmes in finance & IT functions. Most recently, George was the Head of ERP, HR and Financial Systems at a global FTSE100 organisation. His sector experience includes equipment rental, financial services, central government, manufacturing, business services and oil & gas.

Relevant achievements include:

  • Selection of Finance & BI system for a global equipment rental company
  • Programme management of the ERP and peripherals upgrade for a global equipment rental company
  • Management of ERP and HR systems for a global oil & gas company

George qualified as a Chartered Accountant with ICAS and is also a Non-Executive Director with a NDPB in Scotland.

About RSM

RSM is a leading provider of audit, tax and consulting services to middle market leaders, globally. We empower clients to move forward with confidence and realise their full potential. With around 3,500 partners and staff in the UK and access to more than 37,500 people in over 110 countries across the RSM network, we can meet our clients’ needs wherever in the world they operate.

RSM’s specialist technology consulting team help organisation’s deploy technology successfully in order to deliver key business objectives, such as growth or cost-control.

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