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Data management crucial as data becomes critical asset for SMEs

THE move towards the digital economy is not easy, especially for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) given the complexity and knowledge required. In a recent study by UOB on SMEs in Asean, local SMEs ranked 'help for digitisation' as the second-most important item on their wish list.

To help SMEs build their digital capabilities, the government has introduced two initiatives: the SMEs Go Digital Programme for which more than S$80 million dollars has been set aside to enhance SMEs' overall level of digital readiness, and the Open Innovation Programme to help businesses crowdsource solutions to their digital challenges.

Organisation size was once a challenge for many SMEs to maximise business opportunities, but automation, the Internet of Things (IoT) and other data-led technological advancements are levelling the playing field for many industries. Many companies such as Grab and Honestbee started small but have grown immensely by disrupting traditional business models with technology and expanding their use of data across business functions.

We are in the midst of a worldwide data explosion. In fact, data creation is expected to grow from 16 zettabytes (ZB) in 2016 to 163 ZB in 2025, according to an IDC white paper sponsored by Seagate Technology. Enterprises, rather than consumers, are now the primary creators of data in light of this increased adoption of big data analytics, IoT and artificial intelligence.

This has translated into an increasingly complex environment for businesses today. Data has become so essential to our society that IDC has estimated nearly 20 per cent of all data globally will be critical to our daily lives by 2025. How effectively organisations utilise data will determine their success - they need to be ready to manage and smartly utilise their digital assets, or risk being left behind by others who do.

To that end, SMEs can consider training or hiring a chief data officer (CDO) to help steer them towards a successful, data-centric approach to their business model. Such a data specialist role can empower their teams with the right skills and tools to realise the full potential of their data.

For example, Snapcart runs a mobile application that provides cashbacks to shoppers who submit photos of their grocery receipts, and the data collected can be used by brands and businesses for customer analytics. The startup is disrupting the market research industry that is traditionally driven by pen-and-paper surveys.

Snapcart's potential to deliver data-driven insights into consumer behaviour is realised with the help of their CDO.

The CDO's role is to collect, organise, harness and predict data to create value for the company and customers. CDOs, as well as data specialists, need to possess both technical and business mindsets to manage the silos of data and ensure their digital assets make a direct impact to the bottom line.

But it's not just the CDO who should be responsible for making data-driven business decisions. All employees should understand the importance of data to business growth. They should know how to use, manage and analyse data to better recognise customer patterns and behaviours, and develop more informed decisions to drive the business.

For Singapore-based budget hotel booking platform RedDoorz, data plays a crucial role in removing bias and helping them make objective decisions, thus allowing them to focus their resources on critical areas - from selecting the right hotel properties to providing the right price to their customers. To achieve this, the company empowers their employees to engage with the data and be more involved in discussions to challenge the data analyses, so that the organisation comes up with the best solution for every business scenario.

Most organisations are only scratching the surface in terms of extracting value from their data, amid the rising importance of data specialists and significant improvements made in data storage and cloud computing.

Data is the pulse behind the success of many SMEs and startups, and having dedicated roles for managing data as a strategic asset will therefore help them be future-ready and drive bigger business objectives in the near future.

  • The writer is senior vice-president of Global Sales and Sales Operations at Seagate Technology