Look east: China’s data savvy SMBs can offer lessons in post-pandemic growth

The pandemic has affected companies of all shapes and sizes across the world, and for small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) the Coronavirus-induced challenges are particularly great.

Look east: China’s data savvy SMBs can offer lessons in post-pandemic growth

The pandemic has affected companies of all shapes and sizes across the world, and for small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) the Coronavirus-induced challenges are particularly great. However, in the midst of the chaos, there are opportunities for SMB leaders to re-stabilise and reinvigorate their organisations – and data plays a leading role.

Data has long been considered one of the most valuable assets to help businesses grow. Companies have told us that the use of DataOps leads to measurably better business outcomes, including a boost in customer loyalty (71%), revenue (73%) and profit (72%). And the opportunity for data-led success is vast. Over the next two years, enterprise data is projected to increase at an annual rate of more than 42%, however only 10% of organisations report that they have fully operationalised DataOps to date.

Now in today’s challenging environment, data can help businesses recover ‘ and it is vital that company leaders understand and act on the opportunity and value it presents. Seagate Technology surveyed SMBs around the world on the role that data management is playing in their COVID-19 recovery, and the results offer business leaders some interesting learnings. 

China’s SMB market stood out in particular for its forward-thinking approach to data-led growth. The survey asked SMB leaders whether they were using data to inform their COVID recovery ‘ 83% of Chinese respondents said yes, versus a global average of 65%. This eastern market is noticeably ahead of the curve ‘ so what else did the data uncover, and how can the rest of the world’s small businesses catch up? 

Chinese SMBs lead across key data management measures

It is no secret that insights from data can be enormously valuable for companies developing their business strategy. Firms not using data at all risk missing out ‘ on potential revenue streams, cost savings, customer satisfaction, and more. By not using data to inform their recovery strategy, firms place themselves at an immediate ‘ and often unnecessary ‘ disadvantage. 

Chinese SMBs seem to recognise the advantage offered by data-led insights better than most. According to the survey, 69% of Chinese respondents said they believed data could play a valuable role in long-term business growth ‘ while the global average was just 51%. 

Whatever the drivers behind Chinese data savviness, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to practical policy implications. Nearly eight-in-ten Chinese small business leaders said they had a data storage policy in place, but the global average was only six-in-ten. In the UK, one in three said they did not have one at all. 

A business’s data storage policy is fundamental to its ability to use data, and it should be the first port of call for any business looking to get on the path to maximising their data’s value. 

A robust data storage policy is the bedrock of your data capabilities 

Lacking a policy entirely is an accident waiting to happen. Without any proper control and monitoring of data, businesses risk breaches and leaks. Yet it is also a missed opportunity ‘ without robust procedures to validate data’s value, it becomes useless. And when employees need access to it, they will waste time searching for the right data, rather than putting it to work. 

A good data storage policy sets out rules and procedures for all staff, empowering leaders to manage their businesses data and put it to work. 

This should interest business leaders by the lone fact it has a very real impact on their bottom line. Moreover, without useful data, firms cannot make use of cutting-edge innovations like AI and machine learning, or automation ‘ putting them at a real disadvantage both now and in the future. 

While six-in-ten SMBs globally say they have a data policy; many such policies will not be completely comprehensive, meaning lots of businesses either need to develop a policy from scratch or upgrade their existing one. 

Here are some key steps for small businesses looking to develop a robust plan:  

  • Ensure your policy is comprehensive. A good data policy covers how data is collected and stored, who handles that data and what training they have, and provides sturdy security measures ‘ both in terms of software and in terms of procedures. Policies for how data should be inputted are essential, but businesses should also empower their staff in understanding how and when to retain data, versus removing it.
  • Factor in any regulatory or legal requirements your firm must abide by. These are often sector-specific, and unsurprisingly are more stringent in finance and law. Seek legal advice if you are unsure.  
  • Appoint a dedicated team responsible for implementing data storage policy. Creating senior-level responsibility ensures the oversight necessary for a reliable and properly enforced policy. 
  • Keep communications clear and consistent. IT policies are notoriously difficult to engage staff with, so dedicated training at the outset is a clear must-have. Also, consider tagging-on IT communications to other major company announcements to avoid IT fatigue. 

SMBs shouldn’t be limited by their size when it comes to data

While small businesses often lack the budget to match the IT investments of larger organisations, their size can also act as one of their greatest strengths. Where larger organisations must manage vast workforces, SMBs can focus on smaller teams. In the same way SMBs often have more nimble business strategies, so too can they have more nimble data strategies, as shown by those in China. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the SMB leaders surveyed considered customer acquisition and customer retention as the two most valuable forms of data to their business. But it is vital they explore all options ‘ data led insight can be used to develop better products and services, carry out financial analysis, bolster employee productivity, develop more impactful and cost-effective employee benefits and retention schemes, sharpen hiring and talent development, and more. But all of this must be built on the solid foundation of their data storage policy. 

Recent McKinsey & Company research found the majority of UK small businesses currently view the UK economy as very or extremely weak. This dismal outlook makes it all the more important for small business leaders to act now. The UK’s small businesses would do well to look east for inspiration. 

Alessandra de Paula
Alessandra de Paula

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