The greater collection and analysis of data is one of the pillars of Digital Transformation. The more a business knows and understands about itself and its customers, the more efficient it can become, and it can provide a better, more intelligent and tailored service.
Data has the potential to overhaul existing processes, enable entirely new ways of working, and open up new markets that can be monetised. Analytics allows organisations to make more informed decisions and to automate time-consuming tasks.
There is also scope for Artificial Intelligence (AI) to do things that were either impossible or unthinkable in previous eras of IT.
But for SMBs, the growing volume and relevancy of data presents a variety of new challenges that require a re-evaluation of approaches to data management.
The first significant challenge is the volume of information being collected. According to a study by IDC, data generation will reach 163 zettabytes by 2025 – a tenfold increase from 2017 . This data will come from a variety of sources – whether it’s from the supply chain, the shop floor, or the customer themselves – and will continue to increase as more devices are connected.
SMBs must ensure they have the infrastructure to store this data, the ability to filter it to see which information is useful to the business, and to ensure the data is easily accessible to a wide range of applications.
The cloud is a transformational technology when it comes to addressing these challenges. Cloud gives SMBs scalable, cost-effective access to processing power and storage that can be used to retain and analyse this data. This simply isn’t possible with on-premise architecture which requires up-front costs and has a higher Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
Cloud infrastructure also gives SMBs access to software and capabilities they simply wouldn’t be able to develop in-house – either because of a lack of budget or a lack of access to skills. These capabilities enhance the potential of this information to transform the business.
If data is stored on the cloud, it is more easily accessible to multiple applications – such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and productivity tools –than if the data was siloed away in multiple servers in an unreadable format.
As SMBs collect a greater volume of sensitive data, this information becomes increasingly attractive to attackers. The potential loss or theft of this data can be hugely damaging to the business, its reputation, and its customers – and this can have a knock-on effect on revenue.
There’s also the issue of compliance. Some industries, such as legal and finance, are obligated to ensure data adheres to certain regulations, such as being stored in the EU.
Regulators now have greater powers to issue huge fines to organisations that fail to protect user data thanks to GDPR. Earlier this year, British Airways has hit with a £183 million penalty after the personal data of more than half a million customers was stolen from its website and mobile app. But SMBs also have to be careful – a German social media company was fined €20,000 after a data breach.
Here again, the cloud can help. Traditionally, security and compliance has been viewed as a barrier to cloud adoption, but the fact is the public cloud can make you even more secure and compliant when compared to on-premise infrastructure.
Vendors like Microsoft have spent billions securing their platforms. Updates and patches are pushed automatically, meaning customers are protected against the latest threats. The analytical capabilities of cloud platforms also mean regulated data can be stored on certain servers, such as those in EU data centres, boosting compliance.
Microsoft 365 – a suite of Office 365, Windows 10 and enterprise tools, has security and compliance centres that guard against security threats and data loss. Organisations have access to dashboards and reports alongside relevant actions that can mitigate any issues. A compliance manager can ease responses to data subject requests and managed data retention labels.
But there are other measures SMBs can take too. They should ensure that data is encrypted at all times – whether this is on a mobile phone or a USB stick – and that it is only accessible to approved applications, devices and users.
Microsoft 365 includes Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Device Loss Prevention (DLP) that minimise these threats and ensure devices can be remotely wiped if lost.
There is also the issue of resiliency. As SMBs embark on digital transformation projects that put data at the heart of every process, an incident or cyberattack that take out critical infrastructure can be hugely damaging – especially if it results in data loss.
Aside from taking necessary security precautions, the cloud can help. Most public cloud platforms will replicate data across different regions to mitigate any potential threats, while the cloud is a cost-effective way of creating backups should the worst happen.
Insight’s Hybrid Cloud Assessment service looks at your existing IT environment to identify the best course of action to protect against these data challenges and optimises cloud deployments based on your business needs.
The data-driven nature of digital transformation will present new challenges for SMBs to solve, but ignoring this trend simply isn’t an option. Those that fail to adapt to the new reality will forfeit a range of opportunities or cease to exist entirely.
However, those that embrace change will create new opportunities, drive efficiencies, and close the gap on larger competitors. The wider availability of cloud-based technologies combined with agile business practices allows SMBs to become the digital predator rather than the digital prey.
The path to transformation is not without its challenges but it needn’t be a daunting process with the right technologies and services in place.
Explore more with our Hybrid Cloud Assessment Service
1 IDC (2018)