Making Big Data Work for the SME

Competitive advantage comes from wisdom which in turn comes from knowledge. If you keep going knowledge is derived from information which starts with accumulating (Big) Data. It’s an interesting scenario that has developed through buzzword and concepts seen on the horizon to a vision being deployed by business across the globe today.

In the 12-months since we last visited this subject the significance of Big Data and Analytics has become even more high profile in the rush towards Digital Transformations (DX) and the achievement of Customer Service Excellence (CX).

To successfully compete in today’s marketplace, small businesses need the tools larger companies use. Of course, small businesses don’t have all the resources of an enterprise-level corporation, like data scientists, analysts and researchers.

If you think big data doesn’t apply to your organisation because it’s just too big, it’s time to think again. Since we’re just at the beginning of the digital revolution, it will become increasingly critical to organisations (big or small) in the coming years.

How can analytics be used as a source of new business? What questions should be asked?

Carl Boraman, Director of Strategic Alliances at Tollring, believes that finding new business is, without a shadow of doubt, the toughest job of all for a reseller and it gets harder every day.

“The secret to winning new business is to fully understand your existing customers, what they bought and why they bought from you. It is not random, there will be patterns.

You need to ask questions to understand their business; company size, turnover, location, age of company, industry sector, year-end, new technology, increased competition, growing, downsizing, opening new offices, new management, merger, acquisition, existing suppliers, regulation changes. Map this data to your prospects and obvious targets will appear.

Finding and understanding these patterns is critical to winning new business. This is where data analysis and the importance of analytics comes in to play. Analysing existing customers will provide the insight that will ultimately provide the answers to where new business is more likely to come from and why.

Finding out why is important because winning new business has and always will be a numbers game; as described succinctly in the popular phrase ‘ABC; Always Be Calling’. The more calls you make, the more opportunities you will discover. Apply insight and understanding provided by analytics to the ABC principal and winning business becomes more likely.

  • Analytics is about working smart, not hard.
  • Analytics drives understanding.
  • Analytics will help you create a target list of businesses who want to buy from you.
  • Analytics will help create a differentiated and tailored offering that should match a prospect’s needs.
  • Combine analytics with good salesmanship and perfect timing and new business will flow.

Mark Curtis-Wood, Head of Nimans’ Network Services, says that knowledge is power if used in the right way, but to ensure you have the right knowledge the right questions need to be asked.

“Finding out what a customer wants, enables you to go and get it and then deliver a solution to open up new business. Analytics play a huge part in this. The use of AI in our Hosted PBX voice analytics solution is generating new business by opening up new opportunities as business owners want to spend less time searching for conversations to analyse sales performance and monitor customer satisfaction levels. New frontiers are opening up across not just hosted, but IP, IoT and AI. These can all help drive efficiencies.”

Kate Hammett, Head of Global Partnerships at Red Box, notes that analytics can deliver valuable insight to drive business and marketing strategy, product development and service delivery to ensure the optimal experience for new and existing customers.

“Questions to ask include, ‘How well do you know your prospect customers?’, ‘What do they want?’, ‘How do they want to interact?’, ‘How can you predict their behaviour?’. A combination of valuable data sets, from voice, text, chat, email and social interactions brings together insight that when pushed into analytic engines, becomes a powerful tool to understand current and prospect customers and deliver what they want.”

MapR, a business software company headquartered that provides access to a variety of data sources from a single computer cluster, including big data workloads such as Apache Hadoop and Apache Spark. The company has a distributed file system, a multi-model database management system, and event stream processing, combining analytics in real-time with operational applications.

Its technology runs on both commodity hardware and public cloud computing services. For example, Amazon Web Services offers MapR services as an extra-cost alternative to a set of Apache Hadoop versions.

Tony Young, Head of Channels – EMEA at MapR says he sees analytics and AI/ML becoming a core part of the company’s business transformation initiatives to attract, engage, and retain customers with personalised user experiences.

“We see companies also looking to modernise the core business processes with analytics to uncover real-time insights and enable automated decision-making to reduce costs and innovate faster.”

Typical questions Young says companies should ask themselves are:

  • ‘Improving customer experience’ is the top-most CMO priority. How do we plan to upgrade your CX?
  • What is our roadmap to incorporating machine learning/AI into your core applications?
  • What is our strategy to modernise your digital customer experience across various channels and touch points?
  • How can integrating machine learning with our operations transform the business?
  • Are we creating any new revenue streams with the digital/data initiatives?
  • Are our data systems efficient and agile, and do they allow you to quickly deliver innovative products and services to customers and partners?
  • How do we plan to enable real-time, event-driven insights for the business?
  • How are we operationalising your big data initiatives?

What is the answer to the question of whether Business Intelligence can exist without Big Data?

Mark Curtis-Wood at Nimans is of the opinion that if you are working in a specific niche then I think business intelligence can exist without big data.

“It depends on the circumstances really and the size of a customer base. Business intelligence can take many different forms and isn’t solely reliant on big data.”

According to Carl Boraman at Tollring, although true Business Intelligence (BI) depends on Big Data to exist, the term ‘Big Data’ can mean different things to different people.

“Big Data is about gathering multiple data-sets and vast quantities of unstructured business (and social) data using the power of analytics. Data queries provide timely and valuable answers and insights in relation to business KPIs, trends over time, hidden relationships, impending issues and sales opportunities.

For a Communications Service Provider/Reseller, various communications-related data can be pulled into a central ‘Big Data’ repository then analysed using tools like iCall Suite from Tollring. Continuous analysis delivers incredible insights and improved business performance for both the CSP and their customers.”

Tony Young, Head of Channels – EMEA at MapR says business intelligence always existed even before big data and that the problem is traditional BI often suffered from limitations.

“First, it would help answer only ‘known’ questions for which the data is pre-modelled.

Second, the BI is ‘after the fact’ using stale data because data warehouses would take days if not weeks to get the latest data.

Third, the analytics are always based on pre-aggregated data with limited access to the underlying raw data.

Finally – Business users might get inconsistent results because every report/dashboard they are looking at could be coming from a separate system or datamart.

Big data platforms democratise business intelligence and empower users with freedom and power. Using modern big data platforms, business users can do new use cases such as data discovery/data exploration to figure out what are in fact the right questions to ask before the data is ever modelled/ETL. They can do this on raw and full fidelity datasets to get accurate insights because big data platforms make storing and processing cost effective at scale.

With streaming based architectures, BI is now possible on real-time data in seconds to minutes without waiting for days/weeks/months. Last, but not least, big data platforms evolved as company’s data hubs are now breaking down traditional data silos and allowing applications to integrate data into the platform in real-time. This means BI done at the data hub provides consistent and real-time view of the business at all times.”

What do you say to a customer if they ask you ‘What information do I get from your communications platform and how can I productively use it?’

Kate Hammett at Red Box asserts that voice is and will always be the most efficient and effective user interface ever invented.

“Voice is powerful, it is spontaneous, intuitive and natural. Conversations convey context and sentiment, they build over time and help us understand each other. As a data set, voice holds much more value than any other means of communication. At Red Box, we help make this data easily accessible and enable the context and value to be unlocked through our ecosystem of partners to support compliance, improve the customer experience and drive business and process improvements.”

Carl Boraman at Tollring believes that analytics within the realms of Unified Communications (UC) can deliver incredible levels of business insight, which can create a competitive edge for both the reseller and their customers.

“For resellers selling and supporting cloud services (such as hosted voice, UC, Contact Centre and mobility solutions), understanding which products customers have and use, the quantity of users, utilisation levels, their complete product mix, attachment rates, security compliance requirements, network performance, Grade of Service (GoS) and missed customer interactions are essential for continued business success, growth and customer retention.

Resellers need to remind themselves that what is important to their business is just as important to their customers. Key information from their communications system that is easy to understand, delivered in the right format and in a timely fashion provides insights that are critical to long term business success.”

What about some real world examples of how business is benefitting from Big Data and Analytics?

Mark Curtis-Wood at Nimans says there are many examples in the IoT space that spring to mind here.

“There’s a large council in the Midlands that has enabled information to be collected from M2M SIM cards in cycles on pollution, potholes and hazards etc. This solution leverages the mobility of cyclists just going about their journeys. There’s also monitoring equipment in ‘intelligent lampposts’ that are tracking pollution levels.

In general, there’s lots of innovation out there and the momentum is building. Mobile networks and Wi-Fi access along with social media are massive areas for collecting data and information. Businesses are benefiting from consumer habits.”

Carl Boraman at Tollring cautions that telecoms fraud remains a huge issue, not just in the UK but around the world.

“It is a multi-billion pound problem that hits the profit margins of Communications Service Providers (CSP) and Resellers. Fraudsters are systematically hacking into PBXs and making fraudulent outbound calls to unchecked high cost destinations. It is widely quoted that the average PBX hack runs up a bill of around £10k. In some cases, this can be hundreds of thousands of pounds over a single weekend.

Telecoms fraud sours customer relationships and destroys customer confidence. By using Big Data and Analytics, the fight against this telecoms fraud is being conquered. Major CSPs that have deployed Tollring’s fraud and credit management solution have collectively prevented over 9000 PBX hacks on their network during 2017, which based on the average £10k per attack has saved them, their resellers and their customers the vast sum of £90m.

Tollring’s solution captures vast amounts of data from around the CSP network, maps this data to a live database of call destinations, maps to CRM, maps to customer tariffs, maps to resellers and then applies powerful self-learning AI and Analytics. It is capable of not just identifying fraud, but using API triggers to intelligently stop fraud in real-time without impacting a customer’s day to day business.

Most importantly we can now use analytics to interrogate the Big Data being gathered by the fraud and credit management system to identify trends, patterns, weaknesses and vulnerabilities and deploy proactive mechanisms to prevent and avoid fraud happening. Once it becomes too difficult for fraudsters to make easy money, we hope they will eventually move away and look at other technologies and new ways of making money!

Ed Says…

Business analysts tend to agree that there are five reasons why every SME needs to look at and use data: improve decision making, better understanding of customers, delivering new services, improve operations and monetise – either building their entire business model on data or are generating income from their data. Data’s incredible impact on the way we live and work is only going to continue to expand.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine