DATA is necessary for analytics that can turn into actionable insights. It means that data analytics is not a digital transformation initiative, but a strategy that is geared towards a business outcome in a digital world.
That was the main message conveyed in the first forum of the SME Thought Leadership 2019 series by leading experts and industry veterans.
They believe the technologies have the ability to give businesses a glimpse into the future and enable fact-based decision-making, and that makes the proposition valuable.
Titled “Discover New Business Opportunities Through Big Data,” the half-day forum focused on aligning technologies such as big data and analytics with SMEs’ business goals for growth and competitiveness. It was held at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya.
Also present at the event were Star Media Group chairman Datuk Fu Ah Kiow, CIMB Group chief marketing officer Mohamed Adam Wee Abdullah, CIMB Bank Bhd SME banking head Jaya Balan Kathiravalu and CIMB Bank Bhd commercial banking head Yew Teik Beng.
“Most SMEs are faced with a lot of data today, but I think many of them might not have an idea of how to start, so this provides them with good insight on how to leverage data and use it to improve their businesses,” said Jaya Balan.
He said the forum shed light on the fears and worries of SMEs when it came to adopting newer technologies, but also gave them a “good view” of how to start small and learn along the way.
Mohamed Adam said the bank was encouraged by the turnout for the event and it was a “positive sign” that SMEs were interested in learning about the opportunities present for their businesses in the future.
“The important thing about this series is to make SMEs realise that they shouldn’t fear data.
“What is key to keep in mind is that talks like these enable businesses to understand the degree of involvement they should have in investing in technology, and they get some insights as well. It is really about finding efficiencies,” he opined.
“The analytics journey is a continuous one and it is a system to answer questions that you don’t even know today,” said Star Media Group analytics senior general manager Freddy Loo Mun Yook during the first plenary session.
Speaking on the big data journey for SMEs, he stressed that there were four aspects of consideration for any SME looking to start. They are the availability of talent, instilling the right culture, leveraging both internal and external data, as well as identifying and using the right tools.
“Businesses must make decisions based on facts, but understand that the feedback loop is necessary.
“It is a process of trial and error, so the spirit of experimentation is also important,” he added.
Loo’s talk was followed by Fusionex International new technology managing director Isaac Jacob, who emphasised that SMEs must understand that data was not a one-off investment but a journey.
That said, SMEs should not worry that they did not have enough data to qualify for big data, as Jacob pointed out, “Big data is not just about large data sets, but varied ones.”
He said there were four quadrants of data – interaction, attitudinal, descriptive and behavioural – and SMEs already had the last two.
“These are fundamental data sets that any business has: attributes, characteristics of their customers, their orders, transactions, payment and usage history. It is extremely powerful even though it looks simple.
“Using such data, businesses can undertake analyses that can lead to action, such as upselling or cross-selling or more targeted marketing. Moreover, they can leverage predictive analysis to make better decisions and exploit opportunities,” he added.
The forum also saw a panel discussion with Loo, Jacob, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation chief executive officer Surina Shukri, Malaysia Retail Chain Association deputy secretary-general Datuk Bruce Lim and SoCar Malaysia chief executive officer Leon Sing Foong.
It sparked lively dialogue on the state of big data and analytics adoption among SMEs and highlighted the necessity of sharing success stories to encourage more SMEs to embrace the new technologies, as well as the need for public-private partnerships to drive policy changes in Malaysia to facilitate such technology adoption.
“SMEs are ready for big data, but they must be brave to take that next step. Big data, technology, transformation … these are big words that sound overwhelming, but if you think about it, data is just a way for you to keep track of information,” Surina said, adding that SMEs must prioritise adoption as a way forward.
Leon said without big data analytics enabling SoCar to optimise its operations, it would not be possible for the car-sharing start-up to grow from a handful of staff less than a year ago to over 100 employees now.
“That is really fast growth for a car rental company, which we wouldn’t have achieved without big data analytics.
“In the hotel and car industry, there are two key things, which are offering dynamic pricing and optimising for risk,” he added.
That said, Lim revealed that only about 8% of retailers in Malaysia adopted a form of digitalisation, including having a presence in the e-Marketplace.
While the overall percentage was low, he noted that the growth rate was high.
“It is still in its infancy even though there is a lot of data. It is when you are able to go down to the ground and engage companies that are fire fighting day-to-day issues, that will bring change.
“The key is whether you have a fixed or growth mindset.
“When we talk about data, investment in technology and upskilling people, it takes time because it gets less priority. It is about educating them and making them aware so that they get on board,” added Lim.
The panellists agreed that the big data journey had to start from the top, with mindset and culture playing a key role.
Surina added: “A leader has to be thinking: ‘am I making data-driven decisions?’ Nothing happens until the top understands.
“It is not about a digital transformation strategy, but what is your business strategy in a digital world.”
In addition, the forum saw strong engagement between participants, speakers and panellists, with the participating individuals showing keen interest in requesting recommendations for technologies they should adopt in their businesses and voicing their concerns over possible security and privacy issues.
The SME Thought Leadership 2019 series, created as a platform for dialogue and learning within the business fraternity, is aimed at dissecting emerging business issues and identifying opportunities that can be leveraged to grow businesses. It comprises two conferences – including the May 2 forum – as well as several tea-time talks. The SME Thought Leadership 2019 series is organised by Star Media Group and presented by CIMB Bank Bhd.