Research earlier this year by Deloitte Enterprise Growth Services reveals many mid-size businesses are investing heavily in analytics. Here are some of the findings that underline this trend:

Nearly half (48%) of mid-market execs surveyed see technology as a critical differentiator and key to growth

Nearly half (47%) say analytics has the highest potential to produce the greatest productivity gains

  • Respondents who say they use analytics have increased from 65% in 2014 to 80% this year

It’s no wonder so many mid-size firms are so interested in Business Intelligence (BI). With the proper approach, analytics can enable mid-size organizations to keep pace with strategic IT trends consultants recently pegged at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2015. Here’s my digest of the three trends most relevant to mid-size companies:

  • Every Unit is a Tech Start-Up – Line of Business executives are exercising greater control over technology choices for their particular organizations – and making highly customized choices.
  • Non-Stop Demand – The rise of mobile technologies and cloud services has wired an expectation of immediacy in service, communications, distribution, manufacturing, etc. The phenomenon drives the behavior of users inside the organization – employees – and outside of it – customers & partners.
  • Bimodal IT Operations – To compete as a digitally-enhanced, data-driven organization, companies must focus one eye on optimizing today’s systems while keeping the other fixed on anticipating tomorrow’s technologies.

BI is a catalyst for rising to all three of these challenges. By bringing vital analytics to bear on core business functions and processes, BI accelerates what the MITSloan Management Review calls “Digital Transformation,” which the journal defines as the “use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of the enterprise.”

Digital Transformation is a hot topic these days, with many other esteemed business consulting and analyst groups following this trend, too – such as Harvard Business Review, McKinsey & Company and Forrester Research. Each has its own take on the movement. But there is a common thread: The bulk of discussion centers on large enterprise. Even Deloitte’s “mid-market” survey focused on relatively large organizations by polling 500 executives at companies with annual revenues ranging from $100 million to more than $1 billion.

But why should the subject of digital transformation focus mostly on big corporations? Despite lacking the staff and budgets to match the IT resources of their larger counterparts, small to mid-size businesses (SMBs) are no less challenged by Gartner’s strategic technology trends than any big enterprise. So, as the responsibility for harnessing the power of BI falls to senior leadership at SMBs, my advice is those executives forget the relative scale of their operations and start emulating their corporate brethren.

A few months ago, Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas H. Davenport explored “What Does It Mean to Be a Chief Analytics Officer?” Inspired by Davenport’s article and more than two decades of experience, here’s my list of five habits I have observed Chief Analytics Officers practicing when implementing BI solutions:

  • Strategize – Before considering apps and implementations, SMB leaders should moderate discussion among the organization’s leadership about business plans and goals. The conversation should have a linear sequence, clarifying the current state of the company’s IT before delving into the particulars of any future state. Also, a clear distinction must be drawn between what the business needs and any technology stakeholders may want.
  • Prioritize – SMB leaders should shed light on the level of effort that will be required to meet the client’s goals. No budget in any business is bottomless, a reality that usually is more keenly felt in smaller firms. Level of difficulty often maps to level of expense. And, the pace of transformation should be set according to available funds.
  • Evangelize— Communicating up, down and across an organization for “buy in” for a BI solution from every level in each department at all branches takes considerable discipline. But it’s an effort that should be made before any technology implementation, and senior execs are the natural choice to lead these conversations.
  • Customize – By working through the first four habits, SMB leaders gain insight into building BI solutions specific to their organization. In today’s age of digital business, few executives should believe “one size fits all.”
  • Visualize – Imagining and articulating the next generation of a BI solution and what will be necessary to support it is challenging without specific insight and experience. SMB leaders who stay engaged long after a solution “goes live” should have these two attributes in abundance.

As recent research shows, digital transformation is an imperative in the minds of today’s business leaders in enterprises of all shapes and sizes. But it’s the SMB market where BI may have the most transformative power. And SMB leadership can be the most powerful catalyst.
(About the author: Tom Flynn is President of NxtTeam, an IT training and consulting firm that specializes in bringing the competitive advantages of Business Intelligence to small and mid-size businesses.)

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