AWS Smart Business Blog

Why Business Intelligence is the Answer for SMBs Struggling with Spreadsheets

There’s an almost inconceivable amount of information out in the world. If you think about your typical day, nearly everything you do triggers data collection—whether it’s tapping to pay for your morning coffee, checking traffic conditions on your smartphone, searching for the answer to a question online, or rating your favorite show on a streaming service.

All of that data influences how cities, companies, and more plan for the future. Even sports teams are finding unique ways to predict outcomes. For instance, my favorite US football and car racing teams use hundreds of data points to optimize athlete performance and overall fan experience.

But these are enormous operations we’re talking about. And even they can get overwhelmed by the sheer scale of their data sometimes.

If major enterprises can find it challenging to extract value from their data, how are small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) supposed to cope? When you’re an SMB, having more data than ever before can be both a blessing and a challenge.

If you can’t measure data, you can’t manage it

Storing, navigating processing, creating insights, and just seeing what’s possible with massive amounts of data, can be a huge challenge.

Imagine a typical, hectic small business. The two or three finance staff members are constantly fielding deep, challenging data-related requests such as:

  • “I need to better understand my profit margins better.”
  • “I want to understand how well a particular product is selling.”
  • “Which metrics should determine future investment or divestment?”

Meanwhile, sellers and line of business managers want to know how customers are using and reacting to the company’s new digital services and products.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an IT staff member or contractor, they’re getting bombarded with questions about measurement, too.

Producing the data to answer these questions is a huge burden for these teams, who only have standard spreadsheets with a cheat sheet of formulas.

Don’t let spreadsheets hold your business back from analyzing data at scale

As good as spreadsheets are for simple data analysis, they’re not designed to manage the amount of data smaller teams process today. I speak to a lot of SMB leaders, and when I ask them how they manage their data, the answer is all too often, “load-bearing spreadsheets.”

If you’ve ever remodeled a home, you might be familiar with how specific beams provide structural support. In the SMB world, these specific spreadsheets serve as the lumber that carry the weight of the entire business across multiple departments.

Some SMBs continue using spreadsheets for their data, either because it’s always worked for them in the past, they assume anything else would be too complicated, or they’re just not aware of the powerful data tools that are out there. Ultimately, if you’re not a technical expert, you can’t be expected to know what IT services could make your business more efficient.

However, there are alternatives out there which can transform the process of gathering and interpreting data.

Get the deeper insights you need with business intelligence

Business intelligence (BI) tools give you exactly what the name suggests: they take all of your business data and turn it into live insights about your operations and the challenges you’re trying to solve. It’s this continuous intelligence which gives you the ability to make better, smarter business decisions based on sales, resource planning, supply chain, and economic conditions. The most common way this comes to life is in the form of a dashboard that uses graphics and charts to increase comprehension.

I’ll give you an example. Mission Cloud works with an SMB in the biotech space that designs new drug delivery therapies for patients. Making crucial decisions on these therapies means asking complex questions and getting answers from mountains of scientific data. And how did the business manage its data for the longest time? Load-bearing spreadsheets. Spreadsheets that had to be updated and explored manually.

Getting answers to even basic questions took days.

The biotech business knew there had to be a better way of working, but it wasn’t sure what “better” looked like until we helped them reduce the time from question to answer from days to minutes.

Get started on your BI journey with Mission Cloud

At Mission Cloud, we specialize in helping SMBs transform their entire approach to data analysis with BI. If you don’t have in-house IT staff or lack technical acumen, our team of experts are trained to help you navigate the sometimes-complex world of BI.

We’re an AWS Premier Tier Services Partner, so we used a series of BI tools including Amazon QuickSight, to transform the biotech business’s data into a format that allowed it to be analyzed visually.

Enriching the data with information from multiple sources also allowed the biotech SMB to draw correlations, make deeper connections, and get more complex answers from its data. And no one at the business needed to be a technical expert to do so.

AI-powered insights from AWS

With QuickSight, for example, you get a near real-time dashboard of data from across the business. If you or a colleague has a difficult question, QuickSight can give you an easy answer–something static spreadsheets can’t do.

You don’t even need to use scientific terms when asking QuickSight a question. Regular, everyday language is fine, as it has really democratized analytics and BI. Everyone at the biotech business we worked with can now quickly access the insights they need themselves, rather than having to ask Finance.

Democratizing data empowers your people

Using BI tools empowers and energizes your team’s way of working. Everyone across the business can show the value their team adds, because they have the data to back it up. When I catch up with SMB leaders who’ve recently implemented BI, that’s always one of the unexpected advantages they mention, on top of the benefits they were expecting like improved efficiency and decision-making.

SMB employees learning about data analytics with a consultant

If that sounds like something that would benefit your business, we’re offering free consultations specifically for SMBs that want to find the insights hidden in their data. We recommend inviting people who are technical enough to understand what all the data sources are, and others who know what the data needs to do.

If there isn’t significant technical presence in your SMB, that’s not a problem either—we can work through the challenge together.

Mission Cloud has data analysts and machine learning experts who specialize in helping SMBs get more from their data with BI tools, no matter their level of technical sophistication.

Book your free BI consultation with Mission Cloud

We enable SMBs to interact with their data in entirely new ways on AWS, without the need to have technical expertise in-house.

Mission Cloud has the inside track on all these different data tools and platforms, and it’s our job to use them to transform SMBs. We’re 100 percent focused on customer outcomes, not just technology.

Book a free consultation now with our BI experts. You’ll understand what your data is capable of in a modern cloud environment, discover the business benefits BI can bring, and start asking more from your data. Not ready? Learn more about the benefits of gaining business insights on AWS Smart Business.

Jonathan LaCour

Jonathan LaCour

Jonathan is Chief Technical Officer of Mission Cloud, an AWS Premier Consulting Partner and Managed Cloud Service Provider with deep expertise in launching and leveraging the power of the cloud. He began his professional career in enterprise healthcare in 1997, catapulting him into the culture of "software as a service" well before it became an industry buzzword. Jonathan harnessed his passion for technology and the cognitive process with a BS in Computer Science at Georgia Tech. He is based in California (US).