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SMB decision-makers look to efficient data management to aid COVID-19 recovery

SMB decision-makers look to efficient data management to aid COVID-19 recovery

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New research has highlighted the role that efficient data management will play in the long-term recovery plans of global SMBs. Alessandra de Paula, Director of Channel Marketing EMEA at Seagate Technology, talks us through some of the key infrastructure challenges SMBs experienced during the shift to remote working and offers advice on how they can ensure robust data management infrastructure as they plan for the future.

Seagate Technology has announced the results of a global survey of 3,000 small and medium sized business (SMB) decision-makers, revealing that despite economic headwinds, existing SMB IT infrastructure for many SMBs has shown resilience and a majority believe business data will play an important role in their long-term recovery plans.

Many SMBs’ existing IT infrastructure shows resilience

Despite the rapid and unexpected shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, existing SMB IT infrastructure proved resilient, according to the research. More than half (54%) of SMB decision-makers reported no difficulty in accessing files or company data remotely and 61% reported similar productivity levels to when their employees are in the office. A total of 45% of SMB decision-makers reported their company’s existing data infrastructure was more resilient than expected during the pandemic. All SMBs included in the study have fewer than 250 employees and the majority have fewer than 50.

During a time of acute crisis for many SMBs, many are taking the importance of robust IT infrastructure more seriously in their long-term planning. A total of 50% of decision-makers surveyed said that they planned to invest in data backup and recovery services in the future, while 51% said that data technology could play a role in long-term business growth.

SMBs to adopt data-driven COVID-19 recovery strategies

As SMBs look to the future, decision-makers are developing their recovery strategy. With 36% of SMB decision-makers expecting their staff to work from home more often after COVID-19, increased appreciation of how data can help businesses recover and thrive will be essential.
Nearly two thirds (65%) of SMB decision-makers say that their post-COVID-19 recovery strategy is being informed by the data they have stored about their business. The pandemic has sparked a reassessment of the value of business data among SMB decision-makers: more than half (55%) say they recognise the value of their business data more than before the pandemic.

We spoke toAlessandra de Paula, Director of Channel Marketing EMEA at Seagate Technology, about the research. She offers advice and insights for SMBs looking to improve their data management.

What were the key infrastructure challenges for SMBs during the shift to remote working?

This is an area we’ve been keenly exploring and in our recent global survey of SMB decision-makers it was striking how the most common challenges unearthed came down to two basic principles. 

Firstly, 17% of business leaders reported a lack of centralised storage – this really is data management 101. A lack of centralised storage makes it harder to secure data, harder to share and utilise data across a company, and puts files at risk of permanent loss if local copies are damaged.

The second underlying issue was companies lacking a data storage policy (31%), or in other words a structured set of rules that clarify how a company acquires, stores and uses its data. Without these rules, staff cannot be expected to manage data properly, so firms risk security breaches and data losses as well as missing out on growth opportunities.

Our research also found that 38% of respondents reported difficulty accessing files when working from home – ultimately something that is a by-product of lacking centralised storage and a robust data storage policy.  

Taking this together, it’s clear that many SMBs are struggling to capitalise on the value of their data because of very fundamental infrastructure challenges around centralised storage options and data storage policies. If left unaddressed, these issues will stand in the way of employee productivity and ultimately business growth. Fortunately, there are clear steps businesses can take to rectify this.

Based on your research, how did SMBs respond to these challenges?

Today’s challenging business environment has spotlighted the universal value of data to businesses around the world. Why? Because firms that aren’t utilising their data are at risk of missing out – on potential revenue streams, cost savings, customer satisfaction and more. Yet across the globe, we’ve seen a lot of variation between countries in how they responded to the crisis.

Looking at the UK, a little more than half of SMBs are currently tapping into data insights to inform their recovery from COVID-19 (53%). During the early peak of the crisis, 45% of UK SMB decision-makers said they focused on making it easier to access data remotely and 50% agreed that their employees have a better understanding of the importance of IT and data infrastructure and policysince working from home. Overall, these numbers are promising in that they point towards greater understanding of the value of data among UK SMBs, although there’s still work to be done.

On the other hand, Chinese SMBs stood out for their forward-thinking approach to data-led growth. A total of 83% of Chinese respondents confirmed they’re using data to inform their COVID recovery, meaning they rely on information and robust data management policies to ensure a stable future. Additionally, 60% made it easier to access data and 74% thinks their employees have a better understanding of its importance – demonstrating a proactive intent to keep improving.

On the whole, the research was heartening in that it showed SMBs were resilient to the challenge and that many now better recognise the value of data for their company’s future. This is a real positive, but we still see room for improvement for SMBs when it comes to the basics of data management. In the UK especially, SMB leaders should look to their contemporaries in China for successful examples of data-led post-pandemic growth.

Were there any findings within your study that you found surprising?

A surprising insight was the contrast we found between the value SMB decision-makers attribute to data and the extent to which they’re actually tapping into these insights for their business strategies.

At a global level, we found that only one quarter (24%) of SMB decision-makers think they get as much value as possible from the data they have stored about their business. Yet 51% of SMBs worldwide said they believed data could play a valuable role in long-term business growth. There is a missed opportunity here and one that we’re keen to help companies navigate in order to derive more meaning and benefits from their data.

What learnings do you think SMBs have taken from this experience?

SMB leaders will take all kinds of learnings from this crisis, but from a data-perspective I believe these can be consolidated into three points: clear employee communication is key; investment in tools and training pays dividends; and data management policy should be a C-suite concern – not something that is just delegated to IT and forgotten about.

How should organisations go about building a post-COVID-19 recovery strategy?

Communicating with employees about the importance of data management – which currently less than half of UK SMBs decision-makers say they do (43%) – is crucial in getting everyone aligned in good data management behaviours. This communication could be in the form of weekly reminders, or a monthly CEO video update on the importance of data storage policies. The important thing is to attack the issue from both angles – communicate the risks to poor data management, but also emphasise how data can be a powerful tool if leveraged correctly.

Secondly, all employees need to be empowered by training in technologies and IT equipment. Data management only becomes a company-wide concern if everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.

Lastly, we encourage firms to implement DataOps – the discipline that connects data creators with data consumers. While a majority of businesses consider DataOps very or extremely important, only an average of 10% of organisations report having implemented DataOps fully across their business. This issue can be addressed through fostering close collaboration between your IT team and other employees across the business.

How important is data for unlocking future growth and innovation opportunities?

Very important! Whether it’s using consumer spending data to boost customer loyalty, identifying new revenue streams with sales data, or enhancing the precision of financial reporting and reallocating budgets more efficiently, data can unlock tremendous future growth and innovation opportunities.

The data available for businesses to use is growing rapidly – so it’s a plentiful resource. The next step is for SMBs to invest time, effort and money in capitalising on all that potential.

How can SMBs ensure robust data management infrastructure as they plan for the future?

First, they must ensure they have a solid data storage policy in place – currently 31% of UK SMBs say they don’t. This will enable them to better identify the quality and quantity of their data and enable them to assess overall business performance and find new potential sources of revenue.

Secondly, establish a centralised data storage solution. Data should be reliably backed-up and access should be seamless for those that need it. Robust data security measures should of course go along with this.

Finally, as mentioned, providing all employees with basic data management training and tools can make a big difference on the grand scheme of things. Ensuring that company leaders and their employees have a firm grasp now of how this data can be managed and used as a tool for growth, is what could put businesses ahead of the game in the years to come. 

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