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September 13, 2018updated 15 Jul 2022 5:34am

Are Britain’s Small Businesses Making the Most of the Data Revolution?

"Britain’s small businesses could be doing much more to make the most of the data revolution"

By CBR Staff Writer

Data is the lifeblood of the new economy. UK government forecasts predict that data will benefit the UK economy by up to £241 billion by 2020. Thanks in part to the new data legislation, British businesses are ahead of the curve when it comes to their data management practices, leaving them in a strong position for the future. But this hasn’t happened across the board, and Britain’s small businesses could be doing much more to make the most of the data revolution; SME data value is going overlooked.

Data is Central to SME Success

Data has quickly emerged as a key tool in business, and the trend isn’t slowing down any time soon. Data Age 2025, an IDC whitepaper sponsored by Seagate, predicts that by 2025 the global datasphere will grow to 163 zettabytes, over ten times the amount of data generated in 2016. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) specifically have a huge amount to gain from harnessing this explosion of data effectively, from improved employee productivity to better customer service and enhanced consumer insights.

SME data

However, new research from Seagate into the data habits of UK SME employees suggests that companies could be doing more to reap the benefits. We found that only 35% of UK SMEs store their company data in a central, on-site location, while 23% of SME employees reported using portable storage solutions such as USB sticks as their primary storage solution. Data centralisation is key to helping SMEs secure their data, coordinate work across different teams, and generate valuable customer insights to inform their product development.

A strong data infrastructure can hugely benefit employee productivity. At least 14% of employees in the UK work from home, according to the Office of National Statistics. The flexibility that working from home allows is a great way for SMEs to attract and retain talent, but this does make the adoption of standardised data management processes even more important – you can’t have employees sitting at home without access to the data they need to do their jobs.

However, Seagate’s research suggests this is exactly what’s happening for some businesses: 49% of UK SME employees who work remotely reported having difficulty accessing their work files out of the office at least once per month.

Management Solutions for SME Data

All this begs the question: what can SMEs do to get back in control of their data? Often, the key issue is that data management just isn’t high up on the priority list. SMEs are ambitious, driven, and looking for rapid growth in markets often packed with incumbent players. In this landscape there often isn’t time or resource to develop a carefully thought-through data infrastructure.

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Data storage, maintenance and regular backups are clearly important for any business, but they come at a cost. This is especially true for SMEs, which have smaller IT budgets and teams than larger businesses. As a result, there is often less money to go around for IT infrastructure, and fewer IT professionals to set up sophisticated data storage systems and data policy frameworks.

SMEs can really benefit from the increased accessibility of data storage and maintenance technology, whether that be on-premise or in the cloud. Both on-premise, network attached storage (NAS) and cloud-based storage methods have their benefits, so it’s important for businesses to consider each in turn to see which is best suited to them.

Cloud storage solutions have risen hugely in popularity in recent years, and with good reason. Delivered on a monthly subscription model, cloud data storage is flexible, growing and contracting depending on business need. Cloud storage often requires less upfront cost and ongoing maintenance from a dedicated IT professional, making it a solid choice for a small but fast-growing business.

hard drive

Network-attached storage is also a great choice for SMEs: this method sees businesses store their data on the premises in specialised NAS hard drives, which are optimised for speed, reliability and security.

On-premise NAS storage may have higher upfront costs, due to the need to purchase hardware and set it up correctly, however in the long run this pays for itself. Businesses which opt for on-premise storage benefit from being completely in control of their own data, and can tailor their hardware and network setup to exactly what they need.

The meteoric rise of the startup ecosystem in the UK is an impressive testament to how digital technology can spur growth in the SMB sector. SMBs make up 60% of the UK economy: given this outsized representation, it’s critical that Britain’s small businesses feel confident, in control, and able to put their data to work.

See also: “I’m Terribly Sorry, but Would You Be Interested in Funding My Humble Little British Startup?”

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