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Small Business

How The Cloud And Big Data Are Changing Small Business

Big data and the cloud have a profound impact on business operations in almost any industry today, allowing companies of all sizes to more effectively serve customers, perform risk-analyses and create new revenue streams.

In its recent CEO Survey and Technology Forecast, PricewaterhouseCoopers identified these tools, along with mobile and social apps, as transformative technologies that are not only impacting traditional businesses but creating new ones.

Here are three quick examples from companies NorTech has worked with:

1. Pulmonary Apps has developed a wireless stethoscope that allows doctors to monitor multiple patients remotely and in real-time. The device is designed to eliminate infections spread by traditional stethoscopes. It can detect and transmit lung sounds to a smartphone, tablet or computer wirelessly, and allows hands-free auscultation of the chest.

2. CleveMed has developed an in-home sleep apnea testing system that sends data to a Web portal where physicians review it and make treatment recommendations. The technology allows patients to complete a full-night sleep study in the comfort of their own homes and receive results quickly.

3. Intwine Connect is developing technology platforms for monitoring and managing business-critical performance data, energy management applications and indoor air quality, among other things. End users can control appliances remotely, use real-time data to develop a custom energy savings plan, and get insights on product usage and sales data.

“The ability to evaluate and apply data has always been an integral part of an organization’s success,” former Microsoft COO Bob Herbold says. “But the potential that exists today to enhance operations and outcomes is nearly limitless. Those who understand how data works and what it can yield will carry enormous advantage in the new economy.”

Herbold recently donated $2.6 million to launch a data science program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. In making the announcement, the university pointed out that the rapid increase of available data in the U.S. is leading to a shortage of up to 190,000 deep analytics workers and 1.5 million managers with data expertise. It also stressed that, among other things, big data applications can improve road safety, increase shipping and retail efficiency, and make manufacturing more flexible.

While the cloud and big data are particularly powerful in customer-facing industries like retail, healthcare and energy, small and medium businesses (SMB) in almost any sector can take advantage of these technologies.

“The ability to connect devices to each other and to the cloud will be essential for businesses of all kinds and their consumers,” says Dave Martin, founder and CEO of Intwine Connect. “As a small, entrepreneurial company ourselves, we look to partner with other small businesses, as well as technology companies – such as Verizon Wireless and Texas Instruments – retail energy providers, regulated utilities, real estate owners and home healthcare technology providers to co-develop and mass-deploy customized solutions.”

While currently only about 18% of small and about 57% of medium businesses utilize business intelligence and analytics solutions, according to SMB Group research, there’s a trend towards more widespread adoption.

SMB Group estimates small and midsize business use of cloud applications will grow from 33% to 44% over the coming year, while Parallels SMB Cloud Insights believes the global market for SMB cloud services will expand to $95 billion by 2015.

“I think eventually every business has to have somewhere in its portfolio and go-to-market approach a range of cloud services,” says IBM’s Midmarket Business General Manager John Mason. “This is changing the landscape for small and midsize businesses by allowing them to focus on their own innovations and making them more competitive with larger, established companies.”

Mason, who calls data “the new natural resource,” says the cloud, analytics, mobile and social applications have three distinct impacts on small and midsize businesses:

1. They allow them to go from innovative idea to actual product or service quickly by removing big, upfront capital investments in technology and staff.

2. They allow businesses to scale up or down quickly, providing flexibility when responding to changing customer demands.

3. They remove geographic constraints and open new markets that previously were not accessible.

“You can go from idea to global scale literally within weeks,” Mason says. “The challenge becomes how to make sense of all the data to focus where the opportunities are. This is where the cloud together with big data analytics helps to determine where to apply scarce resources to make a difference.”

Darin Haines, chief technology officer at MCPc, a Cleveland-based, nationwide technology consultancy and integrator, says small, medium and large businesses all face the same challenges with big data.

“First, organizations must think about their business and what data is most important to them,” he says. “The next step is to determine how to leverage that data in new ways to improve customer service and operations.”

Haines says one of the big trends driving big data is the Internet of Everything. He says companies are struggling with how to manage, monetize and operate the data generated by connected people, things and places.

“Imagine a world that by 2020 will have 30 billion devices and eight billion people connected to networks generating 40 trillion gigabytes of data,” he says. “The hybrid cloud is going to be a vital ingredient to how we collect, analyze and store the vast amounts of data that will be generated by the Internet of Everything.”


July 15, 2014

Rebecca O. Bagley  | Contributor

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