When you talk to someone about data integration, you usually see their eyes glaze over before you’ve finished the second syllable but in this post I’m going to tell you why every small and medium sized business should really care about it rather a lot…

Data is everywhere these days. It’s building up in your till systems, on your website, in your inventory management system, in Google, and probably on spreadsheets.

But data is also the lifeblood of a modern business. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, there’s some data about your activities building up somewhere and with the right tools you could get at it and learn some valuable insights that will improve your bottom line.

Imagine you are running a retail business with a few shops and a website. (And for some of you, perhaps that’s not too hard to imagine because that’s precisely your business!). Each of your shops is selling products through the day while it is open and you have some sort of till system in place in each shop (maybe Samstock for example) that allows items being sold to be scanned. You also have a website. It is open 24/7 and potentially sells goods around the world, while you and your staff are sleeping. But now you can no longer manage you inventory separately in each shop and rely on your shop managers to call around when stock is low, because when someone places an online order, they expect that you have the goods to sell and will despatch in a timely manner, but what if you’ve run out? Worse still, what if you actually have a huge stock in one of your shops but your website says out of stock so the customer goes to a competitor. One thing that is sure about online retail is that loyalty counts for a lot less than in a bricks and mortar world and the odds are that you won’t see that customer again. Or their friends.

This is a classic data integration problem – you have multiple data stores (in this case each shop plus your website), on different technologies (your till management system vs the database behind your website), but you really need them to all talk to each other so that you can get a holistic view of all your inventory and where it is.

Doing that means that you will be able to confidently sell the stock you actually have, at the right price to customers from your website at any time of day and night. It will mean that your shop staff will know that they need to put certain stock aside for internet orders to be fulfilled which avoids the risk of lengthy delays when one item from a large order is sold out and it allows you to reorder in a timely basis, move stock between shops before it runs out and allow you to make sure you’re not selling the same product at different prices in different shops

That will allow you to not only keep your website stock levels accurate to what you actually hold, without tedious and expensive manual checks, it will also open up a world of possibilities…

Once you have all the data available in one place you can have dashboards that allow you to understand your business in near real time. Do you want to know how many of a certain product you sold across all outlets yesterday? No problem! Do you want to know which products you are making most profit on? No problem! Do you want to understand if advertising spend is actually generating a return on investment? Also no problem!

And you can take the integration further. Maybe you want to estimate how much wet weather impacts your business, and take account of the forecast to plan staffing. Also no problem! You can integrate public data sources (in this case weather data from a provider like Dark Sky) with your own data and use it both to analyse what has happened and make predictions for the future that could allow you to increase sales, reduce costs or reduce a risk such as unsold stock.

Of course whilst the example above focuses on a retail business, these insights are valuable to all types of businesses, large and small. If you’re in the construction or maintenance business, these insights might allow you to make sure you have enough staff on call, and that they are sent to the closest jobs, whilst maintaining your inventory of spares. If you’re running a restaurant, you can measure the affects of weather and advertising on occupancy rates, in transport you can better project capacity requirements and fuel costs. And the list goes on.

However, gone are the days where you had to be big business with large budgets to spend on data analysts in order to benefit from the information your business generates. With tools from vendors like Google and Microsoft widely available, high-end reporting, once properly set up is very simple and cost effective to run, requiring only a modest amount of numerical skill to operate. I’ll talk some more about this in a future post but the key first step is getting all your data into a single place, consistently defined and formatted and ready for your website or your reporting tools to consume. And that’s Data Integration.

If this sounds like an area you would like help or support with, please feel free to get in touch and we will be happy to discuss an audit of what you have today, recommendations for the future, or a full solution package. Our solutions are tailored to the commercial opportunities and challenges your business faces and focus on where you can unlock growth, reduce costs or improve your customer’s experience.

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