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Digital business transformation and the MSP's BI role

Small and medium-sized businesses can benefit from digital transformation. Managed service providers can facilitate business intelligence technology adoption to make that happen.

"Digital Business Transformation" is a hot topic these days. An article in the MIT Sloan Management Review defines the phenomenon as the "use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of the enterprise." Many other esteemed business consulting and analysis groups follow this trend, too -- such as Harvard Business Review, McKinsey & Company and Forrester Research Inc. Each has its own take on the movement. But there is a common thread: The bulk of discussion centers on large enterprise.

But why should the subject of digital business transformation focus mostly on big corporations?

Earlier this year, the Institute for the Future surveyed 3,600 business leaders across 18 countries from midsize to large organizations in nine industries for its study The Information Generation: Transforming the Future Today. The research discovered that 96% of the leaders polled believe new technologies have "forever changed the rules of business" by democratizing information and rewiring customer expectations. The report doesn't break out this statistic by size, but one conclusion is certain: Digital business transformation is on the minds of most executives at most companies -- large, medium or small.

Researchers also asked the sample group to identify "make-or-break" business traits for the digital age. To succeed, the group believes businesses need to have the capability to:

  1. Predictively spot new opportunities;
  2. Demonstrate transparency and trust;
  3. Innovate in agile ways;
  4. Deliver unique and personalized experiences; and
  5. Operate in real time.

Business Intelligence (BI) is a catalyst for all five of these qualities. By bringing vital analytics to bear on core business functions and processes, BI accelerates digital business transformation. And for companies on the small to midsize end of the business spectrum, IT managed service providers (MSPs) can play three critical roles in enabling BI beyond installing tech tools:

  1. Bringing a specialized skill set -- technical and functional -- not native to the organization;
  2. Adding resources (i.e., people) to existing staff as necessary; and
  3. Mentoring business teams through the BI process from design through implementation to adoption, with continuing support.
MSPs can contribute as business consultants, facilitating seven phases of the BI evolution.

The third role may be the most important, as research by the Society for Information Management (SIM) revealed through its 2016 IT Trends Study, released last month. SIM researchers asked 4500 CIOs and other IT leaders to list their greatest "concerns" heading into next year. The number one issue was "Alignment of IT with the business," not "IT cost reduction and controls," which landed eighth in the top 10 worries. SIM's results buck conventional wisdom that business technology is more about tactics than strategy. This same traditional thinking holds that MSPs are mostly arms and legs, not brains with experience.

But for midrange companies, which typically lack the staff and budgets to match the IT resources of their larger counterparts, MSPs can contribute as business consultants, facilitating seven phases of the BI evolution. Here are those stages in the order they should be pursued:

  1. Strategize -- Before considering apps and implementations, MSPs should moderate discussion among a midsize organization's leadership about business plans and goals. The conversation should have a linear sequence, clarifying the current state of the company's IT before delving into the particulars of any future state. Also, a clear distinction must be drawn between what the business needs and any technology stakeholders may want.
  2. Prioritize -- MSPs should shed light on the level of effort that will be required to meet the client's goals. No budget in any business is bottomless, a reality that usually is more keenly felt in small to midsize firms. Level of difficulty often maps to level of expense. And, the pace of transformation should be set according to available funds.
  3. Analyze -- MSPs should guide clients through the process of developing key performance indicators, establishing baselines and setting realistic targets -- before any new tech is implemented.
  4. Evangelize -- Communicating up, down and across an organization for "buy in" from every level in each department at all branches takes considerable discipline. But it's an effort that should be made before implementation, too. MSPs should assist by sharing successes and lessons learned from helping other clients. Through experience, most MSPs should know what to say and how to say it when making the case for BI.
  5. Customize -- By working through the first four phases of BI with a client, MSPs will have insight into building solutions specific to that organization. In today's age of digital business, few executives would believe "one size fits all." And even fewer will know how to do the proper sizing. An MSP should.
  6. Optimize -- Just as new BI tech needs to be customized to the nuances of a client's business, those offerings must be calibrated for peak performance in certain functional areas -- e.g., finance, sales and service. Again, an MSP's experience with similar businesses in comparable industries delivers value a midsize company would have trouble generating on its own.
  7. Visualize -- Like the "Optimize" phase, imagining and articulating the next generation of a BI offering and what will be necessary to support it is challenging without specific expertise and experience. MSPs should have these two attributes in abundance.

As recent research shows, digital business transformation is imperative in the minds of today's business leaders in enterprises of all shapes and sizes. But it's the midmarket where BI may have the most transformative power. And MSPs can be the most powerful catalyst.

Next Steps

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