Guest Article: Businesses must harness data to steer through economic uncertainty – Nick Felton, SVP, MHR Analytics  

Business | Sun 14 Oct | Author – Business & Finance

Survey of company leaders reveals they are bracing for change by investing in IT

Deal or no deal? That is the question which haunts business leaders in the UK and Ireland as we wait to hear the final outcome of the increasingly fragmented Brexit negotiations. Whatever the outcome of this process and its associated consequences, there is widespread belief that there will be an immediate economic impact when the departure is complete next year.

Even if this is a short-term effect, it brings with it significant challenges, for which companies must properly prepare. From debates about how businesses will be impacted by ongoing political ramifications, to a loss of market confidence, companies have to think clearly about investments for 2019, both in terms of resourcing and operating costs.

The Irish government is aware of the potential effects of this process, with one minister describing it as the “most significant challenge” facing Irish enterprise in more than 50 years. To support organisations, the government revealed that 85% of companies were planning to take Brexit-related action. Additionally the government has announced a new campaign to help organisations prepare for next year, including a string of roadshows and workshops to address business concerns.

Survey results anticipate drop in revenue

In our recent Data Surge report, we surveyed 200 business decision-makers, 93% of which told us they were anticipating a drop in revenues next year. Of this figure, 57% citied Brexit as the main reason for the decrease. This was followed by 22% saying reduced customer spending and 10% identifying the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as an influential factor.

What was most interesting about the research was that companies are planning a major boost in IT spending next year. When asked which area of their organisation the business leaders were planning to increase investment, 59% cited IT above all other areas. Other departments earmarked for investment were marketing (48%) and sales (46%).

These figures underline the faith companies place in technology to transform the prospect of their business and drive efficiencies. One of the significant areas in which this can be achieved is through better use of managing information across the business. This can include improving processes to capture and analyse important data such as financial forecasts, sales figures and monthly performance reporting.

For many companies, the challenge of managing growing volumes of information from all areas of the business have led to significant difficulties. For many business leaders, overcoming the issues posed by ‘Big Data’ is an increasing priority.

Examining this topic further, we asked the respondents about their attitudes towards big data, with 97% saying it was important or very important to their company’s future.

Harnessing data for saving money

A quarter of the respondents told us more accurate decision-making was a critical benefit, followed by 20% saying better understanding of business information and 16% saying increased profits. Only 4% citied less administration as a benefit, indicating that the majority of businesses are overlooking a major benefit of big data, which is the ability to drive savings through reducing admin.

This reveals that many organisations are missing a trick when it comes to the crucial role data can play in saving companies money. For example, many organisations still rely on spreadsheet-based manual systems for reporting and forecasting processes. Despite this approach being time consuming, cost heavy and prone to error, many organisations have still not made the leap to a business intelligence system that can collate data in real-time.

Improving reporting processes does of course give you much better insight into decision-making and a full view on the company’s financial situation, but ultimately it can save significant amounts of money. Manual systems take many hours to collate, time that could and should be spent on business development and other key operations designed to take the company forward.

Nobody knows for sure what the economic and political outcomes of the Brexit negotiations will mean for Irish businesses in the year ahead. What is clear is that preparing properly for the potential outcomes is crucial. A data management strategy is the best place to start. Ensuring critical company data is properly collated, managed and analysed enables managers to make decisions based upon accurate information.

By harnessing the power of data, Irish companies can ensure that they are fully prepared for the financial shockwaves whether the outcome is deal or no deal. The time to act is now, so that businesses can adapt and thrive around these events, instead of falling victim to them