by Andy Monshaw, General Manager, IBM Global Midmarket Business and Mike Ritsema, President and Partner, i3 Business Solutions, LLC

Marketing executives have a tremendous challenge ahead of them. Many see this sophisticated and complex world of increasingly connected consumers in front of them, and they don't know how to prepare for it.

The challenge of understanding individual consumers -- not just a demographic or a category -- meeting their needs, and doing so in a way that builds trust is now combined with a tidal wave of customer data from mobile devices and social media channels. This ‘Big Data’ is growing by the Zettabyte.

Those of us serving the needs of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are seeing a shift in the way our customers are consuming technologies and services to get a better handle on what consumers want. SMBs are less fixated on owning and more focused on results. Much like consumers ‘renting’ services like Netflix, Snap Fitness, Comcast Internet, and utilities; they are moving core applications on the cloud, freeing up the time spent on technology maintenance, and focusing on driving business growth. That shift is helping to make the task of serving the increasingly connected consumer less daunting.

As cloud is becoming the driving engine for SMBs to become more efficient, innovate and grow their businesses, many are integrating cloud services into their existing IT environments to supplement internal resources for short-term projects and to add new capabilities. In these ways, cloud computing is helping companies realize business goals while streamlining IT.

While cloud services can help supplement existing capabilities and streamline IT, they can also help companies uncover new insights. With interconnected systems and devices that link to powerful back-end systems, companies that tap into the massive computing power and storage capabilities of the cloud can transform growing data into actionable intelligence -- creating demand for analytics to harness insights from this data to drive better results.

With analytic insight, SMBs can compete more quickly and effectively. The data captured and insights derived can help businesses identify trends in order to proactively capitalize on them, or mitigate them. That knowledge can also help companies be smarter about their target market and their competition.

From digital marketing and mobile commerce, to websites and social media, marketers are inundated -- often paralyzed -- by data amassed from consumers via searches, purchase histories, price-scanning apps on mobile phones, Facebook "likes" and comments on Twitter. Combine that with data about in-store traffic, conversations with call centers and updates from suppliers, and we see how marketers confront a daily cacophony of data waiting to be sifted for nuggets of intelligence they can act upon to boost their business.

SMBs need to understand their consumers at an individual level to stay a step ahead of the competition. To do that, they need to learn more about their customers with a level of granularity never seen before. Thanks to analytics tools, they are better able to tailor campaigns and offerings based on the individual's buying trends and other data driven insights.

The Driving Force behind This Momentum Around Analytics: The Cloud
Through the cloud, SMBs can access enterprise-class analytics that are appropriately proportioned for their needs. This allows SMBs to focus on what matters – their business – while leaving the IT management to others. In fact, many are looking to local technology providers or Managed Service Providers to run applications on the cloud and reduce the day to day responsibility of keeping their IT infrastructure up and running.

Cloud solutions have the potential to help SMBs with more than just customers. Cloud can help them be more effective in running their business operations and helping their employees work smarter, as well.

Analytics can empower every employee to make the right decisions for the bottom line. Because access to data is no longer an obstacle, SMBs can improve the productivity and effectiveness of each and every one of their employees. Cloud is moving business analytics from the back office to front office. All employees have access to the data they need anytime, anywhere to address customer needs, even in time sensitive situations.

Cloud gives organizations the IT resources needed to foster growth. With benefits such as reduced data center costs and pay-as-you-go access to extra storage, the cloud offers many options.

And, given the intense demands placed on businesses and their IT in an increasingly interconnected world, the value of cloud services will likewise increase, allowing SMBs access to technology whenever and wherever they need it.

~ Michael Ritsema, i3 Business Solutions, llc ~

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