‘Data-driven’ SMBs are leaving competitors in the dust

Small and medium sized business (SMBs) concept image showing lone woman working on a laptop in a small open plan office space.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Small and medium businesses (SMBs) that make data a strategic priority are faster to adopt AI, according to AWS, and are financially outperforming their peers.

SMBs have traditionally been cautious about adopting emerging technologies, the survey found, and generative AI is no different. Around a third of respondents expressed skepticism or hesitancy about starting AI projects any time soon.

However, those that are highly data-driven are twice as likely to financially outperform their competitors. Data-driven SMBs are also twice as likely to achieve positive results from data across key business outcomes as their less data-driven peers.

Improved outcomes included increased customer satisfaction, revenue, process efficiency, marketing, cost reduction, and reduced risk.

They also expect to see better results in future, with two thirds anticipating data positively impacting marketing in the next two years, compared with just 33% of less data-driven SMBs.

Similarly, AWS noted that respondents who have a ‘mature’ data strategy and have made significant early strides have unlocked a potent competitive advantage.

"Sixty percent of organizations with a mature and comprehensive data strategy financially outperform their competitors,” the study said. “Only 24 percent of those still in the early stages of developing their strategy can make the same claim.

"SMBs with a high-level of data maturity can harness their data more effectively, empowering both data managers and data consumers alike. A robust data strategy is a key component of data maturity, and directly impacts an SMB’s likelihood of outperforming competitors."

SMBs are still cautious on AI adoption

When it comes to AI, most SMBs are taking a cautious approach, and are still exploring how to leverage the technology effectively.

Nearly half the survey respondents identified security as the greatest challenge with their AI initiatives, while other big concerns include a lack of skilled personnel, cited by 43%, and a general skills shortage cited by 42%.

However, more than a third of SMBs with a robust data strategy are at an advanced stage of AI maturity, compared to only 9% of those without a data strategy.

Highly data-driven SMBs adopt AI at nearly twice the rate of their less data-driven counterparts, with just over half using it to keep their business secure through automation, a similar number for content creation, and 41% using it to enhance marketing and advertising.

However, AWS said most SMBs still can't call themselves truly data-driven, with just 19% of respondents falling into this category.

"That means the majority of SMBs risk missing an opportunity to outperform their competitors, differentiate their business, and significantly improve decision-making," the study noted.

"Data is the differentiator for SMBs, building data maturity is worth the investment, and for the majority of SMBs, is an opportunity waiting to be capitalized on."

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.