As challenging as 2020 was, economic indicators are beginning to point out significant opportunities to achieve long-term growth by mid-year.

This news is undoubtedly welcomed by small and medium-size businesses. But only those that can anticipate every nuanced shift along the way will gain the competitive advantages necessary to stay ahead, including improved customer and employee experiences, product and service creation, tight customer connections and fewer skill gaps.

Although every business leader knows that such predictive insight comes from data, Oxford Economics research conducted during the first few months of the pandemic revealed the importance of understanding it accurately and quickly. The study reported only 32% of medium-size businesses are acting on data-derived insights, which could be attributed to struggles in either interpreting data with analytics tools or supporting analytics-based decision-making altogether.

Building data insight with interconnectivity

A considerable challenge to becoming a business driven by data insight is gaining the confidence of the employees who use the information. Data should be viewed as a prerequisite for all decision-making, never as a nuisance or an afterthought.

Ultimately, fostering such a data-driven mindset requires a strong IT infrastructure that helps ensure data is complete and accurate and shared and provided freely and securely across functions, external partners, suppliers, and customers. This step toward interconnected alignment of knowledge, visibility, and insight allows the workforce to immediately understand and embrace the optimized collaboration, transparency, predictability and continuity that today’s technologies offer.

The IT infrastructure should include three foundational elements:

1. Consumer-grade analytics

This evolutionary step toward “analytics for everyone” allows decision-makers to access and analyze data, predict, and plan scenarios, and report insights, outcomes, and lessons learning all in one application. Intelligent capabilities – such as natural language querying and processing, machine learning, and predictive analytics – can also augment and accelerate decision-making without requiring additional training in data science.

2. One platform for data management and analytics

Bringing data management and analytics together on a single business technology platform reduces the complexity of maintaining multiple technologies, such as limited communication, data sharing, and collaborative action taking across departments. This addition to the IT infrastructure provides the structural support needed to collect, integrate, and analyze information in a landscape that includes legacy systems, multi-cloud applications, public and personal data sources, sensors, and smart devices.

3. Embedded enterprise analytics

Don’t let this phrase fool you: the word “enterprise” does not mean that embedded analytics is just for your largest competitor. It’s about providing medium-size companies scalable, cross-departmental access to a 360-degree view of the business without switching from one application to another to get work done and collaborate with experts and stakeholders. This capability combines business intelligence, augmented and predictive analytics, and planning capabilities into one cloud environment and in the context of business processes.

Reaping the rewards of interconnected intelligence

By augmenting their IT foundation with these three elements of data management and analytics, employees can make decisions that not only optimize their specific area, but also help each other succeed. Take, for example, the relationship between workforce management and spend management.

HR analytics typically focus on recruitment, talent and performance, learning and development, and compensation and retention. But with the assistance of intelligent capabilities, HR leaders can correlate that traditional information to health and safety compliance, travel and expense management, procurement, and project assignments.

Including people data in these critical business indicators allows professionals outside the HR function to identify and solve potential issues early and generate value as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. Plus, departments can measure and predict the full impact of their spending decisions while eliminating organizational blind spots, minimizing maverick buying, improving supplier performance, and optimizing the cost of quality, goods sold, and sales.

Bringing to life a stronger, more resilient business

Just imagine the possibilities when every business function can access and act on connected, integrated data from a single landscape. Will your operations realize a responsive supply chain, deliver an engaging and always relevant customer experience, help ensure every employee is successful, or innovate new product or service?

Whatever the answer, this level of interconnectedness unquestionably provides a unique differentiator that medium-size businesses need – and can acquire with ease – to positively shift the trajectory of their recovery and growth.

Discover how your business can achieve these goals by consulting the Oxford Economics report, “The Interconnected Business: How Midsize Businesses Achieve Value Through Holistic Management Strategies.” Plus, you can learn more by accessing our guidebook, “Success in the New Economy: A Guide to Becoming an Interconnected Business.”

Mario Farag is senior director of Marketing for Analytics at SAP.
This article was originally featured on Forbes, SAP Brandvoice.