How Big Data opens doors for small businesses

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Data – and the information it contains – is all around us. It’s trapped in documents, filing cabinets, videos and social media feeds. If you have the right tools, the amount of information at your fingertips is endless. The buzzword for this is Big Data.  

What is Big Data?

Initially, the definition of Big Data was solely focused on volumes – Big Data is defined as one petabyte or a million gigabytes. That’s a lot of data and one would assume only large corporates have that kind of information volume in the first place. Does that mean that small and medium-sized businesses are excluded from the benefits and optimisation Big Data can provide? Not at all.

Any company, no matter how small, can take advantage of the galaxy of information captured on endless servers around the world. Companies can draw market segmentation information from social networks, usage patterns on mobile devices and even digitised transcripts of call-centre interactions.

Taking advantage

For small businesses to utilise the advantages of Big Data, they have to answer a few questions about their data upfront. Apart from normal financial reporting, does the business produce any market segmentation reports? Do they have an idea of yearly sales trends? Has any benchmarking of services or products been done against competitors?

Whilst some of these insights might be more difficult to implement than others, they’re critical elements of building a sustainable business. A rule that governs all these data integrations should be data quality. Once the data basics are in place, SMEs will be primed to take the Big Data step.

For small businesses there are two ways to take this step. One is to build an in-house data and analytics function. This requires employing a skilled data scientist or team (with programming, analytics, statistics and business experience) that’ll construct the business data backbone.

Another route to the Big Data pool is through employing data mining companies that specialise in setting up businesses to use sets of information. Gone are the days when only IBM, SAS and Microsoft could do this by charging global corporates exorbitant fees. Small start-ups like Business Optics and DigitLab offer affordable, cloud-based, data crunching services which can help get non-digitised data into a data-crunchable form.

Possibilities of Big Data

Connections to Big Data pools allow small businesses to successfully mine information by cross-referencing internal pricing histories and customer traffic patterns with multiple outside sources, to increase revenue by understanding customers’ behaviour better.

By following what the market wants, companies can reduce costs by optimising processes, eliminating inefficiencies and reducing the reliance on human bias. This in turn strengthens client bonds by anticipating client needs, enriches service offerings with new knowledge, and gives employees new tools to perform their jobs better.

There seems to be no end to the possibilities of using Big Data for business, no matter the size. A key component, however, is management. As with any project, the true ingredient for success lies in the investment of the management and employees.

How to make Big Data work for you

To make Big Data work within a small business there needs to be commitment to overseeing the entire data lifecycle. A true digitised company takes care of data capturing, transformation, storage and enrichment through cloud services, analytics, forecasting and most importantly of all – using data to guide businesses to the right markets, products and services.

The appeal of Big Data for large organisations is that it shields them from actually having to interact with their customers. Small businesses have the advantage of building a strong, accurate and reliable database from one-on-one interactions with their customers. After all, expanding your market through Big Data relies on understanding your customers first. So take that step, move away from the old filing cabinet and embrace the digital universe of Big Data.

This original thought leadership piece by Jaco van der Walt is brought to you by Nashua.

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