How small and mid-sized businesses can tap the power of big data


Cloud computing and similar innovations have led to a steep decline in the cost of big data analyis, Becerra says. (David Paul Morris/BLOOMBERG)
December 18, 2012

Big data is the next big thing, and CIOs across the country believe that technology designed to store, analyze and utilize these new enormous collections of data will be among the most disruptive in 2013.

But small and medium-sized businesses have shied away from big data – and their unease makes sense, considering that the costs to mine big data for actionable insights have previously been prohibitive to SMBs. Beyond just collecting data, acquiring easy-to-understand business intelligence also required firms to invest in IT integration (pricey third-party services) and train employees to analyze data.

But good news is on the horizon for smaller businesses – the declining cost of delivery, largely due to the introduction of cloud technology, is eliminating those fears.

New technology has leveled the playing field for SMBs by driving down the cost to deliver and maintain technology. And while SMBs may not have access to traditional big data resources and service providers, they’re utilizing sources of “little data” every day.

Credit cards and banks offer opportunities to provide insights from data collected, and any business using Facebook has the ability to access and leverage granular data about their business page via Facebook Analytics or Insights. With this information, businesses can gain demographic information and insights into page interactions. From social networking sites to CRM software, there are a number of sources of little data available to small business owners, and new SaaS (software as a service) offerings are giving small employers ways to make sense of that data.

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These prepackaged offerings give SMBs not only access to crucial data, but also vital access to actionable business intelligence — which in turn, can provide invaluable insights that can drive targeted, strategic actions. From using email marketing analytics to find the right targeted messages to leveraging payment data to understand purchasing habits, big data can make a big difference.

Use the four tips below to make big data a part of your small business’ 2013 toolset.

Escape Excel: Data in expansive spreadsheets is an unavoidable part of most businesses. However, far too many rely on these complex documents not only to gather data, but also to present it. The result is information overload, where the big picture gets lost. To get beyond the numbers to the real story, SMBs need to adopt visual tools designed for easy understanding and simple visualization. Big data doesn’t have to be daunting. Taking a visual approach can help pull out key details and metrics at a glance and present the information in an impactful way.

Take it to go: From the traveling salesman to the CEO on the golf course, mobile access to data can be crucial for understanding and sharing metrics out of the office. With the average mobile worker carrying 3.5 devices, having instant access to critical business data could make the difference between a lost sale and a sweet deal. Ensure your data visualization tool keeps your data secure but mobile, so even the most active team members can stay connected to important metrics.

Focus on design: Whether you’re in a sales presentation or a boardroom, packaging up data in dynamic presentations will help your sales metrics stand out. Good design in the workplace is on the rise, and big data is no exception. Interactive, compelling designs will help your team share data in a meaningful way and will help you further your goals to outshine the competition.

Less is More: Just because it’s called big data doesn’t mean you have to go big. With more data available to businesses than ever, it’s easy to feel like success means using ALL available data. Not the case – SMBs who focus their efforts and dive deep into a few business-critical sets of data such as sales in a specific sector, or performance metrics during peak vs. low seasons, will see quicker and better results than companies that try to take on too much. Embrace the idea of “little data” and take stock of your needs before establishing a data strategy for your business.

Santiago Becerra is is co-founder, chairman and chief executive of Roambi, based in San Diego, Calif., which provides mobile apps designed to help businesses access and analyze data on various mobile devices.

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