A common misconception is that “big data” is a resource only available to the world’s largest companies; however, as technology advances and open-source platforms become more prominent, more small and medium-sized businesses are able to harness the power of these large data sets to help them boost their bottom lines.

Big data is no longer a tool reserved solely for big businesses. (Alan Brandt/AP)

Small businesses are major drivers of innovation and account for approximately half the world’s gross domestic product. In addition, they often find unique ways to solve complex business problems. This allows SMBs to think outside the box when utilizing big data and analytics solutions to create truly fresh approaches.

When properly implemented, analytics can be a game changer for small firms, but it’s important that the correct steps are taken to ensure that any solution is tailored to suit their unique needs. Here are a few pointers to help you get started.

●Bigger isn’t always better

Identify the challenges your business is facing and determine the most important types of data that will help to address those challenges.

The sheer amount of data available is growing at an exponential rate and can often seem overwhelming. Depending on your industry, certain types of data are going to be more critical than others; and sorting that our first will make the entire process much more manageable.

For example, an independent grocer might want to know how many and what types of items are selling on any given day, at any given time. From there, it can analyze data to identify specific demand trends that can help determine the shipments and stocking requirements during the course of the week, month or year.

●Learn to walk before you run

Using big data is a long process. It’s important that once you identify the data you need, it’s properly collected and analyzed. Often, this requires companies to invest in technology platforms or services which are flexible, scalable and provide storage options.

As the business grows, its big data strategy should grow too. Planning for the future is essential and having the underlying foundation is an important first step. If a business doesn’t invest in its own big data infrastructure, ask a potential vendor about their own technology backbone and how they plan to grow with your business.

●Follow the example of others

Of course, small businesses have very different needs, challenges and business considerations than a large organization; but that doesn’t mean that big business can’t inspire a manageable and more scaled down big data initiative for its midmarket needs.

SMBs should also keep a watchful eye on their competitors – large and small – to identify new approaches or alternatives that might work for their own company.

●Finding the right big data solution

The most common barriers that SMBs face when considering utilizing big data are the cost of technology and the staffing (and expertise) necessary to manage it. It’s critical that small businesses review their resources before selecting a big data solution.

For example, do you have employees on board who can assist in monitoring your data collection and analysis, or would you need to hire now people? Is there a technology infrastructure already in place to support the analysis of large amounts of data?

There are options available for businesses that want to manage the entire big data strategy themselves and some for those that want others to oversee it. Whichever option is pursued, small firms should carefully consider the investment, both in the long- and short-term.

Colin J. Parris is the general manager for power systems at IBM.