Data is vital to strategy and insight in the business world today, and in the future. But what exactly are Big Data and Small Data, and how are they useful to small business?
What is Big Data?
Big Data refers to massive sets of “raw” data (numbers, letters, symbols) that are too large or complex to store in traditional processing applications. What makes Big Data a massive challenge is how to organise, interpret and utilise this deluge of “chaotic” information most effectively – without this it is of little value.
The term, “Big Data”, was actually coined the 1990s, and is different to other data because it has certain features – known as the three Vs:
- Volume on an unprecedented scale, and this is increasing continuously. The global technological per-capita capacity to keep information doubles every 40 months. Since 2012, 2.5 Exabyte of data is generated every day;
- Velocity – the speed in which it comes in;
- Variety – the range of sources it comes from. Data is gathered from a myriad of sources: mobile devices, cameras, software, microphones, wireless networks, remote sensing, radio-frequency identification readers – and the cheaper and more accessible these become, the more data there is.
Big data is associated with large companies, however, in many cases it could equally benefit SME's, simply due to the agile nature of these types of businesses. Even the most potent insights are valueless if your business cannot act on them in a timely fashion. Smaller businesses have this advantage, being suited to act on data-derived insights with speed and efficiency.
In the online gaming industry, for example, SME's are already running Big Data technology within their enterprise without even thinking about it as such. Bookmaker WinUnited has put in place a MongoDB open source non-relational database from 10gen to bring its gambling products together and help it to better update betting odds in real time. This allows them to service customers and update their information as it happens - essential qualities that define this industry.
By running Big Data through a hosted service such as MetaMarkets, the small business can benefit from immediate insight – which needs to be acted upon, and used timeously to be of value. If SMEs collaborate with a channel partner, such as Splunk, they can take advantage of some of the most effective methods to gain necessary data insight, while gaining a deep level of industry expertise. This ensures the business maximises revenues, is able to strategize and develop new products as the market feedback reflects consumer needs. It all depends on how much the SME has to spend and why what the purpose of the data is for.
Data is useless if one is not able to interpret it, and use it effectively.
Small Data is the new Big Thing for SMEs
Small data is data that one can comprehend easily. In a way, it's the old "data" - much more accessible, understandable and actionable for everyday tasks than Big Data. Small data is essentially what will shape our future, because where Big Data is all about predicting the future by sifting through millions of data points, small data is really all about the causation of the data, the reason behind the actions - why things happen.
Customer behaviour insight
Small Data is invaluable in SME Marketing, Client Relations and Customer Retention fields, because it clearly and quickly shows trends in product preferences which can help decipher consumer thought processes. This information is used by these departments to predict what products will be popular, how to drive sales in their target market, and gain customer loyalty by delivering to the needs of the consumer, in the right place at the right time, in the right packaging. Small data can also help to indicate where the company should be developing new product and drive their branding strategy, and therefore increase profits while lowering risk.
Even small data sets from CRM platforms, social media or email marketing programmes can also provide much-needed insight to help businesses understand customer behaviour patterns and showcase trends. Google Analytics offers free data analysis. Hootsuite, Sprout Social's Sprout Insights, Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Moz Analytics are a few tools to consider which offer great insight into social media behaviour - all aids in helping to understand the client, hone the product delivery and gain insight into product suitability.
Learn about your SME, and gain foresight
Many companies simply want to do better analysis with the data they already have. If one’s company has been operating for a year or more, there is a likelihood that a ton of big data exists in the company records. Information from sales ledgers in various forms such as Excel or QuickBooks provide data sets and interpretable statistics to cross-reference with other information in the company provided by the Marketing and CRM departments, for example. By learning about the way in which your company behaves, one can start to predict trends and prevent potentially damaging scenarios from occurring.
Use data to gain a competitive edge
Barclays provides a free service to SMEs, whereby the business can review their market positioning – which includes a downloadable report based on your postcode, constituency or the region the company operates in. The report includes a breakdown of consumer spending in your region; income and age bands of spending growth; turnover of businesses, analysis of the largest sectors, and commentary on the broader economic situation and impacts on small business. This can be extremely useful in terms of marketing and product development, for example.
Xero, the SME cloud-based accounting platform provider, recently launched Xero Signals, giving small business access to an unprecedented level of data, launching initially for New Zealand, with more countries due to follow. It claims to represent a true signal of the state of the country’s small business economy, based on aggregated data from almost 10,000 businesses. This is incredible industry knowledge if your sector is involved in finance, for example, where cutting edge tools are essential.
Trend spotting. Data is essential to gain insight, gain foresight and maximise profits in business of any size these days.
In the very beginning, most young SMEs probably just need a good quality CRM system, (Hubspot, Salesforce) or ERP (such as Oracle or Sage) if it’s bigger or more complex, and a proper customer contact strategy. Don't be fooled into spending vast amounts on over-specced software and data-systems providing which are unnecessarily complicated for one's small company. Upscale as you grow - your needs will change - but it is essential to take advantage of small data to drive strategy and profit in today's business world.
A word of advice: An SME needs to understand clearly what its objectives are (i.e. to understand competitors / geographies or customers or increase prospect pipeline or sales etc) before launching into data analytics, because otherwise the process can become incredibly confusing and complicated - and fascinating - and one can waste valuable time searching and gaining very little.
At the end of the day, the aim of data is to enable companies to make clearer business decisions and plan for the future - and this is definitely possible using both Big Data and small data for SMEs. It all depends on what the purpose of using the data is, and whether you have a budget. Both are incredibly valuable and essential tools to have in business today. Always remember though: it's not what knowledge and information one has, it's what you do with it that counts.
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About Felicia Meyerowitz: I am passionate about technology and innovations in financial services adding value to Small and Mid-size business in a practical way. I work as a co-founder at Akoni, aiming to bring innovation to the key asset within all enterprises – cash. Follow me on @Feliciatedx.
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