June 05, 2014

​How Big Data Can Help Small Businesses

Every organization, big or small, has a need for data and the insights it can afford. This is especially true when it comes to the challenge of understanding your customers preferences and anticipating their needs.The right data, properly analyzed and effectively presented, can help greatly in overcoming this challenge.

So what is Big Data anyway, and what's all the fuss about?Big Data refers to the tools and processes of managing and utilizing large data sets.The big data phenomenon was born out of the quest to better understand patterns, trends and preferences, hidden in the vast trail of data generated when humans interact with each other and with systems.Big Data allows businesses to use analytics to the discover, for example,the most valuable customers and create products, services and experiences that matter most to them.

One example is how the search engine giant Google can predict flu outbreaks before the PAHO does. Using search terms, it can find when many people in one city or country are searching for flu remedies or terms related to flu symptoms. Google can then scan all the search terms in near real time, tally the occurrences of the indicator words, and then store the location of those searches. It can then process that list of locations, looking for "hotspots" where it comes up often and predict with some certainty that a flu outbreak is imminent.

The good news for small business owners is that the big data boom is not the exclusive preserve of large corporations like Google. Does your company collect information about its customers? Could it be collecting more, especially with the proliferation of mobile devices and popularity of social media?

Smaller firms won’t likely have the same volume of data to manage as big businesses—and they certainly don’t have hordes of analysts crunching away at the numbers. However, small businesses, using the right tools and approaches, can realize the benefits of big data all the same.

Benefiting from Big Data

So, what can a small business do with big data? For a start, it can use data to tailor products and services to individual customers. Small businesses typically have a more intimate understanding of their customers than larger enterprises. Big data tools can help small business understand customer patterns. Particularly, where electronic transactions are involved, big data can also provide businesses greater insight into consumer preferences, many times without even talking to them.

Using the digital footprints left with every credit card purchase, website visit or even social media post, businesses can learn about what's trending and what's not. This insight can be used to deliver the products and services customers desire. Result: More satisfied customers, higher sales, more repeat business.

In much the same way that high street merchants once memorized information on loyal customers, modern merchants can now gather that data digitally. But small businesses have another compelling reason to consider big data.Their larger competitors will increasingly be investing in big data to offer levels of personalized service—the one area where they couldn’t measure up in the past.

Of course, despite the variety of affordable, easy-to-use programs that give many small- and medium-sized firms access to more data, there’s still work to be done.Many small businesses hesitate to invest in structured analysis of market trends or customer behaviour, much less consider big data. In a recent Nielsen poll of 2,000 small businesses in the U.S., 41 percent think conducting market research is too costly, and 42 percent say they just don’t have the time.35 percent went so far as to say they’ve never even considered it.

The results of Nielsen’s recent poll also show that even with new solutions tailored for small business, a large portion of owners still lack the expertise and the time to make good use of the information.This too is an opportunity for IT services firms and software development shops to shepherd them to a data rich promised land with the tools and advice to help them turn data into practical business insights.

Big data is not so much about seeing patterns, as it is about seeing new opportunities. If companies are to gain meaningful customer insight and realize increased revenue generation potential, they must invest in the internal business processes needed to coordinate a big data initiative. This is why big data is best approached as part of a wider strategy. With big data, small businesses have the opportunity to learn about their consumers, competitors and the business landscape in ways that create new business value.

John Jantsch, small business consultant and author of “Duct Tape Marketing got it right when he said, "It doesn't matter what industry you're in or how big or small your business is. Until you can understand precisely what your customer wants, what they don't want, how they want it and when they want it, you'll be left to guess—and guessing is a very, very expensive business sport."

Side Bar:

Three Keys for Small Businesses Looking To Tap Into Big Data

How is your business responding to Big Data revolution? How do you plan to keep up? If you are a business big or small, there are manageable ways to approach big data where you can garner some pieces of information that may very well set you apart from your competitors.

  • Take the time to understand what your goals are for Big Data. Are there a few very specific pieces of information you seek such as customer demographics or attrition metrics? Making big data goals smaller can make the potential of implementing a Big Data program more realistic
  • Consider data on demand sources like Kaggle where you can choose the size of the project and the amount of extractable information you seek.
  • Seek out data brokers who offer highly useful data at prices that smaller organizations can afford.