We’ve been hearing the term “big data” for years now, but usually not in the same sentence as “small business.” Companies of all sizes are using big data to improve internal operations, marketing strategies, and even employee engagement. But how can small businesses reap the benefits of big data without using expensive storage and analytics tools? The answer lies in taking a more tailored, practical, and mobile data collection approach.
Defining “Big Data” & Its Relationship with the Cloud
Forbes contributor Lisa Arthur describes big data as “a collection of data from traditional and digital sources both inside and outside of a company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis.” It can be made up of structured or unstructured data sets, which are those that can be easily organized in traditional “row and column” databases and those that are more text-heavy and do not easily fit into such databases, respectively. A combination of both structured and unstructured big data can be characterized as multi-structured data.
Many small businesses don’t take advantage of big data because of the perceived expense associated with curating and maintaining it. On the contrary, cloud storage solutions are a relatively affordable way for small businesses to compile large amounts of varying data sets. With choices ranging from mobile software-as-a-service solutions to pay-per-usage cloud rental services, there is certainly an option available to meet any business’s needs.
Let’s first consider one way that a small business can utilize big data: for operations improvement. Ubiq founder Sreeram Sreenivasan proposes a three-step methodology for SMBs to follow in order to accomplish this. The first step is to define problems that are inhibiting business growth. Thinking these problems through will help organizational leaders figure out how big data can be used to gain insights into issues they are facing. This step should always precede big data collection, as it’s more useful for a small business to gather specific data that directly correlates to a problem it is working to solve. The second step involves creating measurable methods for understanding the problems at hand. Before diving into big data analytics solutions, Sreenivasan recommends trying to solve your business’s problems using the tools already available at your disposal. This can be done by reaching out to the people in your organization who are most familiar with the issues that are being worked on, or who have the most experience with computing data.
Additionally, SMBs can attempt to solve their operations problems using their current analytics tools and see how far they get. By doing an initial analysis using resources you already have, you can learn more about the nature of your business’s problems and discover what other possibilities need to be explored. Finally, after exhausting all other potential solutions, businesses can choose an option for how they will collect and manage big data for the purpose of fixing its operational problems. Depending on their budgets and unique needs, businesses may opt to rent cloud storage, adopt a mobile software solution, or hire a data consulting firm. Regardless of their final choice, SMBs can rest assured that they are making the most effective use of big data because they have already taken the necessary steps to ensure it was the right tactic for them.
Big data collection also provides invaluable information about consumer preferences that allows marketers to adjust their messages and promotional strategies to their ideal target audience. Having this ability is especially beneficial in today’s day and age where consumers are bombarded with thousands of advertising messages on a daily basis. Data-driven marketing strategies enable businesses to project messages that consumers want to hear, which translates to higher sales. A combination of big data collection and an understanding of consumer habits (why they do what they do) will empower businesses to catch customers at the right time with the right message.
Businesses can promote engagement by using big data as a way for employees to access information about their own performances. Performance data that is stored in the cloud and accessible to employees keeps them more accountable for their work. This is so because they are able to track how they are doing on their own without being told how they are doing management. Having access to performance data lets employees constantly work to improve their stats instead of being kept in the dark and waiting for a monthly evaluation from their managers. Furthermore, receiving information online is less emotionally and cognitively taxing for humans than receiving information in-person. When the “communicator” of performance data is a digital tool as opposed to a real person, employees feel less threatened and more engaged.
More and more organizations are starting to realize the advantages of leveraging big data. Small businesses can tap into big data by understanding how it can be used to advance their current business strategies. By designating what specific goals they want to accomplish and employing affordable analytics and storage technologies, small businesses can use big data to experience growth.
Victoria is a Marketing Associate at Repsly, where she leads the company's P.R. and social media efforts. You can also catch her prepping for slew of exciting industry events. A New England native, Victoria has spent time living in Italy and traveling throughout Europe before settling back in Boston. When she's not planning her next trip, V is probably tasting wine or brushing up on her Italian.