Small businesses must make room for Big Data
We create 2.5 quintillion bytes (or 2.5 exabytes) of data a day. Our smartphones, printers, fitness trackers, alarm systems and smart TVs are teeming with bits of information – Big Data – that we could not wholly fathom until recently. Now, software solutions and platforms such as Hadoop and Spark allow us to exploit Big Data. Google and the CDC can predict flu outbreaks, Macy’s adjusts their prices in real time and Cornerstone helps companies make more informed hiring decisions.
What is noteworthy about the above examples is that they are all large corporations or organisations. The Big Data conversation has always had an enterprise bias. But small businesses generate Big Data too and can benefit equally from its optimisation. It’s time small businesses began opening up to the possibilities that strategic Big Data analysis holds.
The disadvantage of falling behind
Simply put, harnessing Big Data improves decision-making. Consumers generate vast amounts of data through common activities such as listening to music, shopping online and reading. This data is a trove of information about patterns in consumer behaviour and how they make their decisions.
Graeme Grant, vice-president of store solutions atSalesforce Commerce Cloud, says: “Combined with predictive analytics, this data becomes incredibly powerful, enabling you to add relevant, tailored messages into every touch point across all channels, creating a personal, omni-channel shopping experience that deepens customer loyalty and drives sales.”
Small businesses that ignore the potential of Big Data are at an automatic disadvantage. Their decisions aren’t informed, contextualised and timed as well as businesses that are harnessing Big Data. They lose their competitive edge – something no small business can survive without.
The cost and skills myth
There are two supposed barriers between small businesses and the endless benefits of Big Data. First, the cost to purchase, set up and maintain the analytical tools. Second, the acumen to supervise the analysis of the data and apply the insights it provides appropriately. Cost and skills used to be obstacles for small businesses, but not any more.
Bernard Marr, writing for Forbes, explains: “As companies and organisations begin to view their data as the business commodity it is, a market will emerge (and is already emerging) where organisations can buy, sell, and trade data. [...] Many organisations will find that the data they need already exists — or much of it already exists, greatly reducing what they specifically need to collect and store.”
The benefits of tapping into Big Data far outweigh the costs. Additionally, companies such as Microsoft Azure and SAP have analytics tools that are specifically tailored to the needs of small businesses. What’s more, Google Analytics is a free and user-friendly platform that many novices can start with. Big Data is no longer contrary to the interests of small business – it’s aligned with them.
The benefit of a practical approach
It’s understandable for small businesses to feel intimidated or overwhelmed by Big Data. Done poorly, it can become more of a liability than an advantage. A strategic yet practical approach is to ensure that a small business competes and grows sustainably.
First, have a goal. The best way to approach Big Data is with a clear problem. Select a business process, product or service that you want to create, expand or fix. Once you have a target, the rest of the process should unfold systematically: collect, store, analyse, apply and repeat.
Small businesses should assess the performance of their Big Data strategy at each stage. Big Data is not a panacea for all the struggles of small businesses, so its application should be done with other business growth strategies. Small businesses also have the advantage of being more flexible than big companies, which makes them better suited to adapting their Big Data strategies dynamically.
If small businesses embrace Big Data and use it tactically, not only will they discover that it works just as well for them as it does for big businesses, but that in some instances, it can work even better.