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There is no doubt that big data has made its mark in the business community. However, the emergence into analysing such volumes of information has raised questions among SMEs: is it worth the effort?

Today, organisations of all sizes inevitably have some level of digital presence through which data can be collected and stored. Unfortunately, this created a common misconception of the term big data as "having to deal with lots of data".

Volume is, of course, a part of a big data solution but the process is rather about unlocking the potential from structured and unstructured information.

Flexibility and agility are crucial for SMEs. With their limited resources, SMEs have to manage input from a range of different data sources, from structured transactional data to unstructured sources (social media, web traffic and customer sentiment).

The ability to move a record easily from one source to another is, therefore, key. If the process is ironed out, it provides proprietors with instant access to valuable insight, offering immediate learnings with which they can respond to such as spikes in demand for certain products or searches for a particular service. Equally, it allows them to act on emerging trends, engage with their customer base and even expose potential risks.

A great example to look to is Google’s use of data to predict user searches. Obviously the scale of information that Google and similar sized companies have access to puts everyone else in the shade. However, its approach to big data is easily amended for different situations. 

At its core, Google’s "Did you mean..." corrector function repurposes previously yielded results to predict future enquiries. The more data there is to learn from, the smarter and more intuitive this search function becomes. Similarly, SMEs should understand the value of the existing bank of data they have, as for them, terabytes or even gigabytes of data can produce the same learnings that petabytes do for global enterprises. No one should ever be afraid of hoarding too much data. A purpose can always be found for older records and moreover, there is always software on the market that can help if the amount of information stored has built up to unmanageable levels.

Maintenance of this information is equally paramount. It is not sufficient to cultivate a portion of big data and interrogate it only occasionally. Instead, the analytical process needs to become a part of daily business operations. This stream of information then needs to be presented in a clear, concise and timely fashion. Big data, if understood and maintained, can and will provide vital, business altering information to any organisation, regardless of size. 

Any investment an SME decides to make with regards to developing a solid, working big data management system will see a return. After all, insight is priceless and smaller start-ups and SMEs should always be looking to maximise the potential of big data and the huge selection of insider information it offers.

Jamie Turner is chief technology officer at Postcode Anywhere.

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