3 ways that you – yes, you – can tap into big data

Big data isn’t as big as the big data hype. 

Yes, big data is doing some pretty cool things out there. But can big data cure cancer? Will big data destroy privacy? Will big data yield millions in revenues? It is easy to feel that you have to jump into big data now or you’re going to get left behind.

Here’s the rub: big data won’t do any of these things. Highly skilled clinicians and biochemists will cure cancer. Bad privacy policies and poor data security will destroy your privacy. And skilled business people will find ways to capture millions in revenues. 

Yes, big data will help. But the machines can’t do it alone.

Big data magic 

Many large enterprises are trying to ride the big data wave by buying the technologies (focusing first on the storage capabilities, not the analytics capabilities) and taking a “let’s store all the data we can until we figure out what it might be good for” approach. 

The myth that drives this behaviour is that somehow, magically, big data will sift through all that information and produce gold. The reality that drives this behaviour is that large companies know they don’t know what to do with that data and they can make the ROI numbers work by replacing other storage options, like tape backup.

SMBs don’t have the luxury of building data lakes and hoping. And that’s not a great strategy anyway. It’s analogous to owning a library full of books you never plan to read. 

Big data is a cool new tool, but it really doesn’t change how you apply analytics to your business. You can certainly use big data as an SMB, but only if you’re highly pragmatic in your approach.

Here are three ways that your SME can tap into big data:

1. Mind your own business

The big trick to using data to drive business performance comes down to one key factor: understanding your business model. 

Where are the key leverage points in your business? If you knew more about your customers’ preferences, what could you do about it? If you could monitor a key process, could you optimise it? Is there information you have that you could deliver to a customer or partner that would make your product or service more valuable? 

Find out more about big data:

Big data thinking for FDs

Nine ways to fix UK business challenges with open data

Is big data ever going to be for small companies?

Answering these questions will help you identify where big data might generate an insight that you can act on to create value. If you can’t think of an interesting question to ask that could lead to value creation, you don’t need any data, much less big data.

2. Problem solving on a shoestring

Some of the best analytics projects have kicked-off with no budget. No new technology, no new staff… just get started with what you already have. 

Once you have identified an interesting question, start trying to answer it with the resources you have on hand. Find the person in the business who knows and cares most about the problem you’re working on. Find the most data-savvy person you can find inside your organisation. 

Don’t hire a Ph.D. data scientist just yet. Start to work on the problem. See if you can find the data you need to answer the questions. See how far you can get with the analytics tools you already have. Exhaust the first line of analysis before you try to use exotic techniques. 

Why? Because you’re likely to learn that you can find an answer without big data, that you had the wrong question and needed to think again, or you couldn’t get at the data and needed to implement a business process so you can access it.

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