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Big data: Not just for big business

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The amount of information that any business has to handle is growing exponentially – and that goes for small and medium-sized businesses as much as large enterprises. New forms of data are joining the wealth of corporate information and this is amplifying the age-old challenge of information management. However, with increased challenges comes increased opportunity: the opportunity to exploit data creatively to improve your business.

That creative use of data is what is known as big data analytics. Handled correctly, it has the potential to be a game-changing competitive weapon. Following our (EMC UK & Ireland) recent research with the Cranfield School of Management’s Joe Peppard into how the big data opportunity can be maximised, we arrived at a set of big data principles that businesses of all sizes should consider.

1. Look to improve on your existing businesses processes. 

Using data to improve your business should start with your core operational processes. Finding new ways to interrogate sales figures, advertising feedback, customer data and supply chain data could reveal better ways of running the vital processes of your business.

2. Use data to change the way you do something. 

Data equips you to question preconceptions about your business; about who your most profitable customers truly are, for example. Combining data types that usually remain separate – i.e. timesheets, invoicing data and bank receipts – may afford you a different, clearer picture.

3. Co-create value with your customers. 

If you have some means of capturing and analysing customers’ feedback, you can use this information to tailor your business model, not to the needs of the noisiest customer, but to those of the most profitable. Even better: partner with your customers to glean that feedback. Sometimes the best ideas on service and product innovation come from those who use your products and services, so try asking some unusual questions, and seriously consider the answers.

4. Monetise your data. 

Data doesn’t just improve business performance – the data you hold can be a growth opportunity. Not every business has data that can be easily monetised, but it definitely makes sense to know for sure. Even some of the very smallest businesses have a large amount of “exhaust data”, which can be harnessed to create additional revenue streams.

Business leaders often think of big data as something for computer geeks, but you wouldn’t say that about your sales figures, your advertising budget, or your customer complaints. Big data is all of these things and more; today’s technology means that that data can tell us much more than ever before. Just because your business isn’t big enough to employ a data scientist (or even an IT support person) doesn’t mean that it’s too small to take advantage of big data. There is no end of help available in tapping your own data-goldmine; all that’s needed is for leaders to take the initiative.

James Petter is vice president and managing director of EMC UK & Ireland.

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