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Is big data ever going to be for small companies

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Big data is playing a transformative role in the way companies are selling services, from manufacturers to app developers. We spoke to Andy Neely from the University of Cambridge, whos recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on organisational performance measurement and management, about the role SMEs have to play.

Could you outline the work you do, particularly in regards to big data

I run the Cambridge Service Alliance. Its a university and industry consortium looking at firms that are trying to make a shift to providing services and solutions rather than just products.

Often this is enabled by remote monitoring and, particular with manufacturing, they are selling services rather than products. Firms are then thinking about how we remotely monitor these assets and optimise the service

For example, engine manufacturers like Caterpillar will sell the thrust rather than the engines. They have sensors on the equipment, but because theyre monitoring so many things theyre creating more and more data. Were looking at all of that to let manufacturing become more efficient.

How will this impact SMEs

SMES are tied into these developments in a number of different ways. SMES are suppliers to some of these larger manufacturers and they will expect them to provide these kinds of components. Then theres an opportunity if you can collect data in the field you can get some really interesting insights, like how to manage spare parts inventories.

What do small businesses interested big datas role in their organisation need to think about

Start by thinking about what your customer and your customers customer values; what role could data play in this The next question is how Im going to access that data and have the skills to do so.

One of Caterpillars dealers, Finning, sells machines and monitors equipment. They gather data on individual machines. How do we help minimise the cost per tonne of quarrying We can monitor the machines and the uptime. Its not overheating you can tell the put manager to work that machine a bit harder.

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How can these organisations build up the capacity and expertise to handle these data sets

Theres an interesting question about whether they want to build their own capacity or partner with others. I might not have the resources, so I can effectively outsource that. That could be a local university. You can see networks come together and sharing this responsibility. In some cases thats a better route.

They challenges to doing it in-house are technical challenges around accessing data, getting the skills to do so. You can drown in data.

What are the most interesting examples of SMEs work with big data youve come across

There are all sorts of examples from manufactures to looking at where social injustice is likely to occur. FlightCaster predicts whether flights will be delayed. They compare historical data on weather patterns industrial action etc. to current conditions and work out whether the flight will be delayed before the airline would tell you. Sumall use social media data to do investigatory work.

How can SMEs take advantage of data released by organisations like Google or the NHS?

That trend will increase. With big data theres a big move toward making it available. The value is in combining data sets, for example, GPS data to shopping habits. Theres always a question of the concerns around privacy and security; just because I can combine these data sets doesnt mean I should.

What do you thinks the future for data releases of this kind

The volume is just going to grow and grow. They talk about the three trends of big data, so velocity, volume and variety. Velocity and volume will grow more and more as devices are connected. All the things that are connected will generate data. The volume is like an avalanche. Were going to see an explosion in the amount of data thats available. Then theres a questions about variety and whether well see a growth in variety is less clear.

Is there anything youd like to add

The point I make to SMEs is you have to think about where the value lies. Think strategically about the value in the data around your product or service.

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