As an SME owner, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz around big data. But if the concept leaves you scratching your head, you’re not alone. Unhelpfully, there’s no universally accepted definition for the term, and it has evolved to encompass a number of approaches which vary from industry to industry, sector to sector.
As a very general guide, in the business world big data refers to the collection and analysis of customer data, whether that’s digital information from social media or apps, or traditional information such as point-of-sale transactions. By joining up the dots, this ‘big picture’ data can help predict future consumer behaviour, allowing companies to better serve their customers and, ultimately, to boost their bottom line.
For example, in the car insurance industry there’s a move away from the traditional measures of risk such as the age or model of a vehicle. By analysing big data, insurers have found that motorists who have taken out life insurance policies are the kind of people who are more likely to drive safely. Accurate prediction of risk means lower premiums for many, and higher costs for those who don’t take out such policies. (Of course, it won’t be lost on insurers that this method of analysis encourages drivers to take out life insurance – remember that comment about the bottom line?)
While large corporations can access the budget and the expertise to fund big data analytics, many smaller businesses fear that they are locked out of the revolution. Instead they are left to rely on their traditional business sense, scattered spreadsheets and old-fashioned intuition, and quite understandably they worry about being left behind.
A survey by MHR Analytics reported earlier this year that 76 per cent of UK companies were planning a big data or data analytics project within the next twelve months, but 70 per cent of C-suite executives said they were struggling to up-skill employees in order to make the projects effective. Worryingly, just 39 per cent of those executives were able to strongly agree with the statement ‘our customer data is accurate and up-to-date.’
Yet there was one area where business execs were definitely able to agree. Nine in ten said that data analytics and business intelligence would be crucial to the future of their business.
The future is coming, and it’s hurtling towards us at an astonishing pace. Innovation in technology is never-ending, and while for many this is a fascinating field, for non-techy business leaders the speed of change can be bewildering. It’s no wonder that many SMEs doubt their company’s ability to harness big data. Yet the longer they stall, the greater the risk of being beaten by savvier competitors.
If you’re one of those stalling businesses, where do you start? The good news is that with new software tools and the support of a good IT consultant, you could soon find yourself walking tall in those big data boots.
An ideal solution is to utilise well-known applications for managing your data. For example, Microsoft Excel can be connected to data stored in Hadoop providing you with an easy-to-use platform for accessing, viewing and summarising information. Likewise, Microsoft’s HDInsight can be connected to Azure cloud via a power query option.
Data from our planet continues to grow exponentially, whether that’s from sensors, mobile tracking devices, posts to social media sites, emails, blogs or surveillance videos. Have a think about the data you’ve created today in your personal and business life, multiply that by many millions, and you get a sense of the wealth of information that’s stored in cyber-space. Mining this information to boost your company’s success might not be as daunting as you imagine. Welcome to the future!