The term “big data” has been around for a little while now. Even so, ask most folks what it means and you’ll likely get all kinds of answers. One common characteristic of the answers you’ll often get, however, is that “big data” is something “big companies” use to sell more, do more, and make more money.
The idea that big data is only for big companies couldn’t be further from the truth. Over the last few years, costs associated with big data have declined while big data “self service” tools have become increasingly available (meaning small business leaders – many without technical expertise or an IT staff – can leverage big data tools and applications themselves). (Source: Small Business Trends, “Making Big Data User Friendly For Small Businesses,” by Jeff Charles, Jan. 19. 2017). As a result, big data has become accessible not just to big companies, but also to small business owners and their non-technical leaders who want to get into the big data game.
Being ‘in the game’ and ‘competing smartly’ can be two separate things, however. To ensure best outcomes, a deliberate thoughtful approach is required. To follow then, originally set out in full in a wonderful Entrepreneur Magazine article last year, is a short list of action items to help small business leaders leverage big data tools to their fullest potential (Source: Entrepreneur, “The Big Deal About Big Data for Small Business,” by Carol Roth, July 19, 2016, citing Marina Erulkar, founder and principal of Hampstead Solutions LLC).
- Ask: What do you really need to know? “Create a learning agenda so that you will have the intelligence — and the data that supports it — in advance of that need…Defining and collecting the data that supports anticipated, essential intelligence needs to happen in advance so that progress is not slowed, interrupted, or driven off course.”
- Ignore the noise. “To make the most of big data, small businesses must be laser-focused on their intentions and goals, being selective about what they consider, and disregarding the rest…discipline is key to harnessing the power of big data and without it, it’s too easy to become overwhelmed by the metrics that can be generated. Just because you can measure it doesn’t mean that you should.”
- Analyze (and Repeat). Once you get the info, spend time with it. Critically analyze the results of your big data analysis efforts, and then do it again. And again. “Understanding the implications of measurement requires critical thinking. You must know your business, your objectives, and your numbers in order to be successful at this crucial step….Establishing iteration as a process will ensure that small businesses continually improve as data-driven opportunities are recognized.”
Big data is an incredibly powerful tool that can be leveraged to truly understand a business and make meaningful adjustments in order to drive performance and improve outcomes. And there is no longer any reason in the world why this tool can’t be used by small business leaders. Using self-service tools increasingly within the budgets of those on a budget, small businesses can take advantage of big data. With a deliberate and focused approach, and a commitment to understanding results, small business leaders in any industry can now reap the benefits of big data tools previously reserved for only the biggest businesses among us.