In my discussions on Big Data with small and medium sized enterprises, I have often felt a sense of helplessness on part of SMEs – small businesses appreciate that Big Data is real and is here to stay but are not so sure about what they can do about it. Big Data has become the proverbial “The elephant in the room” in most business discussions these days. Through this post I want to share my top five ideas for small businesses in order to leverage Big Data trends.
1. Understand that Big Data is not a monolith
Big Data came into prominence due to large technological companies such as Amazon and Google who were among the first ones to capitalize on its possibilities. Given that these companies are known for their technological footprint it also led to stereotypes of use cases for big data.
Making use of Big Data does not always require investment in massive storage or computational power – you can leverage data hosted elsewhere and you can also use computational power of a third-party.
Let us take an example that is pertinent to small businesses – Social Media Analytics. Small business can gather valuable insights from analyzing social media content (e.g. profiles of their Twitter followers, how many followers do the followers have, sentiment of Facebook posts, etc.). In most cases, small businesses can make sense of the enormous amount of social data that exists out there by using smart tools that don’t require them to break the bank.
2. Partner with companies of your size
You are better off partnering with players who specialize in Analytics rather than trying to teach your existing teams new skills that they may not be equipped or inclined to learn. Large technological companies or service providers will likely not be interested in your custom. Find a partner in your size-bracket that is willing and able to customize its offerings around your specific requirements.
3. Take an iterative approach
Be prepared to adapt your strategy and approach along the way. Being a small business, you ought to retain your agility and nimbleness. Don’t compromise it by getting into contracts that require you to make large upfront investments, are more than 24 months in duration, or are difficult to terminate.
4. Adopt the newer tools and techniques from Big Data world, even for your regular data
The advent of Big Data has brought some really interesting tools and techniques to the market that are applicable even for regular data (think of data stored in your good old spreadsheet software). For example, visual querying or data discovery can be meaningful even when applied to regular data.
5. Finally, pay attention to the broader field of Analytics and not just the Big Data Analytics
Small businesses tend to be driven by gut-based or personality-led decisions. While this is generally an advantage at early stages, it often becomes an impediment as the business grows and newer people join the business. Small business are better off institutionalizing the discipline of “data-driven” decision making as early as possible and so they must pay attention to Analytics as a whole and not limit their efforts or enthusiasm to one particular area of Big Data Analytics.
It is easy to get carried away and think that it is technology that makes Big Data Analytics possible. This can often lead to a sense of helplessness and inaction. While technology is often an enabler, in most cases what you really need is a good team that understands your business and is willing to apply itself on your business problems.
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