Big Data for SMBs

Management Insight

It seems like over the last few years, certain IT and business terms have undergone extreme transformations. One of these is the somewhat simplistic “big data,” which used to be a kind of generic label applied to the sophisticated analytics strategies of Fortune 500 companies, blue-chip firms, and other big market players. However, as there has been a kind of “flattening” of the analytics market due to new technology tools and the emergence of third party analytics providers, there is now a lot more of a cognitive discussion of what big data means and how to apply it.

One of the misnomers that insiders often point out in talking about the new world of analytics is that big data isn’t just for big companies any more. The rise of smaller and more customized analytics tools means that even the mom-and-pop shops, or small to midsize businesses, can acquire big data tools and use them to gain traction in their respective fields and markets.

What Does Big Data Do for SMBs?

Even a cursory look at how entrepreneurs are using big data shows that every approach is uniquely different, and that the analytics that startup or small business leaders acquire and use have a different impact for every single project. That said, one very common way that big data works for smaller companies is to simply identify better sales prospects through the analysis of social media or customer interactions across different platforms, from Facebook and Twitter to proprietary web setups that smaller companies may also use to keep tabs on their target audience. Skilled consultants point out that big data can help smaller companies to view consumer activity “in the wild,” or in other words, to see much more about how their customers live and how they interact with the business based on their preferences, purchases and overall lifestyle. It’s worth noting that those on the vanguard of this type of social marketing are counseling firms to always look closely at the issue of privacy: many different cases of backfiring data projects illustrate how being perceived as intrusive or nosy can really hurt a company.

Beyond marketing, though, other reports are showing how startups and other shops are also using big data services and tools for internal issues like staffing. With many businesses chasing that elusive perfect employee or “unicorn,” crunching data on resumes and applications makes a lot of sense for some operations.

Drilling Down Into Big Data Strategies

In the end, the burden of “solving” problems with big data falls on the business leadership team, where figuring out “data etiquette” goes hand in hand with making sure that data is accurate and does what it is supposed to do. This speech from Kate Crawford at the 2013 Strata Conference gives a little more detail on some of the pitfalls of using big data analytics as a blunt tool without putting in the creative work and developing a plan that stays true to the overall objectives of the business.

Hosted Services and Vendor Support

Then there’s the aspect of working with third party services to get more elaborate big data functionality without a lot of in-house IT work. Getting hosted services can be a great thing for business leaders, allowing the SMB to avoid the effort of licensing and installing products, coding algorithms and maintaining support for software, but again, the leadership will have to know how to talk to vendors, not just to negotiate terms, but to craft an IT architecture that works.

All of these types of strategies can help smaller businesses to compete in a world that’s often slanted toward the mega-corporate firm. Even those with small “one-horse shops” can confidently shop for analytics services that will fit their budgets and their needs.

Justin Stoltzfus is a freelance writer covering technology and business solutions at Techopedia, Business Finance Store and Ringio, focusing on emerging trends in IT services.

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