Chris J Powell

Big Data and Small Business

A funny thing happened to me the other day as I was trudging through my new job as a Small Business Consultant and trying to find some relevancy between what I have been doing for the past several years and the reality that I am facing today as a “Sales Guy”.  It is hard to be a Technical Sales Professional when the product that you are working with is the most un-technical out there and its purchase is based entirely on the hopes and dreams of a Small Business Owner and then I stumbled across some material that hit home.

The world of Big Data may seem daunting and at times overwhelming but it affects nearly every business out there and an effective plan can definitely improve the ability and capability of a business to be successful.  The danger as usual when dealing with technology that is out of the comfort zone of a business is overextending the look down the Rabbit Hole.

In a 2011 Report  titled “Big Data: Harnessing a Game Changing Asset” SAS builds a great back story that illustrates how Data has always been collected and in many instances will be for some time.  My last job, we talked a good story about Big Data but rarely did the information make it down to the front line staff that needed it the most as we navigated the tangled web of understanding our customer needs.

SAS breaks Data Usage into 4 distinct categories that I think apply quite well to Small Business as well as to the Medium and Large Enterprise even 2 years after the report was written:

Data Waster:

For a great deal of businesses, the data that is collected by customer data capture as well as through web traffic and social media is just left to chance.  There is no real analysis and even though the Data is still there to be looked at…its relevance becomes dubious at best with each passing day/week/month/year.  If you have a website…you should already have access to a wealth of Big Data Information with Google Analytics. According to SAS, Data Wasters can be from any Industry Sector that has not found the balance between business and IT.

Data Collector:

For years this is exactly what you could call me.  I would harvest information from as many sources as possible and store it on every available sector on Hard Drives and on stacks of DVDs (and now BluRays) so that I could look at it later.  I was not wasting it…I was just far to “greedy” at diving in to every nook and cranny of the Interwebz to see what I could see that it became increasingly difficult to consume and make sense of the Data and Information that I was collecting.  For businesses this is often the case when IT is tasked with gathering information for the business based on a business Use Case…but then new priorities cause the project to be delayed, sidelined or cancelled but the collection continues.  According to SAS, Healthcare and Professional Services fall into this category.

Aspiring Data Manager: 

Managing data is no small feat at the best of times but when the volumes out grow the capabilities…this is often when someone picks up the torch and decides to take ownership.  This is exactly what I did as a Data Collector and decided that while collecting information was great…using data was much better.  According to SAS businesses that fall into the communications and retail sectors tend to fall into this category.  They are starting to leverage more complex data and combining multiple sources to paint a broader picture.

Strategic Data Managers:

There is often that a ha moment when it comes to technology that drives things forward and empowers a quantum change.  Big Data is definitely one of those technologies.  When you get it right…there is little to be said other than WOW.  Data mining is a lot of fun…but not as much fun as connecting the dots between two separate sources and building a third from the two parts.  Making fundamental changes to the business direction and profits by supporting decision making and looking at as many available sources of data what makes the Strategic Data Manager.  According to SAS companies in Manufacturing, Technology and Financial Services fall into this category.

So what is a Small Business supposed to do?  They often do not have the resources or the staff to undertake the extra work needed to move up the chain to achieve Strategic Data Managers but from my experience, very few would take to kindly to being called a “Waster” of anything.  That is where I can honestly say…take a step back and assess your needs and build your company vision.  Where do you want to be in 5 years?  If it is exactly where you are today…you may not need to make the full leap and being a Collector is all you need.

More on this in the days and weeks to come…I smell a series coming out of this.


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