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Big data and small business: 5 tips to make it work

Small business. Big data. They sound like they belong on opposite ends of the spectrum. But these days any business—small, medium, or large—can access enough data to analyse patterns, trends and find new ways to make better decisions. In the digital age, there’s no such thing as being too small for big data.

We all know SMBs are the backbone of the Australian economy, making up 97 per cent of organisations according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. These businesses collect all sorts of data and they are often sitting on a goldmine waiting to be explored.

However, gathering this information is just the beginning. Where to from here? Put your data to work and start analysing it to get a better understanding of your business. We call it making data-driven decisions.

It reduces the need for guesswork and will give you some hard facts for making important decisions where you would have otherwise relied purely on gut instinct. And the proof is the pudding. PwC and Google showed that in 2013, data-driven innovation added an estimated $67 billion in new value to the Australian economy, or 4.4 percent of GDP.

Here are five ways small businesses can embrace the challenges of big data and stay ahead of the game.

  1. Focus on your primary objective and embrace data blending

Let’s say you have 30 buckets of data: each bucket could be emails, social media info, expenditures, employee feedback, and so on. When trying to prioritise what to analyse and where to focus your energy, get back to basics. What is your main business objective? Let that point you to the most relevant data and work from there.

For example, if your business sells shoes online, start with sales data. Then look for ways that data can be blended with other data to yield insights, such as search engine marketing data. Increasingly, it’s not about what the data says, it’s about what two sources of data have to say together.

  1. Get leadership the data they need

In a Gartner report on Australian small businesses, 85 per cent of respondents said better use of big data would yield better decision-making, while 52 per cent believed that the winners and losers in their field will be partly determined by big data. But who’s going to be able to use that data? Increasingly, the answer is everyone who needs and/or wants it. Great things can happen when the business side of the company embraces data discovery, even if the business side is just one or two people.

Part of letting the business minds take the lead involves a new distribution of data work.

You might have an employee responsible for collecting and organising data, and determining new sources which may be of use. But when the data is collected, it’s time to hand the data baton to the business folks, who know what questions to ask of it.

  1. But don’t leave employees—and customers—out of the data loop

The democratisation of data is powerful when management gets involved—but that power can be limited if people throughout an organisation, no matter the size, aren’t able to access and work with data.

While many small businesses are sole proprietorships, a 2012 Reserve Bank of Australia report indicated that a quarter of Australian companies had up to four employees and a tenth had between 5 and 19. No matter how many employees you have, think about what data would help them do their jobs better. Don’t be stingy with data analysis tools. For example, a salesperson – whether they’re on the road, work in a store or from home – will do a much better job if they have access to data that affects their job and performance.

Your customers should benefit too. Thanks to data analysis software and the cloud, it’s much, much easier to share data-based reports not only throughout an organisation, but with clients. It’s no longer acceptable for data to be accessible only on premise – your office might as well be an underground cavern in the new data environment. In the 21st century, you need to be able to share data with clients wherever you may be, whether at a hotel bar or local restaurant. With self-service software, you can share data easily on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Data is everywhere you need it to be.

  1. Don’t just collect data: use it

The old saying about a dog chasing a car holds a timeless lesson about mindless pursuits. As the punchline goes, the dog would have no idea what to do with a car if he caught it.

All too often, data collection feels the same way. The drive to collect data comes from so many places, inside and outside a company, but there isn’t as clear a message about what to do with it. But if you embrace the possibilities of data analysis for everyone, stay focused on your primary mission, and embrace data blending, any small business can stay ahead of the curve.

  1. Everyone has to start somewhere – don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress

I often hear businesses say things like “our data is a mess and we need to get that fixed first” or “we’re in the middle of a system migration so we’ll have to wait until that’s out of the way” before focusing on data discovery.

I always say just get started and give it a go. With an agile analytics solution you can choose your most pressing problem, find the related data set and start digging into it straight away. More often than not, you’ll find value immediately and you’ll see yourself quickly tackling the next problem or kicking off a data cleanse because you’ve identified exactly where the quality issues lie.

Either one will get you on the right track and you’ll find yourself identifying opportunities and solving problems long before your other projects have run their course.

About the Author:

Written by Nigel Mendonca, Tableau Country Manager, ANZ .

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