Big data technologies for small businesses

Big data technologies are no longer for the corporate giants who have the cash to spare for the technological edge. Don’t let the name scare you away from learning about what big data is and what it can do for your small business. As the world we live in becomes increasingly digitalised, it’s vital to stay ahead of the curve and to utilise the analytics which are at our fingertips.

Before we dive in, check out these big data stats:

  • Most companies only look at 12% of the data they have

  • 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute

  • 40,000 Google searches occur every second

  • 50% of businesses said big data and analytics have fundamentally changed their business practices in a recent McKinsey Analytics Survey

That last statistic is vital to pay attention to if you’re a business owner, even a small business owner.

Big data isn’t just about having an extensive amount of knowledge at your disposal, it’s about being able to access high-quality information that’s related to your business right when you need it in order to make optimal decisions.

Big data could equate to a big turning point for your small business.

Big data definition

Big data are large data sets that are too large or complex for traditional data-processing software. Within this field, these large sets of data are captured and stored for analysis. Big data isn’t even about the amount of data itself, but the value or meaning that can be obtained from the data.

How we manage this data is of great importance as it’s estimated that by 2020, 1.7 MB of data will be added to the internet every second for every person on earth.

The v’s of big data

Traditionally, big data revolves around the following key concepts:

  • Velocity: This is how fast data is processed and involves the speed and directions from which data comes into the network. We’ve already achieved real-time processing with streaming, and as we add more data at faster and faster rates, the difficulty to process the data increases.

  • Variety: As more sources of data are added, there are different formats or structures of data to process. Big data variety is the diversity of the data collected. Think text, photos, PDFs, social media apps, GPS location services and the Internet of Things uploaded by humans or generated by computers.

  • Volume: Perhaps the easiest concept, volume is simply the amount of data generated every second.

  • Veracity: With all of that data collected, it’s important to have a measure of the degree to which the data is accurate and trusted. Factors such as precision, sources, abnormalities, statistical biases, and human error are associated with this concept.

  • Value: Put the above 4 V’s together, and collectively they provide the value of big data. How will the insights gathered provide your business with an opportunity, increase revenue and/or provide a cost-cutting idea? In short, how useful will the data be to you?

Big data vs open data

While often confused, big data and open data are not the same. Where big data is defined mainly by its vast size, open data is defined by its accessibility. By definition, if data is open, you should be able to perform a web search and find it, and, as it’s under an open licence, you can also share it or re-distribute it.

Data from the government (alarmingly only 9 out of 10 government data sets are published) such as a census, scientific research such as that from the World Health Organization (WHO) and even Google Trends are examples of open data.

Great things can stem from big data becoming open data, such as the digitalisation of patient medical records helping doctors to identify patterns faster for more efficient healthcare or Google Maps processing data in real time to deliver route planning dependent on traffic or emergencies.

But not all big data should be open data.

Privacy, security, and discrimination risks are areas of concern with the exponential growth of big data technologies, and daily the balance between big and open data is questioned as there is not an overall authority monitoring the realm of big data.

As big data is large and unsorted, it must be processed by software that acts as a tool to sort and synthesise the raw data sets according to what is needed. Different functions provide different information. So, as a small business, the next question is:

How can I use big data for my small business?

Only 23% of businesses are currently utilising big data according to a recent IBM report.

Big data will enable you to focus on the area your business operates in. The value of the real-time information you can receive from big data depends on what tools or software you use to process the raw data such as Kissmetrics, SAS or Qualtrics, to help small businesses optimise the knowledge they have of their customers’ behaviours.


Big data will help you to ask questions such as:

  • What common factors do my customers share?

  • What are the likes and dislikes of my customers?

  • Which marketing campaigns are most effective in driving customers to my website?

  • How do different landing pages perform on my website?

Become website savvy

Unless your business is branded as an ‘off-the-grid’ company, it should have its own website for your customers, providing an overview of your shop and the products/services offered, if not selling them online as well.

Via big data you can examine insights such as how your customers find your website, how long they spend on your site, and remind them when they’ve left items in their cart.

Using big data to explore the possibility of expanding your business to a niche only discoverable online might be worthwhile. While your shop could be great at serving your local community, see if others on the web could use products or services like yours. Additionally, you could find a partner who shares the same vision as yours to grow your business.

Tailor to the customer

Demographics, preferences and the future needs of your clients can all be uncovered by big data. Confirm the stereotype that small businesses cater more to the individual shopper than corporations by utilising big data to see local taste and orientations.

Even Forbes has declared that Small is the New Big when it comes to business as we are in the age of the individual.

Master social media

Did you know that less than 60% of small businesses in the UK use social media?

The number is growing each year as small businesses work with social media to develop the image of their businesses, market products and also discover new niches for the business. Moving beyond a shop diary with pictures of new products, consider tools such as Zoho, Insightly, which will help you monitor your interactions with customers and potential customers, as well as provide task management.

Build buzz by keeping track of when topics related to your business are mentioned on social media with tools such as Mention or Hootsuite. Getting your company’s name out there could do much more for your business than you realise.

The analytics from these tools provide opportunities for a business owner to reach out and engage potential customers on social media when a related keyword, hashtag or location is mentioned.

Still unconvinced?

Inspiring examples: smaller guys using big data

Check out how these small businesses employed big data to the ultimate benefit of their companies:

Australian pool company Narallan Pools used big data in relation to temperature to convert customers into buying pools. By answering “when” customers are most likely to buy a pool, Narallan Pools was able to build a digitally-led marketing strategy which, on certain days, led to an 800% increase in conversion compared to the average day.

The Canadian Opera Company increased its sales calls from 15% to 50% by utilising big data to target customers at a time when they were most likely to have opera on their mind. They also focused on current customers by developing individual customer profiles created using web visits, purchase history, and email activity to encourage further ticket purchases.

Providing fitness classes and distance learning, UK-based company Origym streamlines its communications and business operations by employing IBM Cloud services. As Origym operates both online and within its app, the ability to access live data about its customers all in one place (the cloud), has helped the company provide faster customer service and greatly reduce IT management costs

Competitive gains, personalised insights and opportunities for brand placement—as you can see, big data technologies provide excellent tools for small business owners.

Micah McGee