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In the first part of this three part series, we looked at some of the reasons why small businesses and start-ups should consider using Big Data and analytics, and uncovered what it’s really about. The fact is that anyone can now benefit from these technologies, and smaller businesses should use their agility to gain an advantage. In this second article, we will take a look at some of the essential considerations when looking to harness Big Data and the tools that will help you manage it.

Keep your data tidy

As data analytics is about gaining Business Intelligence (BI), it is essential to capture your data, and ensure that it is easily accessible. As an increasingly important business asset, you need to make sure the data is of the best quality possible before using it for analysis. You need to audit your data and make an effort to improve its accuracy as well as educating all employees so they know what you are trying to achieve and they understand the value of saving data in a standardised format. It makes for better analysis.

Know where your data is

Part of the data auditing process requires an understanding of where the data is. To get a full picture of what’s going on, you will need to be able to access your data from a central location. Smaller businesses tend to have lots of excel spreadsheets throughout the organisation in varying formats and some key staff hold it in their heads. Most people don’t understand the value of the data within these repositories. It’s important to create a data culture within your business to ensure you get the right data, in the right place, to be able to gain insights that will have a meaningful impact on your business.

Have a clear goal in mind

Developing a strategy gives you the best chance of success. Firstly, figure out what you are trying to achieve with your analytics before beginning the process. Too often companies start data analytics without having a clear goal in mind and they end up trying to find out everything in one go. So, take a step back and define the goals that you want to meet when running analytics projects. Do you want to get a better understanding of what the experience is like for your customers? Perhaps you’d like to know more about who your customers are and why they choose to buy from you? You can glean insights on just about every element of your business if you have the right data, so start gathering it today to ensure your success tomorrow.

Select the right tools for the job

Once you have established what you want to do with the data you have, you need to find the right tools for the job. The tools needed will vary drastically between businesses depending on whether the business model already focusses on data analytics or if a business is analysing data to improve its sales process or customer service. The tools needed will also depend on how much data you currently have, how much you expect to have in the future, and the speed at which you need to analyse data to maintain a competitive advantage.

But how do you decide what tool to use? SQL or NoSQL databases? Columnar or row-stores? Open source or proprietary? Cloud or on-premise? Reports or visualisations? BI and reporting tools? There are so many options it may seem bewildering.

The best way to find the tool that suits you is to shortlist a few and then try them out; most vendors allow you to sign up for a free trial or community edition, and built-in connectors should allow them to hook together simply. The key thing to bear in mind is whether your chosen solution will scale. While it may work for your business now, will it work for your business in 6 months? And in five years?

Keep the conversation going with your database

While businesses are becoming increasingly data-driven, and while the ability to analyse data and act upon insights is crucial, you need to have the right database to be able to have a conversation with your data. Front-end visualisation tools such as Tableau allow users to humanize their data, but BI and reporting software can often underperform due to the latency and poor performance of the underlying database.

There’s no point in having a fancy ride-on lawnmower or aerodynamic car that looks great but lacks a powerful engine. Traditional databases tend to be slow because of their reliance on indexing, aggregates and partitions, and therefore cannot satisfy the queries that are pushed down to them by visualisation tools quickly enough.

It’s better working together

Ultimately, you need to have the right analytics solution in place for your data. If you’re not using the right tools to get the most out of your data, you risk making decisions in the dark and you risk missing opportunities to both improve operations and save money.

In the next and final part of this series, we will take a look at some of the digital businesses that have integrated data analytics into their business strategy. We will look at the challenges they faced and how they have become successful with Big Data.

By Sean Jackson, Chief Marketing Officer at EXASOL