By Sean Jackson, CMO, EXASOL

Big data: A familiar term to anyone in business, from large enterprise to start-ups, but what does it actually mean to you? In a three-part series, we’ll explore and explain the jargon, uncover how big data can help you, the tools out there and finish up with some examples of start-ups leading the way with big data.

What does big data mean?

We’re told our data is valuable, but what is it? Many start-ups and small businesses dismiss big data because it’s all just a bit vague and sounds expensive. They stick to their Excel worksheets, which unfortunately are not very accurate and no longer fit for purpose in today’s digital era.

As a start-up there are two types of business that need to sit up and take note of the advantages that can be driven out of big data, and every business falls into one of these two categories. The first is the start-up idea borne out of the big data era. Your business uses data to solve a problem or a service. For example, you provide web analytics using data on people’s online activities, or retail analytics using information gained from loyalty cards, or you provide analytics on social media behaviour by using data. If your business falls into this category, you already know what big data is; you have a killer business idea that wouldn’t have existed in the pre-big data era, but the chances are you don’t know how to turn this into a reality with limited funds and limited access to the right data analytics tools. You can skip through to part two of this series (watch this space for part two).

The second type of business doesn’t have a model based purely on data and insights. But in order to compete with the big players in your industry, data can have a real benefit in driving innovation, productivity and efficiencies.

How? It enables you to derive insights from the data your business has stored in every corner as well as publically available data, whether that’s data on sales, on social network channels around your brand, on online activity, even on the weather. Correlating and analysing it can provide illuminating information to help drive your business forward, making the big boys break a sweat as your agile, innovative business nips at their heels, disrupting the status quo. You are providing a better business model for your customer – whether that’s personalized recommendations on a fashion website, or an innovative addition to your service to business by listening to data.

But what is big data? Everyone has their own definition of “big data” – although any definition will usually include “the three Vs” of volume, variety and velocity (so just about any adjective beginning with a ‘V’). What this means in the real world is data that has reached the size that makes it too big to manage and analyse by traditional means, i.e. in good old Excel.

Is my data big? Now you are wondering whether your data is big enough and have probably dismissed it as being too small. Think again. In the Internet age, it doesn’t take long for data to build. Data comes from your sales, customers, team and products. You can find it in your emails, in your web traffic, sales data, in your social media streams, in documents across your business. You can even use data from external sources, such as the weather and holiday dates to help you understand when things happen. For example, if you are in the business of ice-cream, you’ll be better prepared for the peaks and troughs brought about by the weather, holidays and road conditions.

You can gather data from every corner of a business and if you don’t think it’s important to do so, you are missing a trick. If you need more persuading, here’s a stat to get your head around: According to IBM, 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created over the past two years, equating to 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. You are part of its creation, your customers are part of its creation and your team is part of its creation. Garnering insights from this is the smart thing to do.

Today’s digital economy is seeing all industries take advantage of data to ensure that they are not only targeting their customers at the right time, with the right message, but also with products at the right price, on the right platforms. And that’s just one use of data. All businesses in the digital economy are inherently data-driven. If you’re not looking at those insights, the chances are your competitors are.

If you are thinking, ‘Great, I want to implement data analytics in my start-up business’, the next questions you need to ask yourself are about its expense, the skills needed and how to get going. We’ll answer all of these questions in part two.