By Robert Gothan, CEO and founder of Accountagility

‘Big Data’ has become a major buzzword in recent years, promising bigger and better things for businesses across many different sectors and industries. Thanks to new technology, information about customers, behaviour and geo-locations can now be collected and analysed on a large-scale basis. However, before businesses focus too much of their attention and investments on Big Data, they must ask themselves if they truly understand the advantages — and whether there’s more they could be doing with information already at hand.

Whilst significant sums of money are being spent on the mechanisms to calculate and produce vast trends and insights, the fact is that many companies still struggle to produce a comprehensive and efficient set of financial data or sales figures — the Little Data. In many cases, businesses are becoming too distracted by new tools, when in reality they should be focusing on finalising and utilising the information under their noses in order to gain significant benefits right now.

Small but mighty

Big Data, by definition, is so large that it cannot be held by normal databases, or calibrated using desktop programmes such as Excel. Little Data, on the other hand, is small enough for human comprehension, and in many cases is manually controlled for daily processes.

With data of any size, firms need to interpret information most efficiently — and understand how to apply any insight that is gained — in order to derive the greatest value. In other words, business users need to understand the figures they’re working with in order to product accurate outputs.

Processes such as month end and financial reporting are regularly riddled with errors, resulting in time are resources being wasted in corrections and deciphering what went wrong. With 80% of spreadsheets still found to contain errors, businesses should concentrate on perfecting basic procedures before they begin monitoring larger trends.

Elements of everyday practice such as number crunching, validation and reporting can be complex, and could be eased and streamlined using automated technology. As such, businesses should consider investing in this area before setting their sights on Big Data.

Dealing with data

In order to understand how best to utilise their data, businesses need to identify the key business objectives they would like to solve. Once these are clearly defined, a strategy can then be implemented. Previously agreed goals can often serve as a strong roadmap for the identification of relevant data sourcing, which will generate new insights for evidence-based decision making by executive team members.

For example, Big Data may be useful in acquiring new market knowledge and making competitor comparisons, whilst Little Data may be more useful for gaining instant business insights that can be used to make internal amendments to strategy, reporting, sales and technological processes as necessary. Tracking these trends can help companies to see the broader picture, whereas smaller, more comprehensible data sets may provide actionable insights that can be more easily applied to daily activity.

By implementing a streamlined agenda for their data, firms will ensure they are using all available information to achieve their business objectives, and not unnecessarily investing in Big Data processing tools if they are not in line with the company’s immediate goals.

David and Goliath

Of course, for some businesses, Big Data will certainly be on the agenda. However, it is still important to ensure that the Little Data feeding into it must be accurate in order to produce truthful results. The results of Big Data insight must then feed directly into business processes to gain market insight, and later, competitive advantage.

In addition, big is not always beautiful in terms of data quality, and businesses must understand whether and how their investments will be useful, and ensure they won’t present a headache for users trying to incorporate results into existing business strategies.

Data quality should always be prioritised over quantity, as this is will be the driver of all of the firm’s business decisions. Big Data certainly has a strong influence and is bringing previously unknown insights to many businesses and providing benefits for those who use it effectively. Little Data, on the other hand, is an essential rather than a luxury, and accuracy should be achieved as a pre-requisite to any further data interrogation.

Either way, when dealing with data, firms will need to start by establishing what they hope to gain from it. Sophisticated processes can be employed to collect and report on this information automatically, minimising human errors while remaining transparent for users. By increasing efficiency, gaining valuable information with little ongoing effort, and ultimately achieving smoother processes through automated technology, businesses can establish an educated viewpoint on both Big and Little Data, decide how they fit with business objectives on an individual basis, and make this information work for them.