By Martin Campbell, MD, Ormsby Street

Big data is not a new area of technology or business. Many organisations have been relying on data-driven insight to make decisions about their business for a number of years now, but small businesses that are deploying big data in any meaningful way are few and far between. This is strange when you consider the benefits that big data can offer organisations of any size – better understanding of customers, smarter and more informed financial decisions, and more joined-up HR are just a few.

As the volume of data has increased, so has the insight that can be extracted from it. Whereas marketing was once at best, personalised by name, the growth of social and digital data means that brands can target customers with content that is timely, relevant and likely to inspire a reaction because it plays directly to their likes and preferences.

So savvy small business owners should be aware that big data can be an integral business tool for them, but usage numbers would suggest that something is stopping them. What can be done to address this and how can small businesses really get the most from big data?

The fear factor

There is undoubtedly an element of fear to small businesses’ lack of big data deployment. They think that perhaps big data is more suited to bigger businesses, they feel they do not have sufficient data themselves and most of all, they feel that they lack the skills and tools to make sense of this data.

While a fair number of small businesses may be using some basic social listening tools to check what is being said about them on social media, and more maybe deploying simple web analytics, this is still not ubiquitous and offers only rudimentary insight.

There’s a significant difference between collecting and reporting web analytics, which are just numbers, and actually extracting insight to help a small business make the right decisions about an area of the their business. This requires a good data analyst, who can translate data into meaningful and actionable insight and share that with the rest of the business. But this is a specialised role that can be hard to fill (good data analysts do not grow on trees), and is an additional expense that many small businesses will not be able to afford.

A little outside assistance can make big data go a long way

So for a small business to feel wary about big data, is entirely understandable. It is true that smaller businesses (and their websites) do not generate or collect as much data as bigger firms, which does mean that there is less insight to be gained. Similarly, trying to understand complex sets of data about every customer interaction or every piece of financial information is the last thing a busy small business needs or as time for. So for small businesses, the best way of maximising big data comes from using third-party predictive analytics tools or SaaS providers that can do the number crunching on their behalf.

This saves the need to actually own the data or indeed have the skills and resources to employ a data analyst to conduct any analysis in-house. Of course, any small business will need to choose their partner wisely, selecting a vendor that is not only the right partner now, but one that is capable of scaling with the business as it grows.

This approach truly opens up the potential of big to small businesses. Whether it is using data from companies house to assess whether a customer is likely to pay on time or not, or deploying an analytics tool to mine social media data to enable better content and communication with customers, big data is rich in potential for small businesses in a variety of ways.

Getting to grips with big data without the resources, skills or know-how can indeed be daunting, but working with external providers can go a long way to providing small businesses with the insight to help take their business forward. Most big businesses deploy big data in one form or another, so it stands to reason that smaller firms should try and make the most of it to – it really can transform help make smarter and more informed decisions.