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Posted by Karen

January 24, 2014


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“Big Data” is NOT Just for Very Big Firms

The new “gold” of the information age, data is arguably the most important natural resource of this century, and organizations of all sizes are challenged to optimize data to drive business. Business instincts and intuition are being augmented and increasingly replaced by data analysis as the drivers of success. Small – midsize businesses will never gain the edge they need without accessing and analyzing “Big Data”.

But What the Heck is “Big Data”?

The term “Big Data” may suggest it is exclusively applicable to enormous organizations and sound somewhat overwhelming. However, make no mistake; you don’t need to be a big organization to leverage the power of “Big Data”. Whether your revenues are $1 million or $100 billion, knowing how to manage and analyze data is unequivocally critical to success.

As defined by Gartner, the world’s leading IT research company:

Big Data is high-volume, high-velocity, and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making. 

Volume refers to the amount of data, velocity refers to the speed of data processing, and variety refers to the number of types of data.

“Big Data” is a relative term. Every organization has a tipping point, and most organizations – regardless of size – will eventually reach a point where the volume, variety and velocity of their data will be something that they have to address. Although “Big Data” technologies might not seem appealing for small – midsize businesses with limited resources, it is better for businesses to invest in analytics now, before their “Big Data” grows to unmanageable proportions.

Small – Midsized Businesses Lag Large Businesses

While many large businesses have invested in “Big Data” technology, small – midsize businesses (SMBs) have been slow in the deployment of a business intelligence strategy to capitalize on their data. This lag, which puts SMBs at a distinct competitive disadvantage, can be primarily attributed to the greater challenges experienced by SMBs when it comes to taking advantage of their data.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit research, 79% of businesses with 501-1000 employees
say their IT departments view “Big Data” as a “significant challenge” versus just 55% of organizations with more than 3000 workers.

In SMB Group studies, SMB decision-makers repeatedly cite “getting better insights from the data we already have” as a top business challenge. Although SMBs may not be dealing with terabytes of data, many are finding the tools that used to suffice–such as Excel spreadsheets–fall short even when it comes to analyzing internal transactional databases.

Here Are Some BI Challenges Cited by Small – Midsize Businesses (SMBs)

  • Lack the necessary resources and/or infrastructure to implement a business intelligence solution
  • Lack the skills required to structure and manage data effectively
  • Don’t have the analytic skills to know how to use the data effectively
  • Addition of permanent staff to manage business intelligence is not warranted/possible
  • Need a business intelligence strategy; but don’t know where to start
  • Don’t know how to choose the right BI platform
  • Do not require a large enterprise level solution
  • Lack the technology and skill to create data visualizations and dashboards
  • Can’t get the data to the right people in the organization
  • Require intermittent support and expertise throughout the year

So What IS the “Big Data” Solution for Small – Midsize Businesses

There is no single, one dimensional solution. The solution lays in the synergy of multiple components: business intelligence strategy; Key Performance Indicators; business intelligence technology; data structure and extract, transform, and load (ETL); data visualization and dashboards; training and support.

Business Intelligence Strategy

Business intelligence is the combination of technologies and processes for gathering, storing, analyzing and accessing data that supports decision making within a company. It includes decisions about data warehouses, reporting, data mining, ETL processes, and forecasting. The data that’s acquired can be invaluable in terms of what you can learn about your business and customers.

Before investing in new business intelligence or analytics technology, a comprehensive assessment of your business’s current data environment and goals should be conducted to formulate a business intelligence strategy that addresses the unique requirements of YOUR organization.


KPI Analysis

Most companies produce more information than they can ever analyse, so you should first find – or ‘discover’ – the data that will help you most. This means establishing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that are driven by goals and objectives. KPI’s are the handful of metrics that reflect the performance of your business, or more accurately, the drivers that influence the business. To help determine the most relevant KPIs, we use the KPI Karta®, a proprietary methodology to identify appropriate KPIs and build a framework for calculating and distributing them.

Business Intelligence Technology

BI platforms are not “one size fits all” and the multitude of BI platforms and functions available can be overwhelming. Two reports from Gartner provide invaluable assistance in choosing the right BI tool for your business.Gartner MQ for BI and Analytics
The Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms rates vendors upon two criteria: completeness of vision and ability to execute.

Gartner also compared vendors on cost elements such as average implementation, license and hardware. As an SMB, it is important to choose a business intelligence tool that won’t overextend your budget or IT resources. However, keep in mind that low-cost tools that do not meet requirements will not deliver the expected business benefits.

Customers rate BI Vendors by Cost summarizes the reports Gartner published about the costs of business intelligence platforms for 25 leading suppliers.When evaluating vendors on business intelligence platform ownership cost (BIPOC), be sure to balance any cost consideration with functional requirements, expected adoption and business benefits.

(At Unilytics, we are so impressed by Tableau’s performance, efficacy and adaptability for businesses of all sizes; we choose to partner with them as a reseller and service provider.)

Data Structure, Import and ETL

Integrating content from multiple sources often produces greater insight, so be sure that the BI tool you choose is compatible with all of the data sources you want to analyse. Be advised that data import and ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) that enable the retrieval and cleansing of data from databases and applications may be required depending on your data sources. This can be as basic as exporting from an account/database, or as complex as retrieval via custom interfaces (API), direct database interaction (ODBC), custom connectors or web services. It is important to note that ETL is often challenging and will determine the success or failure of Business Intelligence projects.

 Self-Serve BI

Since IT resources are often limited or scarce at SMB’s, it’s particularly important that business users be able to quickly access the data they need without waiting for IT to generate a report. A self-service approach to BI lets end users create personalized reports and analytical queries while freeing up IT staffers to focus on other tasks – potentially benefiting both groups. The BI platform should allow anyone in the organization to do their own data discovery, ad-hoc analysis, and dashboard creation, and because self-service BI technology is used by people who may not be tech-savvy, it is also imperative that the user interface be intuitive and easy to use.

Data Visualization & Dashboards

“Big Data” is meaningless without a way to analyze, organize and present important findings within it. Data visualization is a key component of modern BI technology because people comprehend data better through pictures than by reading numbers in rows and columns. The right BI platform will provide business users and organizations the ability to quickly analyze their data to identify issues, causes, and opportunities for improvement.

Effective dashboards should visually display summary information that is quickly and easily understood. They should deliver new insight at a glance and be interactive, so business users can answer questions and drill into details. It is also essential that dashboards be shareable, so you, your colleagues and executives can find and use them anywhere.

 Ongoing Support

As an SMB your organization may not have the time or expertise to fully exploit the powerful and insightful features of a BI and Analytics platform. If this is the case, you will want to consider training and/or an ongoing support packages to ensure your investment in dashboard technology is fully realized.

“Big Data” for SMBs – Wrap Up

Smaller companies can’t be blamed for thinking that “Big Data”, as the name suggests, is only for the big boys with enormous amounts of data and the dedicated IT staff to tackle it. One of the common misconceptions of “Big Data” is that it refers only to massive quantities of data and humungous companies.  In reality, the definition of “Big Data” is relative. What is considered “Big Data” for one company may be different for another company.

You can turn “Big Data” into a competitive advantage for your business instead of an underutilized asset through the synergy of a sound BI strategy, a suitable and cost effective BI platform, the right data and well-designed dashboards (based on KPIs). As an SMB, to realize this synergy you most likely require a solution that will both overcome certain skills gaps and be affordable.

If you want to “jump start” your use of “Big Data” to create rich, insightful dashboards for better decisions, you may be interested in our  “all-inclusive” business intelligence and dashboard solution designed specifically with small to midsize businesses in mind. Feel free to contact us to learn more.

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