Like cloud, big data was one of the many buzz words of 2012. Both topics were much debated in the technology and business spheres, often simultaneously, and grew on a global scale. Somewhat inevitably, these trends also promise to gain yet more momentum as we enter 2013.

To offer some perspective, in just two years, we have created over 90% of the world’s data – an incredible growth rate by any analyst’s standards. To help recognise the demands of this enormous influx of information, the term ‘big data’ was developed.

But despite the creation of new data being a collective effort, big data as a resource is often only associated with big companies. However, this perception is likely to change with 2013 marking the opportunity for SMEs to recognise the ROI of big data and how utilising this platform could be fundamental to business success in the future.

Why the sudden growth in big data?

One of the reasons for the creation of big data stores is down to the global improvement to connectivity. The ever increasing need for total mobility both at work and at home has risen dramatically over the past two years and has sparked a torrent of tablet and smartphone devices to enter the consumer market. A product of this sort of technology is that any individual can access information on the web, almost anywhere, at any time.

Given that big data is primarily accrued from the web, and the web is being used more than ever thanks to portable devices, the amount of big data a company could have access to, is ever increasing. In other words, it is the heightened need for web mobility that has created data stores so vast, they are difficult to comprehend and impossible to ignore.

Where do the opportunities lie for SMEs using big data?

Despite big data being such a talked about topic, there are still a number of SMEs that simply do not perceive it to be relevant to them in any way – at least not yet. One of the reasons for this could be that when you search for examples of big data, the results listed vary from internet call logs and scientific research, to military surveillance, medical records and the information amassed from all the different social media platforms.

However, there are still many clear benefits to big data for companies of any size. Utilising big data effectively can lead to:

  • Competitive advantage
  • Better client understanding
  • Improved business operations
  • Enhanced accessibility of a brand

In addition, the process of collecting data from target markets is arguably even more important for SMEs than for larger enterprises; SMEs and start-ups do not always have the security of a widespread following nor guaranteed business revenues and therefore, should make the most of the information the web provides in the form of big data sets.

Four challenges every SME should bear in mind

Like everything, there are certain difficulties to be aware of when it comes to SMEs gaining results from big data sets.

  • Quantity – the process of turning the sheer amount of big data available into something valuable and accessible is time consuming. When resources and time pressures are tight, as they sometimes are in SMEs, it can be difficult to know what area of big data to focus on analysing
  • Quality – given the almost unlimited size of the data available, combined with not always knowing the source of the information, it is easy to question its accuracy. Big data is a concern because the information can come from anywhere, in any format
  • Speed – it is crucial to process a large set of data in as little time as possible because big data is instant data and provides instant results that may only be of use for a small window of time
  • Selection – big data can be anything from text, audio, video, log files etc. In order to uncover important business insights, companies need to simultaneously analyse different data types and new forms of content. This process can be challenging for an SME.

The next steps

Should an SME both realise the benefits and understand the challenges of big data, the next step to tapping into its potential effectively, is developing a big data management strategy. Not only does big data need to be captured, but it also needs to be sorted, analysed, shared, and perhaps most importantly, stored.

As mentioned earlier, cloud is often interlinked with discussions about big data because without the flexibly and scalability available in the cloud, data of this size would be problematic to store and therefore, difficult to analyse.

The fact that big data can be stored in either a private or a public cloud helps make the process of analysing it a cost effective business operation for SMEs; whatever virtualised data storage solution a business already has in place can be grown to accommodate big data management. Alternatively, for companies that are yet to migrate to the cloud, the realisation of big data opportunity is likely to speed up this process.

In addition, it is not sufficient to accrue a portion of big data and look over it occasionally. Instead, the analytical process needs to become a part of daily business operations. To maximise the potential of the information made available by big data, and to see the correct action being taken post-analysis, the data needs to be presented in a clear, concise and timely fashion. To assist with this, there are a number of web analytics tools available and some are free of charge.

Once an enterprise has access to the relevant information, it can act accordingly. This could mean anything from redistributing resources and responding to client feedback, to changing the positioning of a brand’s website and testing the outcomes of different projects to evaluate each one against the other. What is more, web analytics tools can also aid with understanding visitor behaviour on a website; something that is crucial for any SME.

In conclusion

If understood properly and the right business processes are put in place to make room for it, big data can and will provide crucial, business altering information to any company, regardless of its size. Any investment an SME decides to make with regards to developing a solid, working big data management system will see an ROI. After all, it is impossible to put a price tag on insight, therefore all companies, especially the smaller start-ups and SMEs, should be maximising the benefits of big data and the huge selection of insider information it can offer.