What is Big Data?
The term 'big data' first appeared in a 1997 paper by NASA scientists, describing the problem of data too large to handle with standard computing resources. In 2001 came Gartner's 3Vs of big data: increasing Volume, Variety (range and types of data) and Velocity (speed of processing). The 3Vs offered a more practical, three-dimensional concept and are still widely referenced today. For organisations of all sizes, including SMEs, the volume of data alone is less important than data quality and relevance, and how you use it to drive smarter decisions.
Bigger vs Smarter
Big data is the by-product of an increasingly digital world. It comes from customer databases, website traffic, social media interaction, mobile devices, sensory devices and smart machines. Although the term may have already stuck, 'big data' is a bit of a misnomer, especially for SMEs who may be working with smaller datasets. Instead, 'smart data analytics' is about using data well regardless of size; collecting, combining and analysing new data in novel ways to improve business outcomes.
Getting Smart with Data
The starting point is always your business strategy. Keep it simple and stick to your strategic game plan to avoids endless data mining, and that hoary old chestnut, 'analysis paralysis.' Pick one or two critically important metrics, and knock any temptations for data navel-gazing on the head. For SMEs, getting closer to customers is often a first foray into smart data analytics.
Smart Data to Deepen Customer Engagement
Marketers have been telling us for years that it's all about the customer. Today it is truer than ever, with personalised marketing becoming the name of the game. Staying ahead of the competition in a digital world means that
satisfaction is not enough –
outstanding experience is what drives repeat business. New data types are transforming the way business responds to individual customer needs across multiple touch points: online, mobile, social, broadcast, in-store.
For instance, you might use Google Analytics to find out how visitors reach your website. Do you notice any traffic spikes from the various sources - both search engine and links from other websites. Can you correlate these with recent marketing efforts or events? Was it a great piece of content that drove interest in your brand? A social media mention by an industry opinion leader?
Observing the movement of visitors on your website via Google Analytics can tell you which pages attract (or drive away!) customers, and increase conversions. Comparing sales data with social media data, mobile data and web analytics, rather than observing each in isolation, gives guidance on delivering the right message, to the right customer, at the right time and place. In practice, that means tailored product recommendations and advertising to meet real-time, individual preferences.
Discover what customers really think about your products, by listening to social media conversations and blogs. These provide deeper customer insights than traditional surveys and focus groups alone. Real-time observations can be acted upon immediately. For example, monitoring online product reviews lets you quickly uncover customer issues, and respond positively in a public arena. There is a growing trend towards using 'crowd sourced' data to improve existing products and develop innovative, new ones, in direct response to customer needs.
Beyond the Hype
According to Gartner research, big data has just passed the top of the 'Hype Cycle,' and is moving toward the 'Trough of Disillusionment.' The hype is settling, and businesses – both large and small - are becoming more realistic about using big data to capture strategic advantage. Perhaps, one day, 'big data' will be known as 'smart data.' At the end of the day, bigger is not always better.
'Big Data in Little Cups: Leveraging Google Analytics to Gain Insights on Your Small Business' by
Hendrik Kruizinga, on Broadcast Blog at crucial.com.au, 20 October 2014.
'Hype Cycle for Big Data 2014' by
Frank Buytendijk, Gartner Report, 4 August 2014.
'8 Different Big Data Use Cases For Your Organisation' by Mark van Rijmenam, Datafloq Blog at datafloq.com, 17 January 2014.