According to several leading analyst firms, the years 2014 to 2016 will be the years of Big Data. To use Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Life Cycle (TALC) model we’re currently seeing the market players moving from innovators /experimentation to early adopters/production applications. The market is still at an early stage, but nevertheless it is a focus of attention not only for CIOs, but also for CEOs, business managers and increasingly forward-thinking SMBs.
Ambitious SMBs are trying to devise ways to use their data to gain competitive advantage as every issue they face can be impacted by Big Data including marketing, customer satisfaction, purchasing, equipment maintenance and healthcare. SMBs are savvy enough to know that advanced technology is no longer the sole domain of the enterprise. They will also be aware of the impact Big Data has had on today’s business. As such, they are increasingly waking up to the idea of Big Data, but adoption could take years. I have highlighted the three phases of SMB adoption below.
Phase One: Behind the scenes (external)
SMBs are still limited when it comes to using Big Data to its full potential. Generating insight means large amounts of money must be spent on pulling information in from external and internal sources and then analysing it. This cost is something which typically SMBs cannot afford, so the key challenge is to understand what Big Data means to them. Businesses should research and discover which questions they can ask of their data sources to gather the information they need.
SMBs are already using Big Data sources without knowing it, such as Google Search or Google Analytics, which incur little or no costs. They are using social media tools like Twitter to draw in customer insight to understand what is trending. Another simple use of Big Data which SMBs may be unaware of is selling products online via sites that use recommendation engines. This ‘invisible’ use of Big Data is supplied in a packaged application by outside solution providers. Although they may not generate much internal data, the rapidly increasing availability of external (and cheap) data sources is making it more accessible to SMBs.
Phase Two: A combination of both (external and internal)
The adoption of Big Data for some will take place over the next couple of years when the realisation hits that there is more to the concept than just retrieving information from external applications. As SMB insight is currently gained through external sources, how can they then compare this with their data in-house? This approach will involve combining their own internal data (small data) with external data from government sources, commercial data vendors and social media feeds, for example.
For instance, if you are a roofer, using weather data with historical sales records can help to improve future business predictions and procurement. Through also using Google Earth, it can help to evaluate potential job sites. Using a combination of both allows SMBs to gain valuable business insight by evaluating and analysing more sources of information, whilst comparing and aligning the data.
Phase Three: A one way street (internal)
Using Big Data directly from internal sources will only work if businesses embed a business intelligence (BI) solution into their everyday working practices. But adoption of this process will take a little longer, up to three to five years – when embedded BI becomes ‘the norm.’ New tools and user interfaces, as well as more easily accessible public, subscription-based, or pay-as-you-go models such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), will bring widespread adoption of Big Data. A recent report by the Aberdeen Group, based on data from over 130 organisations, has helped shed light on some of the benefits of embedded analytics. Using this internal source will mean that businesses can make better-informed decisions. For example, using a cloud-based cluster to store check-level details from every restaurant in a chain, will mean you have access to the relevant information you need in real-time.
Using a business intelligence solution, SMBs can address central issues such as identifying historical trends and using these for planning, gaining quick visibility into emerging issues as they arise for timely remediation/ amplification, and exploring data interactively to identify patterns, investigate causes, and experiment with actions for improvement. The evidence is mounting that embedding analytics inside the applications business people use every day can lead to quantifiable benefits. A new generation of embedded BI platforms is making it easier and more cost effective for organisations to gain insight from their data and we hope that BI will finally become pervasive as an information service that informs day-to-day operations.
SMBs should see Big Data as an asset to exploit. If you had a dashboard with your top KPIs, which you could drill into to see how your various divisions, products, costs, profits, etc. were doing, that would be incredibly powerful as a decision making tool. It means you can make assessments rapidly, based on what you can clearly see happening in front of you, instead of analysing old data in an old data warehouse to learn what happened six months ago. SMBs should realise the concept of Big Data is just beginning and the quicker they adopt it, whether externally, internally or both, the more they will be able to reap the benefits, deliver true business value and stay ahead of the competition.
Ben Connors, Worldwide Head of Alliances, TIBCO Jaspersoft
Image: Concept of big data via Shutterstock