Oh goodness, there are those words again: big data. As a business owner these words are starting to sound like nothing more than a catch phrase, or worse yet a catch all for the world-gone digital. Begging the question, will ignoring the proliferation of big data make it go away? Unfortunately, no. Ignoring this shift will only cause your company to become more and more obsolete.

So with big data here to stay and your company needing to utilize it, let’s take a moment to try and simplify what big data is and why every company (not just enterprises) should be leveraging it.

In its simplest form big data is defined as the entire pool of digital information available to an organization. Taking this one step further, the data is generally broken down into two buckets commonly referred to as structured data and unstructured data. The way structured vs. unstructured data is determined is by whether or not the data is in a format that is simple for analysis (spreadsheet, application, database) or is just in a raw format like an article, blog or infographic. And this sort of data just keeps on growing.

Related: Move Over Big Data -- Here Comes 'Fast' Data

Ninety percent of the world’s data has been created in just the past 2 years and the amount of new structured and unstructured data will grow in the next year by 60 and 80 percent respectively.

To put into perspective just how much data there is being created these days, here is a snapshot of one minute (not an hour or a day, but a minute)

  • 2,000,000 Google Searches
  • 685,000 Facebook Updates
  • 200 Million Sent Emails
  • 48 Hours worth of video uploaded to YouTube

So now that we’ve given the crash course on what big data is, let’s talk a little bit about how organizations can benefit from it and perhaps more importantly afford access to it.

Big data for (sm)all business. While every business can benefit from data in some way, most businesses are looking to use data to improve and enhance its decision-making process in: 

  • Risk management
  • Understanding when and why customers leave (or buy)
  • Research and development
  • Improve customer targeting
  • Understand customer needs
  • Analyze social behavior

How small businesses can tap into big data.  At this point the question has probably shifted from the what and how of big data to the where -- where can I get my hands on useful data to help my business drive better decisions?

Related: 5 Ways Data Can Help You Stay Ahead of the Game

The good news is big data is becoming more available by the day. Entrepreneurs can invest in various open-source software solutions, inexpensive analytics tools and startups like Factual looking to help other small companies tap into big data. There are also data brokers like Acxiom or Datalogix that can assist companies.

In Phil Simon’s book Too Big To Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data, the author not only discusses the shift occurring allowing small-business owners access to data but also outlines ways that big data has been tapped into by small organizations using crowdsourcing and open bidding. This tactic has allowed startup access to rich data that answered very specific questions while only costing the company anywhere from a dollar to $5,000.  

Pursing big data in your business. The future of big data is bright as more companies are finding not only savvy ways to use it but smart ways to harvest it and make it available to businesses seeking to invest in better decision making. For those looking to tap into big data, here are a few tips:

  • Take the time to understand what your goals are for big data.  Are there a few very specific pieces of information you seek such as customer demographics or attrition metrics? Making big data goals smaller can make the potential of implementing a big-data program more realistic
  • Look at data-on-demand sources like Kaggle where you can choose the size of the project and the amount of extractable information you seek.  Much like a Priceline “name your own price” strategy.
  • Finally, many traditional data brokers have become more reasonable with mounting competition and therefore offer highly useful data at prices that smaller organizations can afford.

Related: 3 Ways to Use Big Data to Drive Repeat Sales