Big Data

The World of Big Data Is Now Open to Small Companies

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When you think of business intelligence, do you think about huge multinational companies tracking millions of rows of sales and revenue data? Or do you think about that small mom and pop deli down the street, keeping track of which menu items are selling best on a certain day? 

In the past, the business-intelligence industry was built to primarily serve large firms that could afford a full suite of software and teams of number-crunching analysts. But in the last decade, the industry has evolved, technology has improved and software has become more lightweight and powerful. The results are business-intelligence solutions that are more accessible to small and medium-size firms. 

Here are some pointers for small and medium-size businesses seeking ways to become more data driven:

Related: Don't Drive Your Business Without Data

1. Seek a solution that can turn anyone into a data analyst.

Increasingly, good business-intelligence tools are being created that bring high-powered, in-depth analytics capabilities to the layperson. This data democratization lets anyone see, explore and ask questions of the information. For small businesses where one person wears many hats, it’s about making data analytics easy enough to fit into his or her job. 

Historically, and to a degree today, these tools have required some programming knowledge to use, serving as a barrier to their adoption by small businesses. It’s not realistic to ask all entrepreneurs or small business owners to learn to code. They are, after all, worrying about attending tocustomers, managing staff and fixing the cash register.

Advancements in the power of business-intelligence software have made a huge difference. The best business intelligence solutions for small businesses are usually those that do not require any coding knowledge for building dashboards and exploring data. Find a business solution that has analytical functions and best practices built in, so that you can spend your time examining the data that matters. 

2. Speedy analysis is critical.

With the old model of business intelligence, companies often relied on IT teams to crunch data and generate reports. Coupled with slower, less-powerful software, this meant that the data analytics process could take weeks. This is no longer the case.

Take marketing strategy firm Audience Audit, which conducts in-depth market research and delivers reports to customers. Like many small businesses, its owner, Susan Baier, performs many roles, from researcher and analyst to presenter. Baier turned to my company, Tableau Software, for data-visualization software and it completely changed the way she ran her business. Because Baier can now analyze the data she gathers quickly and easily, Audience Audit has lowered its fees two-thirds, reduced project timelines 50 percent and freed up her time to work on other tasks. 

Related: How Small Businesses Can Embrace Big Data

3. Get visual.

The human brain is wired to process information visually, making visualization one of the best ways to explore and understand data, particularly when presenting data to customers, investors or other stakeholders.

Find a solution that makes visualizations simple and that has best design practices built in so that you can focus on your data instead of formatting a chart or selecting a color for a trend line. 

4. Rely on the cloud but not exclusively.

Small-business owners should seek out a solution that's flexible, letting them work in the cloud and with data on premises or a combination of the two. Working in the cloud has major benefits for small businesses: There is less infrastructure to deploy, accessibility is near universal and the security is top-notch. Yet at other times, an on-premises solution may make more sense.

Look for a solution that doesn’t restrict you from relying fully on cloud computing and that also allows for storing data on premises. Many businesses pursue a hybrid of a cloud and on-premises setup to support a variety of needs. Small businesses need to make data-driven decisions all the time and the solution should be flexible enough to allow that. 

Big data is all the buzz now but don’t be fooled into thinking it's is only for big business. Often data-driven insights can have a great impact at smaller companies.

Related: How Big Data Helps Us Keep Pace (Infographic)