Big Data, Small Business

This steam roller is not stopping. Jump and get on board now or big data is going to flatten your small business. No, I’m not being overly dramatic about this topic. Perhaps you are thinking, you  have not even heard about big data so how could it be that important? If you have ever seen an ad on Facebook for something you were researching, received coupons for a product geared to your age group when checking out at Target, chatted with a support “bot”, or simply used Google Analytics to see your website performance, you’ve taken advantage of or have been effected by big data.

We’ve arrived at another evolutionary point of the Internet where the power of cloud and the speed of data are allowing greater intelligence in near real-time. The beautiful thing about big data is it’s affordable and available to even the smallest businesses.

Woah, Backup

This topic can get fairly complicated and abstract but let’s start at a practical example before exploring how you can take advantage of it for your business.  We will look at Joe’s Beachside Popsicle Stand as an example. Joe knows that every Winter his sales go way down and he needs to close up shop. However, even when Summer rolls around he struggles with staffing and ordering product properly. On slow days he has just as many popsicles in the freezers and staff working the counter as on busy days.

Joe could look at the forecast on Monday and see it might rain on Saturday and tell staff to stay home. However, that’s just one of many factors (not guaranteed at that) which could determine beach attendance and desire for popsicles. What if Joe could have a system in place that automatically scanned years upon years of weather, attendance, local and current event schedules, etc? What if Joe could also automatically get reports on current popular flavors based on searches online, Facebook posts, live Twitter trends and more? This is exactly what big data exists for; research, marketing, and business intelligence.

Barton Poulson did a great series of videos over on Lynda. In particular, take a moment to watch the one titled ‘Understanding Big Data for Business” (6 minutes).

The great part about big data is that there are endless possibilities of how all of the data out there can be manipulated and shaped in a very fast manner to achieve a business benefit.

Welcome to Skynet

The reality is that large corporations and marketing firms have been using this “power” for years now. Most of the products being pitched to you, your business, your city, and more; are done so based on this automatic/pointed flow of research. Firms decide what they want to sell, comb the data (continuously) for who’s buying, then automate who and where their marketing will be presented to. Essentially the system can be a living thing, scanning data in real time to give proper advice.

The future of AI lives in big data but it is still developing. Recently Microsoft launched a Twitter account for a female teen AI targeted at the 18-24-year-old market. The bot was named Tay and the Internet quickly made her a racist hate monger. Within 24 hours she was pulled offline. While this example is more experimental, Facebook has taken things a step further with bots.

Skynet

Imagine if you could have a chat window on your website, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc that greeted potential customers and asked how they could help? Then, they have a full sales conversation based on the need of the visitor and help them find the proper product they need before either making the sale, or passing them onto someone at your business to close the deal. Or what if the bot could provide support on your product in real time? That’s the goal of chat bots and Facebook has some running now.

All of these interconnected items rely on big data that is readily available. The power of cloud allows the data to be crunched in nearly real time to give AI such a huge boost in becoming “human-like.” It can be creepy, for sure. But when the power is used for good, it’s pretty exciting!

Business Intelligence

That all may sound nefarious or “tricky,” and there are important ethical considerations to be made. When using big data for marketing you can easily target your intended audience, but creeping them out won’t win you their business. Tread carefully.

Another side of big data that can be more innocent and extremely helpful is simple research. This is commonly known as business intelligence and there is a huge buzz around it. Using business intelligence tools, you can analyze your own company data (QuickBooks, SAP, Sage, etc) with simple dashboards. Those dashboards can be changed to shape and show the data in unlimited different ways that are specifically important to your company.

You may want to see simple product or financial trends. Or, you may be interested in seeing the ebb and flow of foot traffic in your retail store and pinpoint the peak hours for better handling staffing. Another great example that is more altruistic is how governments and researchers are able to use this information to track disease outbreaks.

One of the easiest ways to dive into seeing how business intelligence works is taking Microsoft’s Power BI for a spin. They offer a free version and a paid, Pro version as well. If you use SharePoint or Office365 already there are even more perks to trying this tool. Lots of folks consider Power BI the go to tool for small business, business intelligence.

Security is another great example of putting the data to work. At BCC we use the real time monitoring data of client computers, server, and network devices, as well as; global monitoring data from our partners. That information provides us real time information on virus outbreaks, rolling Internet outages, network attacks, and much more. We use this daily to protect our clients and provide proactive recommendations.

While the topic of big data can be pretty dry, hopefully this read gave you some insight into what it is and how it can help your small business. At all of my review meetings with our Managed Services clients we are discussing big data so they can take advantage of the endless possibilities the knowledge has to offer. If your business needs a hand, please reach out!