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Why Big Data Means Big Change for Small Businesses

The idea that big data and analytics can be used to help businesses make smarter, more strategic decisions is no secret, but big data once came with a prohibitive entrance barrier that left small companies out in the cold. Even though those barriers are disappearing, small business owners may still feel daunted by the prospect. Experts agree that those fears are without merit – improved access and lower costs mean that the business intelligence tools needed to run a better business are accessible for companies of all sizes.

“Small and mid-size business owners – as well as professionals such as doctors, attorneys, freelance writers, and consultants – can leverage data-driven insights and business intelligence methodologies throughout the lifecycle of their business,” says digital marketing strategist Rolando Andrés Ramos - whose client-base includes Holiday Builders, Barnett Bank, and PSCU Financial Services. “From brainstorming and planning the business idea, through identifying ideal geographic markets and strategic office locations, to the initial launch, and into rapid growth of the business and beyond, there are many ways in which data can be used to their benefit.”

One of the most significant hurdles in handling big data used to be access to the necessary computing power – after all, in order for data to be utilized, it also has to be collected, stored, and analyzed. According to Ramos – who also serves as a course director for Full Sail University’s Business Intelligence Master of Science degree program - today’s small business owners have greater access to these types of resources than ever before. The same technological advances that made smartphones a reality have also made big data storage and access attainable for everyone.

These leaps and bounds in technological advances were predicted in 1965 by Intel Corporation co-founder Gordon Moore – whose prediction is now referred to as Moore’s Law – when he said that the number of transistors that the microchip manufacturing industry would be able to embed on a microchip would double approximately every two years. In short, computing power would grow exponentially every two years, and become more affordable in the process. “Moore’s Law has held true for decades, resulting in precipitous drops in the cost of computing hardware accompanied by amazing gains in computer speeds and throughout,” says Ramos. “Storing large amounts of data has become easier than ever thanks to the competitive cost of hard disk and solid-state storage, as well as through ubiquitous cloud storage.

As a result, resources that provide business owners with powerful insight into the data generated by their businesses now abound, many at a cost that is affordably inclusive for smaller business owners. According to Ramos, “Business intelligence software solution vendors have continued to introduce big data management, analysis, and visualization suites that are scalable and priced affordably for small business owners and professionals.” Notable examples of these tools include IBM’s Watson Analytics, Google Analytics, Qualtrics, and Oracle Social Cloud, but there are many others.

One easily accessible and cost-effective step for many small businesses into big data is through social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest all offer analytics through their platforms, and there are inexpensive options for aggregating the data into one platform as well, such as Buffer or Hootsuite. “The opportunity – or better yet, the necessity – to monitor relevant web content generated by customers and prospective customers to understand consumer sentiment and respond in real-time to opinions is huge,” says Ramos, who also teaches Principles of Digital Marketing at Full Sail. Maintaining a consistent online presence is an essential practice for many reasons, but the data that derives from every online interaction is possibly the most valuable.

With big data and business intelligence tools available to small mom-and-pop companies and huge corporations alike, size and budget aren’t really an issue anymore, but one important factor that remains is the quantity of data available, which is often a matter of time. Ramos points out that the true benefits of data-driven actionable insight creation will typically only be present after a business or professional practice has been successfully operating for at least 12 to 24 months. By that point, the business should have weathered through at least one annual business cycle and gathered the necessary customer and operating data – such as expenses, revenues, losses, and profits – that are necessary to provide insight towards past results, identification of patterns and trends, and projections of future performance and success.

Real-world application of business intelligence tools is one of the many topics explored by students in the Business Intelligence Master of Science degree program at Full Sail University. Click here to learn more about Full Sail’s accelerated online programs, and get started on your path to a master’s degree today.

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