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Understanding the Power of Big Data in Business

Businessman's hands on laptop computer with digital layer of business data and diagrams

Is your company a data-driven organization? Chances are you’re already using data in some capacity. And if not, your time is coming. A lot of businesses, big and small, are already harnessing the power of the vast amount of data available in cyberspace.

“Big data” is a broad term for one of the fastest rising technology trends. It refers to the large volumes of information that are collected from a range of sources, as well as the process of analyzing that customer, industry and market data to yield greater insights on business and behavior.

The potential for businesses is greater than ever. We’ve never had access to so much data or so much technology to identify the patterns and trends contained in it.

Valuable insights for every business

Look at shopping giant Amazon or media provider Netflix. Every part of their business models — right from the overall strategy to each individual customer experience — is informed by fast, accurate, and meaningful analysis of big data. But these large companies aren’t the only ones who can reap the rewards. The potential benefits of adopting a big data mindset apply to small businesses, too.

For some companies, their data journey sneaks up on them. Many are simply conducting their usual activities while occasionally investing in new technology solutions, like workflow software or customer management software. Then one day, they look over their assets, people and processes — and they discover they’ve become just as much a technology organization as they are a financial institution, an insurance company, a manufacturing company, or any other type of business.

Regardless of where you are in your technology journey, it’s important to understand that a more focused and effective business strategy may lie in those volumes of data you’re holding.

Big data: a growing priority

Big data has been gaining increased attention  as a business priority. A 2016 survey found that big data has reached a point of mainstream adoption within Fortune 1000 firms. The survey found:

  • 69.6% regard big data as very important or critical to their success
  • 62.5% confirmed they had a big data project underway  

Interest in big data has grown quickly. The same survey three years earlier found that only 31 percent of firms said they had a big data project moving ahead.

As companies invest greater resources in their analytic capabilities, the impacts will be wide-reaching. C-suite executives will benefit from better forecasting, while business unit managers will be able to plan and strategize more effectively based on greater insights into customer and industry trends. The more an organization embraces a data-driven culture, the more opportunities they’ll find to incorporate data into their day-to-day work.

Drawing from multiple sources

Big data can be collected from a variety of structured, semi-structured and unstructured sources. For a typical business, potential sources of data might include:

  • Your website clickstream behavior
  • Your mobile apps
  • Your CRM software
  • Your social media accounts  
  • Your accounting software
  • Other internal software, records, or databases
  • Industry datasets

As early as 2001, Gartner defined big data as information assets that are high-volume, high-velocity, and high-variety. In the present day, the volume and velocity of these assets are certainly still important. But variety is the fastest-growing characteristic, with companies seeking to integrate more and more sources of data. And thanks to the “Internet of Things” (IoT), the future growth of these datasets is theoretically limitless, with everything from mobile phones to cars to Google traffic reports sending data into the cloud.

Making big data work for you

Big data analytics can yield different types of insights for businesses. These may include:  

  • Prescriptive insights that define customer activity and lead to a direct recommendation or tactical change
  • Predictive insights that identify past customer activities and allow teams to forecast future outcomes by modeling various scenarios
  • Diagnostic analyses to investigate root causes and understand customer experiences
  • Disruptive analyses to mine customer experiences and pinpoint key differentiators between strategies

Reaping the benefits of big data means developing a process to extract, organize and analyze the information you’ve collected on your customers, your industry and market trends. Using this data to inform your tactics and strategy requires the right combination of people, process and tools.

Here are three key insights to help you make the most of your analytics.

1. Invest in the tools

You may be familiar with basic database management, but special technology is required for the storage, search, distribution, transfer, analysis, and visualization of big data. Solutions like Hadoop are blurring the lines between traditional warehouses and more involved analytics. Indeed, Hadoop is more than just a tool for long-term analysis; users are increasingly leveraging it for day-to-day reporting.

2. Technology and business must be a partnership

Many companies have an IT department to maintain computer and communications systems. This department typically plays a supporting role to the team that makes crucial business decisions. But in a big data environment, there must be a partnership between the technology and strategic sides of your business, as complex data management infrastructure cannot be maintained without ongoing IT involvement.

3. Don’t forget about the people

There’s a lot of work involved in extracting valuable insights from large amounts of data — especially given that the data is collected in different formats from different sources. Even as artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, human involvement is still required to define the parameters of your analysis, oversee the execution, and interpret and present findings and recommendations.

Starting small with big data

Of course, not every small business is ready to dive headfirst into the world of big data analytics. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start tracking as much information as possible on your customers and transactions. For instance, implementing customer relationship management software is a great step toward becoming a data-driven business.

If you’re already managing your accounting in QuickBooks, Method:CRM is the perfect CRM choice. The two-way sync between Method and QuickBooks ensures that customer and transaction details are always up-to-date in both systems. Method also allows for centralized tracking of sales leads, potential deals, and missed opportunities, giving you a complete picture of your business performance all in one place.

There’s no time like the present to start tracking more valuable business data. After all, the more you know about your current processes, the more you can leverage that knowledge for better results.

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