If you try to keep tabs on all the ways you use data in a single day – text messages, to-do-lists, calendar meetings, uploaded photos, e-mails, calorie-tracking… – you might have trouble keeping track. Google’s ex-CEO Eric Schmidt claims that “From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce five exabytes every two days.” In case you’re wondering, one exabyte is a billion gigabytes. Let that sink in.
The only logical response to this flood of data is to create more ways to store it. That’s where Big Data comes in. As a catch-all term, it can spur a fair amount of confusion – which is why Gary Allagapen, our Head of Innovation, shares the important (and jargon-free) takeaways on Big Data.
What is it?
Don’t do Big Data for the sake of it, it will not magically translate into value.
Let me first tell you what it is not. Big Data does not mean “a lot of data.” It isn’t about the size. In fact, having swaths of unfettered data is almost dangerous. Some businesses accumulate as much data as possible in the hope that they will unearth business secrets from it – “data rich, insight poor” coins this attitude rightly.
What Big Data is, is a combination of the 3 Vs – volume, variety and velocity. It’s too big for conventional databases to process (forget about spreadsheets), moves too fast and presents itself in an unstructured, disorderly way. While this definition isn’t restricted by any means, the 3 Vs are a good place to start.
Why, you may ask, is it important to process this data? Because within it lie invaluable patterns, trends and relationships. And with this comes a massive demand for data analytics, which businesses can use to know more about their customers and, in a way, predict the future.
‘Data is the new Gold in the modern economy.’
Where does Big Data come from?
Every aspect of your customer’s journey leaves a trail. Big data – structured or unstructured – can be extracted from consumer data (invoices, payments, delivery records, complaints), ERP, Financial System, Excel, social data (Facebook Likes, tweets, browsing history, personal interests) but also security cameras, fingerprints, financial markets data, meteorological statistics, damage forecasts, media outlets… And if you think not having a Facebook account means you aren’t leaving a trail, consider this: Facebook owns Instagram AND WhatsApp.
Is Big Data only for Big Businesses?
If you are still thinking that Big Data “isn’t for you” and is only relevant to giants like Google and Amazon, here’s why you should tap into it:
What Big Data is, is a combination of the 3 Vs – volume, variety and velocity.
- If you are customer-focused – which is unavoidable in the digital age – then Big Data is most certainly for you.
- As a small retailer, your biggest concern might be the uncertainty of future events. But what if you were able to analyze Facebook users’ buying trends? And what if you were able to capitalize on these sales opportunities? Exploiting data can show you what your customers want, how much money they are willing to spend to get it, why they leave without buying – and how you can reduce the likelihood of them leaving.
- The good news is that today, small businesses – even a garage startup – can easily exploit Big Data without having to break the bank. You can rent server space, open-source software systems or processing power from third-party cloud service providers. There is no need to spend huge amounts on hardware or technical staff.
How do I go about it?
- Don’t do Big Data for the sake of it, it will not magically translate into value. First, be certain that there’s a need for it.
- The second step involves a roundtable discussion with key stakeholders: what is your shared vision for success? Define your problems clearly, and make sure they are solvable
- Now, you must identify the potential sources of data – external or internal – and dig into them. Often, Big Data is trapped in silos across disparate departments, impeding exploitation. Combining all information into a single warehouse gives you a more holistic view of individual customers.
- The combined data will likely come to you in an unstructured way. To make sense of this, businesses need to use cutting-edge analytics programs. The messy, disparate data goes into these tools, and outcome “actionable insights.”
- Don’t forget – there is no silver bullet. You may have to use several big data technologies to solve your problems.
- As with all markets, the data-processing market evolves at an astounding pace. Keep up with new trends and changes.
Often, businesses tend to skip the initial steps, which are, in fact, the most decisive. If you think intelligently about how to use data to achieve your specific goals, you are on the way to building a solid road map and fast-tracking your business decisions. In this case, what we’re dealing with is Smart Data.