Four Tips for Big Data

If you were to believe everything you read, you would be under the impression that ‘big data’ is big right now. However, the emergence into analysing such volumes of information has raised questions among SMEs: is it worth the effort?

If you attended Internet World this year you may have spotted me there at the Big Data Show, giving a talk on how small businesses can turn big data into a big opportunity. If you missed it, fell asleep half way through, or just had too many beers, don’t panic as I’ve summarised the talk in these four handy tips:

 1. Never throw data away

No one should ever be afraid of hoarding too much data. In fact, I would highly recommend that you release your inner Edmund Trebus and start collecting as much data as you can get your hands on. There’s plenty of gold buried deep in your organisation’s data and valuable insights that a little mining can help bring to the surface.

A purpose can always be found for older records and moreover, there is always software on the market that can help if the amount of information stored has built up to an unmanageable level. This brings me on nicely to my next point…

 2. Store data carefully

If we are going to use big data to provide insights and pattern analytics, we need to make sure that the information collected adheres to a critical standard. If we cannot accurately identify the customers, regions, segments, expiration dates, etc., how can we possibly provide the breakdown of this information to the decision makers?

At least half the battle of generating intelligence from data is having readily available data to begin with, so while your smaller organisation might not be able to afford a massive big data initiative, you can start deriving actionable information from your data.

Flexibility and agility are crucial for SMEs. With their limited resources SMEs have to manage input from a range of different data sources – from structured transactional data to unstructured sources such as social media, web traffic and customer sentiment.

The ability to move a record easily from one source to another is therefore key. If the process is ironed out it provides instant access to valuable insight, which you can respond to such as spikes in demand for certain products or searches for a particular service. Equally, it allows you to act on emerging trends, engage with their customer base and even expose potential risks.

3. Keep it clean!

With big data all the range at the moment, many IT leaders seem to be forgetting the most basic price of admission to the big data world, clean data.

Your big data analytics are only ever going to be as good as the data that goes into it. So if you are burdened with incomplete or inaccurate data, fix it first.

As you can probably imagine, it is quite a long slog to link, match, cleanse, and transform data across systems. However, it is necessary to connect and correlate relationships, hierarchies, and multiple data linkages, or your data can quickly spiral out of control.

Saying that, it’s a much better idea to look at preventive measures in addition to one-off cleaning methods. Maintaining a closer relationship with contact data right from the point of entry is critical. Consistency can be enforced, and the consequences of poor formatting will be improved.

Capturing addresses correctly the first time is therefore crucial. Any subsequent processing will never match the quality of an address captured correctly in the first place. Most of the time, a customer’s address arrives as part of a purchase, which makes the capturing process even more important. Not only are you about to find out who this consumer (perhaps a repeat customer) is, but the address will also be essential to validate payment and, of course, to deliver any physical goods to the right place.

4. Play with it!

Being a small business has so many advantages when it comes to big data. The main one being that we have the time to experiment and play around with our data without being confined to a rigid strategy or red-rape that inhibits some large businesses.

Just taking the time to sit down and mess about with your own data without any particular goal in mind can result in discovering really cool things you didn’t even know you had. In fact, that’s probably how many of our products at Postcode Anywhere were created!

Any investment an SME decides to make with regards to developing a solid, working big data management system will see a return. After all, insight is priceless and smaller start-ups and SMEs should always be looking to maximise the potential of big data and the huge selection of insider information it offers.

Your data is your greatest asset: you just don’t realise it yet!

Think I’ve missed something? Join the debate over on Twitter using the hashtag #PCAchat