The Big Deal About Big Data: Sizzle or Steak For Your Business?

The Big Deal About Big Data: Sizzle or Steak For Your Business?

October 7

Whether you fully understand the concept or not, you’ve surely heard it mentioned once or a hundred times – big data. The trend garners attention from healthcare to law enforcement, and people refer to it so much, some have called it one of the most annoying buzzwords to come along in recent time. There’s a lot of hype surrounding this thing, but as these examples show, some organizations are really extracting value from the big data phenomenon.

Influencing Viewer’s Choice

Netflix has more than 50 million subscribers worldwide. With a customer base that large, you can imagine there’s tons of data streaming through its systems. What’s more impressive is how that data is put into play. Netflix combines subscriber preferences and actions such as pausing, rewinding, and fast forwarding a movie to serve up recommendations on what viewers should watch next. Big data was also instrumental in helping the streaming giant greenlight hit original series such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.

Personalized “Support” For Her

One startup is determined to help women find the ideal bra. San Francisco-based company True & Co. uses millions of data points on everything from breast size and shape to instances of “slippage” in order to develop undergarments tailored to each woman’s body. Customers submit a questionnaire detailing their needs, which the store matches up with the data it procured from some 500,000 female survey respondents to sell them undergarment products that offer the best fit and comfort. This line of data-driven bras reportedly accounts for more than one third of True & Co’s total sales.

Next Level Gameplay

The gaming realm is more interactive and personalized than ever. In order to deliver this immersive experience, game developers far and wide have turned to big data. The creators of the popular Xbox game Halo 4 tapped into Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud to leverage two of big data’s most important components: storage and analytics. The team was able to store tons of raw data for game modes and other Halo components in an easily accessible format. Analytics tools were used to identify online tournament cheaters, and make weekly improvements based on gamer preferences and suggestions.

Big Data For Small Businesses

Although it seems geared for large companies, small and medium-sized businesses can get in on the big data action, too. They’re at an advantage of sorts in the sense that they have less complex data-related requirements by comparison. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride to the mountain top. Data storage and management are still challenging, potentially costly factors. Rather than worrying about whether they have enough data to bother with, SMBs would be wise to focus on data that offers the most value to their operations.

Just about any small business in any industry with a digital presence probably has data across CRM systems, social media, and mobile devices. Using the same principals behind big data, an online flourist or software developer can integrate their information sources, visualize the data in a way that is easy to comprehend, and study it for patterns and clues. Scooby and the Mystery Inc. gang would love this kinda stuff! The insights from this unified data structure, big or medium-sized, can fuel decisions designed to target existing customers, lock down new ones, or achieve other business goals.

Tools of the Trade

Big data is merely a cool concept without the tools, and there are plenty to choose from. These kind of applications can be costly and very complicated on the user end, but some are marked down in price and complexity for the small fries.

Google Analytics: Conveniently accessible, efficient, and totally free, Google Analytics is perfect for small business use. Google’s web-based product has gone from being a good website tracking tool to a powerful little bugger that now chops up data across social networks and mobile devices alike. Of course it’s scaled down compared to enterprise-grade Hadoop implementations, but Google Analytics still aims to deliver actionable data.

MicroStrategy: If you prefer something on the desktop side, MicroStrategy has a neat little tool that might come in handy. This free desktop analytics product simplifies big data by allowing you to integrate database systems and spreadsheets, visualize data in drag-and-drop fashion, and export dashboards to external sources without all the tedious technical stuff. You can upgrade to an enterprise package for more features.

Canopy Labs: Some solutions take a specialized approach – like Canopy Labs, which focuses on the customer experience. Armed with this gem, you can use web traffic, behavioral patterns, and sales trends to direct targeted customer segments, product recommendations, and triggered marketing programs through email. The coolest thing about Canopy Labs is that it plays nice with popular business platforms like Salesforce.com, Mail Chimp, and Bronto.

Tableau: With Tableau, you can tackle big data in a variety of ways. The Seattle-based startup offers desktop, server, and online versions of its product, each designed to make analytics easily accessible for all. There are also variations made for reading visualizations and using data to tell visual, interactive stories on your website. Put it all together, and Tableau is one of the most comprehensive solutions on the business intelligence market.

Those spreadsheets from Excel or Google Docs will only hold up so long. Eventually you’re going to require something that offers more capacity, faster access, and deeper insights. Adopt a big data mindset, and you can accomplish a lot even if your infrastructure and budget are still closer to small time.

Photo Credit: Alpha via Flickr