How to leverage big data for big benefits to your business

June 28th, 2017 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. AussieBB

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There’s no doubt that big data offers big benefits for business. But it’s often presented as a magical solution for any organisation. Big data can transform the way you do your business, but it has to be implemented appropriately. By adopting the right big data strategy, you can achieve substantial breakthroughs to make smarter strategic decisions – no matter your industry or size.

What is big data?

The term ‘big data’ refers to the extremely large data sets – both structured and unstructured – that traditional data processing software is unable to compute due to their sheer size. This data constitutes everything from web behaviour and social network interactions to product transaction information.

Gaining precise insights

If your business seeks precise insights to specific questions, big data implementation might be right for you. Effective big data programs offer accurate, precise insights to specifically formulated questions. Instead of relying on anecdotal evidence, you can gather data from multiple sources for an accurate overview and specific ground-level answers.

With big data, you can gain insights into your customer’s pain points. Leveraged correctly, big data can also define your largest customer base, tell you about purchasing decisions and the most profitable segments. It can allow you to target customers effectively and forecast market conditions and can even be helpful for detecting risks, fraud, and security issues.

The insights you gain are limited only by the level of data you collect. Big data can help you better understand your customers, forecast trends, and keep up with competitors.

Driving strategy and decision-making

Accurate insights are valuable because they let you make smarter business decisions. Data might help you make subtle, incremental decisions, such as changing your marketing approach. Alternatively, data insights might drive large-scale change like abandoning product lines and adopting new business models. Key decision-making metrics to focus on are threats, opportunities, costs, and profit generators.

For example, a case study on Tesco’s suppliers found big data helped with marketing planning as well as long-term strategy. The businesses now understood who their customers were and how they could grow their base. The suppliers used the data to become more proactive in their innovations.

Big data is only smart if business leaders understand insights in their context. It’s vital not to get lost in the intricacies of big data and lose sight of the bigger picture. Businesses would be wise to always consider how the data was collected and how this might impact the results.

Sharing insights for employee buy-in

Big data is often sold as a tool for management decision-making, but it’s also a powerful way to gain employee buy-in. Buy-in from all levels in the organisation lets you fully leverage your big-data strategy. With statistics and facts in hand, you can demonstrate areas of improvement and give employees a compelling reason to act. Employees can be guided to use the data competitively.

Big data is also about employee empowerment. In some organisations, ground-level empowerment can be a key driver of success and profitability. In Japan, 7-Eleven demonstrated this in the 1970s when individual sales staff were given daily sales reports and other supporting information to drive sales.The data in this case wasn’t the only factor that made the difference. Store employees were empowered to order stock favoured by the local customer base. The big-data empowerment of front-line staff – who had daily contact and feedback from customers – drove innovation.

Integration with tools

Your big data program can be integrated with your preferred business tools to automate reports. You can automate the identification, manipulation, and visualisation of data to reduce manual input. If you’re an ecommerce company, this could be done in real time, allowing you to respond quickly to new opportunities.

Benefits for small businesses

Big data isn’t only for enterprises. Free products such as Google Analytics and social media mean small business can leverage big data tools, too. Rather than developing an in-house big data team, small businesses can focus on outsourced services and tools. These tools should be scalable and facilitate on-demand big data usage. In this way, small businesses can avoid the prohibitive costs of in-house big data skills and resources.

Big data “don’ts”

Big data implementation should happen according to a clear plan, with clearly defined goals. Without a supportive culture and sufficient resources, you might see few benefits from your big data strategy.

Do you have an evidence-based decision-making culture?

If you’re not ready to support your big-data program with an evidence-based decision-making culture, you’re unlikely to see much return on an investment in big data. Your team should be ready to use data to guide decision-making. Making a cultural shift is challenging. It may take time and involve changing work processes and creating new business rules to guide employees.

Is it reasonable, or just feasible?

Just because big data is feasible, doesn’t mean it’s reasonable for your business at this time. Cost, expertise, and time resources are factors that may weigh against the reasonableness of using big data, particularly for micro-businesses.

Reasonableness also includes realistic goals for business improvements. If your big data strategy isn’t reasonable for your business, you can end up wasting time and money without achieving results.

A single source of information?

Research suggests big data does not always need a single repository to work effectively. Evidence shows, however, that insisting on performance data from one source which is agreed on by the whole organisation yields the best results. For larger organisations, this can be vital if you have multiple departments collecting information in disparate ways. Having a single authority collecting and analysing data from a trusted source is key to reducing ambiguity and disagreement.

If you’re not willing to assign information authority to one source, it might be difficult for your big-data program to gain the buy-in it needs.

Big data, big benefits

Big data holds promise for business of all sizes. Establishing an effective big-data strategy can enable smarter decision-making, strategic planning and enhanced competitiveness. However, big data cannot offer valuable insights without an evidence-based decision-making culture and a detailed, goal oriented plan for data collection and analysis. Without this support network in place, big data may be a big waste of resources.

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