Of the four big technology waves we're all watching (cloud, mobile, social, Big Data), it's safe to say that Big Data largely remains a mystery within most traditional small businesses.
Within the typical small business, basic IT services are pretty well defined:
- PCs and mobile endpoints.
- Email, finance, and productivity applications for the team.
- Servers and applications, either on-premises or in the cloud.
- Help desk and support services -- for your team and customers -- either in-house or outsourced.
But here's the thing. Most small businesses missed the first business intelligence and analytics wave. That wave, which arrived decades ago, allowed big businesses to track key performance indicators (KPIs) across the company.
- How are retail sales in California before, during and after football games involving the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers?
- How is a blizzard in the Northeast impacting deliveries, inventory, etc.? And what type of order spikes for snow blowers can we anticipate this year -- and next year?
- What incentives drive the best outcomes across our sales team?
- And the list goes on and on.
Been There, Done That (Reasonably Well)
During the 1990s, business intelligence systems from Business Objects (now owned by SAP), Cognos (IBM), Hyperion (Oracle), SAS Institute and others were complex. Gathering the right data, generating reports, and then routing those reports to the right executives for analysis was a giant hassle. And even when the systems were built and activated, many executives didn't "know" what the data revealed. Even worse, many reports were PDF files that executives never opened.
Then the web and Google Analytics came along. Suddenly, basic analytics became easier to understand -- and free -- for large and small businesses. Real-time information arrived at everybody's fingertips. Then the information extended out to smartphones. Sure, it was only web traffic information. But Google Analytics inspired business folks to design similar apps for the business side of the house.
Fast forward to the present, and Big Data type applications and platforms are going mainstream (here are the Top 10 Big Data Pure Plays; plus the Top 10 Big Data Giants). On the small business front, born-in-the-cloud startups are adopting Big Data apps to measure, plan and move into new markets.
Still, I think traditional, established small businesses are likely overwhelmed by the data possibilities.
Let me give you an example: Many small businesses are launching basic social media advertising or marketing campaigns -- perhaps an ad program on Facebook, or perhaps a TweetChat on Twitter. Sure, there are social media tools that allow you to track how many Facebook likes or retweets you gain. Yawn. Those stats don't really measure the value of that social activity, nor do they pinpoint the most valuable influencers in your network -- the people who actually drive potential and repeat buyers to your business.
Closing the Gaps
Some I.T. entrepreneurs are seeking to change the situation -- dramatically. An example: Brewster Stanislaw and Joey Kotkins -- lifelong friends -- co-founded Inside Social about two years ago. The company originally tried to help businesses transform site visitors into more active community members.
That's when Stanislaw and Kotkins stumbled onto the bigger opportunity: Actually helping businesses to measure the value of each social media or online interaction. Linking dollars and cents values to each influencer, customer or online activity.
Inside Social essentially built a platform that gathers lots of data -- Big Data -- from web and social activities. Stanislaw explained Inside Social's strategy to me during a podcast conversation yesterday. We'll broadcast the conversation at 9:01 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Dec. 23. Yes, it's our next Good Evening, I.T. Entrepreneurs podcast.
I realize one company can't bridge the gap between Big Data and small business adoption. But I think there are thousands of startups like Inside Social popping up -- and each one is tackling the Big Data opportunity and challenge from a slightly different angle. Piece the true players together, and you begin to see the bigger picture.
By 2016 or so, the Big Data wave may finally impact a big number of small businesses. In the meantime, I think most small businesses are still struggling with the basics.
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