Big Data Analytics for Small Business

  •    Business journalist and content marketer. His work has appeared in dozens of regional and national publications.

Big Data is no longer just for big business. Thanks to falling tech prices and new analytic tools, small operators can now harness troves of digital information--90 percent of which has been created in the last two years—to identify new opportunities and make smarter business decisions.

Both large tech companies and innovative startups offer cost-effective Big Data solutions that can help your small business increase sales, improve efficiencies and enrich customer service. These offerings take advantage of technical advances such as sensors and cloud computing to harness all kinds of information, including web analytics, credit card sales, social media, demographics and email communications. Here are a few tips to help your small business seize the Big Data opportunity.

Start small

Google Analytics is one of the easiest Big Data services out there for small businesses to use. And best of all, it's free. The monitoring tool can uncover critical information about your website, such as where traffic comes from and how long visitors are staying. You also can use it to judge the effectiveness of social media campaigns.

Use the cloud (cost effectively)

Cloud computing is a big cost-saver, giving small businesses an affordable way to crunch reams of data. Further, you can save even more money by taking advantage of flexible offerings, such as Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, which allows you to scale up and down on cloud resources as needed and complete tasks that only deep-pocketed large corporations could handle before.

Integrate your data

InsightSquared helps small businesses integrate and make sense of information spread throughout their enterprises and across various applications. The platform—which starts at $65 per month—connects with tools you may already use, such as Salesforce and QuickBooks, to generate leads, discover trends and identify strengths and weaknesses.

Mine your credit card sales

Angus Davis, the founder of the restaurant analytics startup Swipely, described his cloud-based tool to the New York Times as an “affordable on-ramp to Big Data." Mining credit-card information, Swipely presents to its restaurant clients easy-to-understand dashboards that provide a wealth of metrics, such as wait staff check averages and menu items most likely to attract repeat customers.

Track your supply chain

FedEx offers a product called SenseAware that helps you monitor environmentally sensitive materials through the supply chain. The GPS-enabled tool tracks location, temperature and humidity, among other things, giving customers real-time info on the transport of such items as wine, food, flowers, pharmaceuticals and scientific instruments.

Avoid the Hadoop hoopla

Hadoop, the open-source analytics engine that has attracted a lot of attention as the go-to source for conducting major data projects, is still largely out of the range of small entrepreneurs. While Jeff Kanel, the data and analytics lead for Centric Consulting in Ohio, estimates that Hadoop-derived projects have dropped 50 percent in cost in recent years, the price is still too expensive for really small businesses. “If you're talking about mom-and-pop businesses, maybe a couple of restaurants, I have to tell you that's not typically the market we work with," Kanel says.

But that doesn't mean Big Data is out of the reach of the little guy entirely. By taking a more surgical approach and using the wealth of new tools geared toward smaller operators, almost anyone can participate in the Big Data revolution.

Photo Credit: NEC Corporation of America/Creative Commons