Shaping the future of work

It’s unavoidable: big data is shaping the future of work, for large multinational companies, for small businesses, and for everyone in between. But when you’re a smaller operation, dealing with anything ‘big’ can be intimidating.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be. Data is simply another tool your business can leverage for success in various ways, and even though big data scales this up considerably it’s still something to be considered an asset, not a headache.

Before we get into the specifics of how you can make it work for you, let’s go back to the basics.

What is big data?

At its most simple, big data is nothing more than the process of gathering lots of information to eventually analyse. In the digital age, this means everything from financial transactions, to text documents, to interactions with social media, and analysis of this is a process of connecting and correlating these very different types of information into a coherent set of data.

Back in the early 2000s, data analyst Doug Laney defined big data as a combination of the following:

  • Volume: when we say big, we mean big. With loads of info coming from sources across the web, it’s obvious that data is being gathered at unprecedented levels.
  • Velocity: these days, data is streaming with increasing speed, and it’s crucial that it’s dealt with in a timely fashion. Big data means torrents of data travelling and being stored at near real-time speeds.
  • Variety: as mentioned, this data isn’t homogenous. It can look like anything from structured numerical data to audio, so one of the challenges of big data is to connect it all together in a meaningful way.

Once all this information is gathered there are numerous third party analysis tools and suites, like Google Analytics, to help businesses make sense of it without investing too much resource in sorting the data sensibly.

So once you have big data ready to be analysed, what are the best ways to utilise it for small businesses?

Making big data work for your business

For small businesses, big data works across two aspects of your daily operations: customer interactions and internal operations. Whether it’s building a better product or streamlining your project management process, the insights gained from data can help you execute these with more efficiency and cheaper costs than uninformed trial and error.

Looking at applications in more depth:

Market better to your customers

Big data is good at telling you who your customers are. And beyond that, it can help businesses work out what those customers want: many of the larger data analysis tools will give insights into where they shop, what their favourite product categories are and even how they interact with brands online.

This kind of data gives small businesses the chance to market effectively to the people who are already interested in their product. Additionally, it can be a way to figure out if you’re targeting the people who want to hear from you but don’t already, whether that’s via audience segments or social media interaction.

Make accurate forecasts

All forecasting requires data, but big data can help small businesses forecast with greater accuracy. Techniques such as predictive modelling, real-time insights and the use of big data against historical patterns makes it a viable way to ensure your financial, trend and customer forecasts are as robust as possible.

Although the size, speed and complexity of this type of information can make forecasting difficult with our current technologies, advances in artificial intelligence means that the digital workplace will soon be inextricably linked with using large volumes of data for forecasting means.

Streamlining operations

Internal operations also benefit hugely from the application of big data. Gathering insights and information about how your company operates on the day-to-day can help staff develop new protocols for planning and delivery of projects.

Additionally, it can be used to change the way your business approaches projects, planning and even hiring in the first place: if you know exactly where you’ve previously struggled, you can hire staff or rethink your project management plan to tackle it.

Meet Specific Requirements

Hand in hand with marketing better to your customers, big data also works to help small businesses meet specific requirements for products and services. Whether this means your product fills a niche identified by big data or your service tackles an issue found in industry analysis, it’s a useful way to ensure your idea is backed up by robust reasoning.

This has twofold benefits: data is often very good at giving you an edge to increase customer trust in your product, and it can also make financial stakeholders more inclined to invest in your idea.

Data based business decisions

For small businesses, data is often the best informant possible when it comes to making business critical decisions. Make it work for you by using the insights gained to make decisions on solid ground, for example:

  • Choosing a workspace: data on locations, business networks and where your customers live can help you choose where to locate your business, whether that’s an office space in London or a virtual office in an emerging market
  • Finding competitors: often, the people we think are our competitors don’t actually compete with you in the digital space. Data from places like organic search rankings or customer insights can show small businesses what their competition really looks like
  • Product launches: seasonal information plays an important part in any product or service launch. Use big data and historical trend analysis to choose the optimum time to launch what you’ve created
  • Where to talk about what you do: once you know your customers, big data can also help make decisions about where to engage with them. Are you a B2B service? LinkedIn might be the best place. Offer a teen-friendly product? Look into where big data tells you they spend most of their time online

What the future of big data will bring

The future of work is changing. With access to big data and the tools to properly analyse it becoming more and more affordable, it’s already changing the way we operate on a global scale. For small businesses, it’s becoming something as critical to operations as a good project management strategy. And when it comes to larger companies, they’re investing in developments in machine learning, hoping to revolutionise the way that computers gather and use data efficiently.

What does that mean for the future of big data? With the expansion of cloud-based technology, we’re likely to see big data becoming a foundation for almost all of the services your business uses to operate.

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