In the past 20 years, companies have been generating an increasing amount of data. A company’s database used to be filled with the traditional information necessary for conducting business, such as product sales or demographic information. However, the growth of social media has created a massive pool of information that any company can access, mine and benefit from.
“Utilizing big data can help a company uncover the relationships it has with consumers and businesses that perhaps it didn’t previously realize it had,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “In many ways, that data can help a company gain a better understanding of its clients’ needs and formulate its products to win more business.”
Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about big data and how to effectively store and utilize it to the benefit of your business.
Where can companies find big data, and how can they use it?
With the advent and proliferation of social media, there is information that companies can collect called ‘big data,’ which can be used to analyze, in a cost-effective and time-efficient way, the social habits of consumers. This information allows them to devise targeted marketing campaigns and develop products.
Data about consumers is being collected from social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, data about businesses can be collected from sources such as LinkedIn in and Foursquare, and there is data contained in emails coming into a company. This data had previously not been considered a useful source of mining but has now become fair game.
Do all companies have access to big data?
In today’s world, any company that uses computers has a big data resource or is collecting it without realizing it. For example, most salespeople have a contact database that includes people they’ve met through work, in their personal lives and through networking. If you are going to meet with the CFO of a potential client company and you learn that someone on your sales team knows that CFO, that is an invaluable personal connection. Knowing about that relationship allows you to bring the person to the meeting and quickly establish a connection with the prospective client.
Even small companies selling few products are gleaning this information and benefiting from it. Customer information can be pulled from social media and email campaigns and used to promote your business to those customers. Big data is viable for companies of all sizes.
What challenges are associated with having big data?
Storing big data was traditionally cost prohibitive, which is why only large companies could do it. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the volume of data growth in the U.S. for big companies will increase 40 percent year over year from 2009 until 2020. When you look at the amount of data being generated and the growth of that data, the cost of maintaining it had been the biggest hurdle for smaller companies.
However, solutions such as new, lower-cost hardware have recently hit the market, which has given smaller companies the ability to have large sets of storage devices to store big data. At the same time, cloud computing allows a company to rent storage on a monthly or short-term basis, meaning more companies can collect, store and mine big data.
Indexing this data so that it can be used to benefit the company is a challenge, but there are plenty of tools available from major software manufacturers that can be used to mine it.
What methods are available to companies to help store this data?
Big data can be stored privately or on servers that host multiple clients. Which option a company chooses depends on how important it is to keep that information secure. If a hospital were storing patient data, it would want it hosted on a private server.
Private cloud services give companies a certain amount of secure storage on a server that only belongs to them. The type of data being stored determines which tools are applied to extract it, such as a dashboard through which a company can query or search its data. There are also data feeds that provide ticker updates as data comes in, giving fast access to information.
Public cloud services are available, but these are less secure than private services. Public storage is more suitable for things such as marketing campaigns, in which the data being used is critical only for a short time and has no real value proposition for anyone other than the company.
How can companies efficiently navigate such large data sets to get the most use out of the information being retained?
It takes some time to understand which data is going to be useful and to learn which tools are available to store and sort it. For example, you could buy and deploy big data-mining tools to start collecting various sets of data from multiple sources, then create a dashboard that puts that information at your fingertips. However, you can’t simply keep storing information and expect results. You need to better understand your company’s demographics and understand what is going to help your company grow. You have to know your end result and employ the tools necessary to achieve it.
Many companies don’t realize what they have beyond their traditional database. Big data may be beyond the scope of traditional customer relationship management tools and that is sometimes where the treasure trove of data exists. Accessing that data will open a world of opportunities for your business.
Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.