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Big data offers big advantages for businesses of all shapes and sizes, but harnessing it and getting the best from it can prove a challenge for business owners.
Big data means large, complex sets of data that are far bigger than a company could usually handle with standard in-house software. A good maxim is if it won't fit on a spreadsheet, you're dipping your toes into the realm of big data.
The thought of dealing with huge data sets is daunting for many businesses, but big data is a gold mine of information that businesses can use to better understand their customers, sales, and performance.
What challenges does big data pose and how can businesses overcome them?
Big Data Advantages
Big data gives businesses an unprecedented amount of information to work with.
Take for example social media. Using information gleaned from big data, a business could see not only which updates were most popular, but look at variables such as time of post, headline, images or links, and topics. These snippets of information could be combined to give a full picture of which statuses worked best.
This is just one example - businesses of all kinds can use big data to gain a full, rich analysis of their customers' behavior and preferences. Big data means more in-depth analysis, which in turn means a better understanding of what works and what doesn't.
Big Data Challenges
Big data isn't without its challenges. The shift to using big data can be a daunting one for businesses. Three of the most pressing challenges for businesses who want to harness big data are:
- Infrastructure - Businesses need to decide how to harness and analyze big data. Some readily available tools, such as website metrics and Google Adwords analytics are easy to implement, but to go bigger and dig deeper more needs to be done. Businesses might decide to use a specialized big data tool such as Hadoop, or may even employ a company to handle their data for them. Businesses may need new software, tools and databases to handle the new data sets.
- Learning curve - From the CEO to the IT department, embracing big data involves a learning curve for all involved. From learning how to use new software to learning how to pick out and analyze the data presented, the learning curve associated with big data can be stressful. For the more technically-focused members of the team, figuring out the physical infrastructure and how to mine data from different departments can be a real brain teaser.
- Knowing what to analyze - Businesses figuring out how to unlock big data's big potential might find deciding exactly what they want to analyze difficult. The volume of data can make it easy to lose meaningful information among all the noise, and workers at the coal face might feel they're being hit by an avalanche of data.
Getting Started With Big Data
Using big data for business doesn't have to cause a company-wide headache.
The trick is to plan carefully first rather than launching straight in, and to start with a narrow focus. Businesses can help themselves on their big data journey by first deciding on an area that would benefit from complex analysis. Are front line sales a concern? Or is the behavior of their customers on social media paramount?
By picking a topic and starting with that, businesses can get used to using big data without getting lost. Having a focus makes it easier to decide on the tools to use and what to harvest.
For those worried about infrastructure, there are Cloud-based big data applications that can make the transition easier, running alongside existing data tools and negating the need for expensive upgrades to software or hardware.
At first glance big data can seem chaotic, but with patience and good planning businesses can start to see valuable patterns in the chaos, leading to big benefits.