Leveraging Big Data for Smaller Businesses

Big Data image

Although "big data" might be a term used often enough to be nearly meaningless — a buzzword in other words — it really does have relevance.  And whereas previously many people thought it only held relevance for larger enterprises, more and more it's having meaning for smaller businesses as well.  Woe betide the company that dismisses "big data" as a mere catch phrase, as this will only cause that company to grow obsolete faster than the Australian one-cent coin.

So what does the term really mean? 

Putting it very simply, big data can be defined as the total pool of digital information available to a company. This data can be separated into two groups:  structured and unstructured data.  Structured data is formatted simply for analysis, such as an application, database or spreadsheet.  Unstructured data is in a raw format, such as a blog entry, article or infographic. 

And the data just keeps on growing. In a recent report by Sage, which suggests that about 90 percent of data in the world was created over the past two years, it was anticipated that new data is expected to grow by 80 and 60 percent in the next year, for unstructured and structured data respectively. That’s a lot more data at your fingertips.

Which is why it’s likely that the same report indicated that 70 percent of businesses are concerned about the amount of data coming their way. So what should businesses do?

Thankfully, Big Data is becoming more accessible to SMEs by the day.  There are various inexpensive tools and open source solutions for analytics, as well as a plethora of data brokers out there who can sell data to you as required. So many businesses are starting to tap into big data to help them understand their customer needs better, improve customer targeting, manage risk and analyse social behaviours. There are many ways a business can profit from accessing big data so perhaps it’s something for your business to think about too.

The first thing you will need to do is understand what you want from big data in the first place.  Do you want some very particular bits of information, such as attrition metrics or customer demographics?  Making your goals more well-defined will help make the implementation of a big data program more feasible. Next, have a play with data on demand brokers that let you choose the size of your project and the amount of extractable data you want. Finally, don’t be daunted.  Take a page from Phil Simon’s book, Too Big To Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data and start leveraging the power of big data for your own SME — it’s quite possible, even without breaking your budget.

Setting Up a Home Office

Are you thinking of setting up an office to work in your home?  Congratulations!  You'll be joining the legions of people who enjoy no commute, save for maybe tripping over the dog, a better work-life balance, and many other benefits.  One of those major benefits is the flexibility to design your office the way you want to — in fact, you've got great flexibility; way more than you'd ever have were you still working in a cube.  So we worked up some tips for you to easily and inexpensively create a home office space that you'll actually want to work in.  There are lots of other great tips out there, but we feel these are a good starting point.

1.  Save money where you can — but don’t be frugal on a chair.

If you're going to be sitting at a desk for eight hours or more per day, you deserve the best chair you can get.  A kitchen chair covered in fabric might look great in a design magazine, but it'll be awfully hard on your back.  Get a great chair — your body will love you for it.

2.  Use Your Sources Responsibly.

Pinterest and design magazines might have great looking home offices, but odds are they're not set up for a 30-50 hour work week.  Tiny antique desks aren't going to accommodate all of your project files.  Although that fire engine red paint might look great right above your computer in the photograph you saw, it's going to have an effect on your personality — and work — in the long run, simply because colour does measurably change our moods.

Too much environmental stimulation can actually be a form of distraction.  Try using interesting colour combinations in accessories like throws, pillows, or in the rug, or perhaps in framed art if you'd like some spice in the workplace.  Just remember that the space needs to be functional before it needs to be beautiful.

3.  Put a Few Plants in There.

Believe it or not, it's a proven fact that having plants in the workspace can both increase productivity and reduce stress levels.  Even aside from these benefits, having some plants around are an inexpensive way to positively affect the way a room looks and feels.  Don't have a green thumb?  Don't worry — there are house plants that are very easy to care for, such as succulents, palms, the ubiquitous ficus, ivies, and spider plants as well.

And no, fake plants don't have quite the same positive effect!

4.  Get the Best Equipment You Can Afford.

Are you a graphic designer?  Then you already know that you'll need a higher-end computer, a large monitor (maybe two) and a tablet.  If you're a writer, then you'll need a good computer, an excellent keyboard, and a multifunction device (printer, scanner, and fax).  A small scanner is excellent for staying organized — it will scan receipts for you, as well as business cards. If you plan to roam around the house with your tablet, then you'll need to get a wireless router too. 

The bottom line:  Think of what job(s) you'll be doing in your home office, and what equipment you'll need to do them. Then get the best quality machinery you can afford, as you'll be more productive with better equipment.