While exploring urban small business opportunities in Washington D.C., many of my prospects have questioned the advantages of business intelligence and analytics to their small business. In fact, when many small-business owners think about this subject they associate it with “big data”— the paradigm of using large volumes, broad variety and high velocity of data to gain better insight about business dynamics. The insight afforded from “big data” is not always cheap, but the cost of not having it is also high. Unfortunately, many small businesses go out of business without having the opportunity to use analytics, performance measurements, data mining and other business intelligence tactics that bigger firms utilize to restructure, renew or flat out sell before going out of business. In short, small businesses are discouraged from utilizing all data; therefore, often disadvantaged when attempting to determine – what happened to their business?
The questions about the usefulness of business intelligence, including analytics, vary depending on the industry. For example, one real estate firm owner asked, how can a local real estate firm or independent real estate agent affordably access the data to compete with national and international firms? This is a good question and there is also a few good answers. The simplest answer is – “Get in where you fit in”. The more sophisticated answer is to utilize new applications (e.g. SumAll, SizeUp, and FiveStars) in parallel with established platforms (e.g. www.facebook.com, www.twitter.com and www.google.com). This discovery driven approach provides unique opportunities for cost effective integration of tools to help make big data accessible and useable to even the smallest businesses. For example, Phoenix Real Estate Solutions, a qualified real estate services firm, has been growing its local and national presence using a conservative but scalable model. Basically, the owner George Patterson, started with a modest website, acquired several mobile devices – equipped with new applications – for his sales force, and leveraged strategic partnerships with “big data” aggregators (e.g. facebook.com and google.com). The results are astonishing. But don’t take my word for it, visit Google.com, enter “phoenix real estate” and depending on the time of day you will get over 131 million results. To no surprise many of them are in Phoenix, Arizona. The astonishment occurs when you add “DC” to your search. Approximately, 50% of the results are removed and Phoenix Real Estate Solutions related results are amongst the top results displayed. To further test the “big data” aggregator component of Mr. Patterson’s strategy, we visited facebook.com and twitter.com. The facebook.com visit rendered the same positive results. The twitter.com visit also found Phoenix Real Estate Solutions, albeit it was via the @greendcdaily account (e.g. www.greendcdaily.com).
In addition, Phoenix Real Estate Solutions directly captures new prospects’ and existing customers’ data using user friendly feedback tools. These tools are strategically located on the primary website www.phoenixrealestatesolutions.com (e.g. Contact Me link) and within local and national “big data” aggregators’ networks (e.g. yellowpages.washingtonpost.com). The content from these interfaces are directly sent to the mobile devices of the sale force as well as stored in data marts or data warehouses of the aggregators. At some point, Mr. Patterson has the option to use this content for financial, neuronal or statistical analysis. In fact, small firms like Phoenix Real Estate Solutions could leverage the free trial offering by Tableau Software (http://www.tableausoftware.com/) to perform visual analytics before engaging in more rigorous and robust analytic options.
When Mr. George Patterson was challenged about his strategy, he modestly replied with the mantra that is also posted on his website, “Our approach is customized for each client; our solutions for you are never one-size-fits-all!” This strategy contrasts many pundits of “big data” that speculates it’s a “one-size-fits-all” phenomenon. Other forces also contrast the assumption that “big data” is for big companies. These forces include the explosion of affordable cloud computing storage, inexpensive open source software availability, and very large database (VLDB) vendors making their datasets available in the public domain at no cost to the public users.
Although we did not discuss details about actual cost, Mr. Patterson conveyed his return on investment (ROI) for his business intelligence initiatives is most evident by his ability to move forward in real estate after the real estate boom and bust. Other small companies have also reported positive ROI by leveraging low cost programs from conglomerates like Google (e.g. Google Analytics) to view who, where, when, how and why clients are accessing their online stores, blogs, chat rooms, or webinars.
In sum, as depicted in Figure 1 above, a lens on your data keeps it as an essential component of your Big Commerce – your pathway to the bigger economy that constitutes the most advantageous environment for your business. As such, business intelligence should be viewed the integration of theories, methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform your raw data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes and progression. By focusing on your business intelligence early you can learn with small amounts and mature with the data (e.g. large amounts) as it progress to information or knowledge that help identify and develop new opportunities. For more information regarding the advantages of business intelligence systems for small business, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter @METAMORF_US.