Need big data? You may already have it

Mik Data Science May 14, 2016

You might be using Big Data
You might be using Big Data in your business already — and not even realize it.

Big Data can take a familiar form.

There’s plenty of hype surrounding Big Data. Everything from assured failure without it, to massive advances in marketing, medicine — and just about any other field. So it would seem the answer to “Need Big Data?” can’t be anything other than a resounding “Yes!”. Well, that is unless you are already using it.

In our age you’d have to try pretty hard to get away from collecting data in one form or another. From purchase orders to website analytics, the prevalence of digital interactions means generating data is a natural by-product of business. Heck, you can even use your credit card at that awesome food truck or farmers’ market. Remember when you needed cash for those? Even the most local and intimate businesses are collecting data. And of course, business owners are already making use of that data, in the ways that come naturally.

Consider a food truck, on a typical summer weekend. When choosing a location between the city park or a local festival, the food truck isn’t likely to randomly guess. A while back, the choice would have been based on local knowledge of the city and its popular weekend activities. But now, that food truck owner can easily turn to digital forms of data — such as social media trends or previous geo-located sales data.

You wouldn’t expect a food truck owner to be the typical Big Data user, but that’s precisely what’s happening — aggregated social media is one of the biggest sources of data available. Of course, food trucks aren’t the only ones. With tons of free dashboards and the ubiquitous Excel, businesses of every size use data to their advantage. Sure, it’s not in the over-hyped way we typically think of “Big Data”. But that is for one key reason: the use of Big Data integrates so well into the workflow of the business you’d hardly notice it at all.

So if we all have data and are already using it naturally to help our businesses, is there really anything behind the hype? Of course there is, but the “what” lies in your business goals.

At some point, the number of variables that influence a particular business outcomes become too large to allow for simple deductions. In the past we turned to business experience and intuition to deal with those cases, but now we have the computing power to address (at least some of) those with data in the same way we’re used to addressing simpler scenarios. This is where analytics, and what we typically think of as Big Data, really shines. But more often than not, companies already have the data needed to tackle those complex scenarios when given the right tools. The “right tools” is as much about your business and goals as it is about the data — a critical point often forgotten by data scientists.

It’s easy to get lost in the hype and fancy tech of Big Data. But the goal of any data endeavor should be to boost your business, not bog you down in expensive infrastructure or confusing methodologies. It should never be intimidating to your budget or to your people. Just remember, chances are you’ve been using data, big or small, all along in your business and finding success. And should you want additional data solutions, make sure they integrate naturally into your business so that, like your current use of data, the only way you know it’s there is by the value you get back.