Nothing stops a small business from using internal and external information sources to improve their business performance. In this post, we explore on the types of data available internally and from the internet which can be used for business improvements. Understanding data types is important for SMBs to understand the information contained in them which can be leveraged to improve business. SMBs or SMEs must first understand that the term data refers to various information sources which contributes to the growing collection of big data.
The internet is a large repository of information sources which can be leveraged by all organizations (big or small) when used in the right ways. Big data on internet consists of structured and unstructured data.
Structured data is mostly internal to the firm and can be categorized as:
- Created data: Businesses generate data from market research, focus group discussions and so on. Created data will also include social networks, user registration details, etc.
- Provoked data: This data is generated from customer surveys, product/service feedback or rating, etc.
- Transaction data: Mostly relates to financial or online transactions, ad banners on web sites, etc. Application logs, RFID or sensor data and other system generated data also fall in this category.
- Compiled data: This data will include product registrations, user location, demographics, social network profiles, etc. Such data can be extracted using a query based tools and can integrate with the above types.
- Experimental data: This data is mostly related to marketing approaches and will help SMBs identify customer preferences. This data combines created and transacted data.
Unstructured data is external to the firm and is categorized as:
- Captured data: Data that is captured from a person’s behaviour. For example, a user searching for a specific product/service, posting comments in online discussion board, GPS location of a smart phone user fall under captured data. These data can be analysed to extract insights or target users for tailor made products/services.
- User generated data: This category of data comprises of social networking posts, tweets, voice or video files, pictures, emails, etc.
Structured and unstructured data streams combine to create a common pool known as big data. In addition to big data, SMBs must understand there can be lots of useful information lying on spreadsheets, or emails in people’s laptops or computers within their office. For example, customer preferences can be found in emails or sales data or from feedback forms which can be used to improve product/service performance and quality. Therefore, small businesses looking to use big data must consider all data sources that will provide them with useful information for identifying new potential.
At a more elementary level, if your company has a social media presence, for example Facebook or LinkedIn, then a quick search can provide how your company is viewed or how your products or services compare with your competitors. If your company has a website, using a tool like Google Analytics can help you understand how many people visit your website, which are the pages most viewed, and so on. There are lots of open source analysis tools which can be used to analyse different types of data and extract new information. Such information can help a small business to understand how their product or service can be improved for better business outcomes.
Hence, it is important for small businesses to understand data types to make use of the right data sources to analyse and solve business problems. This is done by three steps:
- Define operational problems causing slowdown of business growth
- Perform a problem analysis to divide the large problem into smaller problems and try to solve the smaller problems with available resources. Now you are left with less number problems to solve, or the main problem can be identified.
- Fix the operational problem by analysing data sources to identify business insights related to operational problems in business. For example, insights can be obtained on consumer preferences, marketing/promotional strategies, targeting ideal consumers, product/service improvements and so on.
The above steps can be used invariably by SMBs, but making use of tools and IT for handling big data to satisfy their unique requirements is based on their budgets and resources. SMBs can consider the use of cloud services, use of open source tools to implement big data solutions at low cost. By using the right combination or data and tools, SMBs can be rest assured they are able use the right tactic to empower themselves towards capitalising new potential opportunities.