7 min read

The Dirt on Big Data

By Jon Thompson on May 15, 2020 4:18:43 PM MDT

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

There are always some phrases we use without really knowing what they mean - think "The Cloud", "Quinoa", or "Inconceivable". One of today's most commonly used but rarely understood business term is "Big Data".

What is "Big Data"?

Big Data, besides being the name of a great alt-rock band behind the recent hit single "Dangerous", basically refers to any source of structured or unstructured data that has the potential to be mined for one purpose or another. These data sources aren't necessarily extremely large, though they can sometimes be so big that they are measured in petabytes and exabytes (1 Petabyte = 1,000 Terabytes and 1 Exabyte = 1,000 Petabytes, in case you were wondering).

According to The Economist, the ability to analyze these large sets of data and gain insights from themBig Data has the potential to "spot business trends, prevent diseases, combat crime and so on". So basically Big Data is the superhero the world has been waiting for? Maybe not quite, but businesses of every size - from large international corporations like Google and Wal-Mart to the new street-corner bakery downtown that only has 5 full-time employees, have tapped into the goldmine of Big Data in order to
gain valuable insights into consumer behavior, industry trends, and even their own internal processes.
While the practice of analyzing data to gain insights and inform decision-making in business is nothing new, the explosive growth of mobile computing has resulted in an exponential increase in the amount of data that is available to be collected and analyzed, or mined. For example, every person with a "smart" device is a walking source of data, generating substantial amounts of digital information wherever they go. This wealth of data can prove to be a valuable asset to consumer-driven companies, if it can be effectively captured and transformed into actionable insights.

Using Big Data to Measure Performance

Perhaps an even more widely useful application of Big Data is the monitoring of internal performance data. Every company has a variety of goals, from the strategic organizational level down to daily goals for employees. However, very few businesses do a good job of actually measuring their performance against those goals. As a result, employees and companies are left without any way of objectively determining whether they are progressing towards their goals or not. It's like running a race blindfolded; you might work really hard and run really fast, but if you can't see where you're going, you may never reach the finish line.
Big Data analytics, or Business Intelligence, allows businesses to keep track of their performance in a variety of areas using whatever key performance indicators (KPI's) effectively measure success for them. For some service companies, those KPI's might be billable hours or clients served. Other useful KPI's for individual employee performance might be sales calls made for sales team members or pieces of content created for content marketers. Whatever KPI's are most relevant to your company, BI/analytics tools are designed to help aggregate your data from various input sources and turn it into useful information by transforming it into graphs and visualizations that make it easy to spot trends, opportunities for improvement, and problem areas in your own company.
As the amount of mineable data has grown, so has the number of tools available to help business make use of that data. Traditional business data companies like SAP, IBM, and Oracle offer business intelligence solutions targeted mainly to large enterprises. Over the last decade, however, several companies like SAS, Microsoft, Tableau, and Tibco have offered more scalable SaaS BI tools which are accessible to small and medium sized businesses. Each BI tool has its pro's and con's, and some are definitely stronger than others (You can read about Forrester Research's report on many of them here), but no matter the size of your business or its IT budget, there's probably a BI tool out there for you.
Hopefully now you understand a little bit more what Big Data is and why so many people in business are talking about it. But more than that, I hope that you are starting to think of ways you could use your business data to generate actionable insights to improve your business' productivity, agility, and efficiency.
Oh, and I apologize if you were hoping to learn what quinoa is; I still haven't figured that one out.
If you have any questions about business intelligence or are curious how BI technology can help your business succeed, contact us here.

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Jon Thompson

Written by Jon Thompson

Jon Thompson is co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Blue Margin Inc. An author and speaker, Jon sheds light on how businesses can take advantage of a revolution in business intelligence to become data-driven and accelerate their success.