Big Data isn't just for Big Business - Intro to Business Analytics

Big Data has been a major buzzword in technology and business for the past decade, facilitated by the same manufacturing and software paradigms that allowed just-in-time manufacturing, cloud computing and social media to develop.


Toyota, Facebook, Google, et al demonstrated to companies worldwide that they were sitting on a treasure trove of process and efficiency opportunities if they simply sifted through the mass of data created daily. By collecting all possible forms of data and sifting through it scientifically, we find patterns that can form the basis for informed action, i.e. business intelligence (BI).


All very lovely, except far too many MSMEs see "Big" and assume that this shift means nothing to them. Indeed, many businesses may be treating any data other than financial statements as a heavy liability when resilience and backup needs are combined with the privacy laws emerging around the globe.


Nothing is further from the truth. Not only can MSMEs benefit from collecting and analyzing the data generated from their own activities, they can also gain new insights from open data repositories being offered by larger companies and even governments.


Organic, 'Home-grown' Data

For small businesses, harvesting the low-hanging BI fruit starts with accounting data used for quarterly and annual financial statements - revenue, expenses, taxes, depreciation, etc. Just going through this data can lead to rediscovery and confirmation of consumer preferences and highlight inefficiencies in procurement or asset use.


Other possible data points and comparisons include production numbers vs items sold, client calls vs new sales, bids to acceptance, even foot traffic in the general area to actual in-store sales for mall residents, for example. Businesses can leverage traffic to company websites and social media for insight on the efficacy of marketing initiatives. All these sources are fairly anonymous, but combining these data points can build descriptive profiles that accurately detail your current market and potential consumer segments.


For example, a small coffee shop located near a library that observes increased foot traffic and sales of relatively inexpensive ice cream and chocolate on Fridays in June and July may develop a new, limited-time product special for students - maybe a "Grade 1 CXC Sundae!"


External Data

Newer businesses may not have as much organic data available to gain significant insights, but that doesn't mean they can't benefit as well. Increased understanding of the importance of publically available data has encouraged regional governments to share statistics via easily accessible means, such as the Barbados Statistical Services' new website, Jamaica Open Data and Trinidad and Tobago's Open Data Platform.


Regional organisations have also developed open portals to their vast stores of economic and societal data. CARICOM offers general statistics and trade statistics for the region. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) offers a massive data lake of meaningful economic and sociodemographic indicators. These datasets can, with scientific combing, reveal important trends for the future of the region, giving a leg up for businesses looking to last for generations.


Education and Tools

Now that we know where the data can be found and why we should dig deeper into its meaning, we need to learn how to make the most of it. Online learning services offered by LinkedIn.com, Coursera.org, edX.org and Udemy.com, among many others (such as the University of the West Indies), offer substantial courses and certifications for business analytics and intelligence.


Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and Google Data Studio - three of the most popular tools for business analysts and data scientists - offer their own resources for training on their platforms and connecting to big pools of data. As they are all available as cloud options, you also don't have to worry about managing the resources for storing and manipulating so much data.


Personally, using the (generally) free Google Data Studio with my business' data and the national and regional repositories will be my starting point into analytics to chart my post-COVID future.

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