Big Data! One of the many buzzwords that is currently doing the rounds, but what is it and as a small business is it right for you?

Big data is the term for a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications

Its not just Google and Facebook that is collecting data about us and our habits, everyone is doing it. Be it the credit card companies with every purchase we make or the grocery store with their loyalty cards. Every entity in the public and private sector is collecting data, even that app on your phone is probably doing a good job at tracking your location. Here are some stats of what happens in a minute to show how that big data is growing

  • Google receives 2m search requests
  • 680,000 items are shared on Facebook
  • 34,722 Brands and Organisations receive a Like on Facebook
  • 47,000 Apps are downloaded from Apple
  • 100,000 Tweets are sent

The source of this data from 2012 can be found here, I expect these figures will have pretty much doubled by now!!

Each of these actions leaves a snippet about your life online, individually the snippets are pretty much uses less but by analysing the trillions of snippets you can gain a lot of useful information, and whilst a lot of this analysis is about targeting consumers there is also a lot of non retail analysing going on as well including:-

  • Identifying crime before it happens.
  • Predicating the spread of disease in Crops and People.
  • Help win Elections.
  • Predicting the Weather, rather topical after Monday

Making the most of what you’ve got

As a small business analysing big data as described above from your own sources is probably a no, but you do have small data and it is a source of information that can help you build your business, in addition there are a number of services that gives you access to big data. So lets look at a few of the sources and tools available to you.

Your own CRM and Accounting Systems: This is a major source of information for small businesses but is often left doing its basic job. Mining this data could give you invaluable insight into trends and habits of your clients.  The obvious trends like time of year are perhaps something you do not need to look at but try adding other parameters to the mix, location, ages, product types, frequency of business and perhaps you will start to see trends you were not aware of and that you can market to (and if you are not aware of the trends perhaps your competitors aren’t either).

Google Analytics: Google Analytics is a small bit of code that can be added to your website that allows you to track people whilst they are on your site.  Tracking like this gives you access to a wealth of  data, whilst a lot of it is about what people do on your site, did they come to you via a campaign, did they complete a goal (purchase a product or sign up etc), how effective is your content etc. it also gives you access to the type of people are using your site.  Using my analytics I can see what technology is being used to access my site, what operating system, what size screen, are they on a PC, Tablet or Mobile phone etc.  Whilst this data does not let me identify individual people  it does allow me to see the big picture, for example over the last 30 days 88% viewed on desktop, 8% on mobile and just 4% on tablet. Google are also starting to bring in more personal demographics such as age, gender and interests allowing additional options for trend analysis.

Google Trends: Want to know what people are currently searching on then Google Trends is the place. Whilst you can see what people have been searching on recently (Lou Reed and the Weather) by going into the Explore section you can do some nice trends. Here is a graph showing the search terms Summer Holiday and Sun Lotion. Whilst you can read a lot into a trend you should note this it does not mean what has happened before will happen again nor does it mean the same people are searching on the same term. There may also be certain reasons for peaks, by turning on the head line option the results are overlaid with headlines for some of the peaks, by doing this it allows you to see if any part of the trend was a blip.  There is a lot more functionality in this tool, have a play.

Google Public Data:  If you need data from a public sector source, you may find it here.  Perhaps your business is susceptible to birth rates or marriage rates (CO2 is quite interesting!), whilst t first glance the data seems to be summarised you can drill down into quite some detail.

Google Correlate: Although this is part of the Google Trends website it is a totally separate tool and allows the user to see if there are correlations in a search term with another term. Here is the search for Ice Cream it seems to show that at the same time people are searching for Ice Cream people are searching for Wedges (Apparently these are shoes 🙂 ). So unlike Trends where you have to supply the terms, this tool searches it out.  You can offset the search as well to see if there is a correlation several weeks before/after the main term.  Just like trends though the results do not mean the same people are searching for the terms.  There are also two extensions to this tool, Draw where you can draw your own graph to correlate to and also an import function that will allow you to import anonymised data from your own systems, perhaps your sales over the last 12 months of your product.


So whilst you may not have big data in house, you certainly have access to ‘Big Data’ to use in house, and even the small data sets you have from your own system will hold vital information to help you lead your business forward. The best thing you can do is have a play and see if this type of analysis works for you, but watch it once you start its hard to put down. Now is there a trend between cats and dogs!