V3 Big Data Summit: Big data isn't just for big business. That is the message from industry experts who claim that big data analytics are perfectly suited for use in small to medium businesses (SMBs).
"There is something very counter-cultural about big data and small firms," said Philip Powell, executive dean and professor of management at University of London, who has a lengthy background in systems analysis and information management.
"Most small firms feel themselves to be 'relationship businesses'; they gain customers and keep customers via the relationships they build. So anything like ‘data' sounds hard and nasty and like it will get in the way of those relationships."
Yet Powell said big data can be used to bolster the activity of SMBs and, when mixed with the rise of cloud and mobile computing, there is now more data available than ever before - which could be "transformational" for smaller firms.
"They need to think about efficiency in their business, using technology and data to understand how their business can be more efficient," he said.
"Small firms value their flexibility but data use and understanding can enable that," he said.
His comments came during the annual Parliament and Internet conference 2015 which was set up to debate issues surrounding encryption, communications and big data. The data analytics panel consisted of industry experts across government, academia and the charity sector.
Slow adoption, big potential
Also speaking at the event was Kirstin Gillon, technical manager at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales' IT Faculty. She agreed thats SMBs would benefit from big data use, but said most were just not interested, and this needs to change.
"We have been talking about big data for quite a few years but we struggle to get traction with smaller organisations," she explained.
"The evidence shows that, while there's a lot of talk about big data and analytics in a lot of smaller businesses, [adoption] is still pretty low. That's a problem and we need to think about how we can help smaller organisations make more use of the benefits of big data."
Gillon told the conference that SMBs need to understand that big data analysis is not just about volume, but variety.
"It's not just about having lots of data it's about accessing new sources of data. There has to be shift from thinking ‘I have all this data and I don't know what to do with it' to thinking about the business," she said.
"Stop thinking about the word 'data' and think about the business and what you need to know. It is useful for you to know [more] about your customers, suppliers and the market."
Furthermore, Gillon explained that SMBs have a number of advantages over larger firms when it comes to acting on the insight provided by big data analytics.
"Insight is fine but you have to do something with it and actually that's where SMBs [can benefit] because they are small, agile and should be able to change quite quickly, so there is potentially good opportunity in this area," she said.
Data integration and business analytics firm Pentaho told V3 recently that open source tools and solid business processes will unlock the "true potential" of big data.
Speaking ahead of the V3 Big Data Summit, Wael Elrifai, EMEA director of enterprise solutions at Pentaho, said that the evolution of software tools for data analytics will have open source frameworks at their core.
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