Ian Shaylor, Head of Customer Insights and Data, British Gas Business
The myth that ‘big data’ is somehow the preserve of large corporations like British Gas Business lingers over many small firms.
These large, complex datasets may sound overwhelming but when it comes to interpreting and applying this information to add business value, being small can actually be an advantage. This is because small businesses tend to be more agile than larger corporations and can therefore act more quickly on the insights offered by big data. And having access to analytics can be insightful, regardless of the actual size or scale of your dataset.
Whatever business you’re in, you’re part of a supply chain and you’re likely to already be part of the big data picture – particularly if you have big corporate customers who are almost certainly using big data business analytics to assess what is being delivered. On this basis, there’s no ‘opt-out’ clause. The smart reaction is to look at big data as an opportunity and play your scale and agility in your favour.
Another myth is that applying business analytics is an expensive process but in fact there are many simple, low-cost – or sometimes even free – tools and software packages available that can make analytics accessible. Google analytics, for example is a free means of gathering customer insights, while Microsoft’s Azure range is affordable for small businesses. And some of your suppliers may also offer tools to help you analyse specific sets of data.
To use data analytics most effectively, it’s important to stay focused and start small. Identify the specific business issue that you would like business analytics to solve or the question that you want analytics to help you answer.
Are you looking, for example, to better understand how your customers use your website or do you want to assess whether your own perception of your industry matches that of the market? By pinpointing the issue, you will be able to use the available analytics most effectively for your purpose.
To really take advantage of the benefits of big data, having someone near the top of your business with strong analytical and technical abilities as a business analytics champion can make a big difference. This person should be an advocate for data-backed insights and their use in decision-making and should ensure that the application of data across the business grows at a manageable rate.
One way that small businesses across the UK can use big data to their advantage is by analysing their energy consumption to understand how energy is being used and where changes can be made to improve efficiency. As a first step, you need to have a smart meter installed. More than a third of our business customers already have this technology. Smart meters automatically send readings securely to energy suppliers. This means more accurate bills but also more data that can be analysed to help small firms add value to business.
At British Gas Business, we analyse the data we collect in order to provide helpful insights that allow our customers to take advantage of energy efficiencies as part of the smart meter code of practice.
For example, recently we wrote to all our smart customers who were using a lot of energy out-of-hours to offer them advice on how to reduce this consumption. Businesses – both large and, more often, small – benefit from personalised guidance and free insight thanks to big data.
But, you can also analyse your own data and play around with this to understand patterns of energy usage. Our free online Business Energy Insight tool helps you see how much electricity you’re using by year, month, week, day and even hour. The dataset that you will be working with will be small and manageable and provide actionable insights but it is because of big data that you will be able to do this.
While we are at the forefront of this revolution and see it as an opportunity to offer market leading service in energy, other companies in other industries will be offering similar opportunities also.
Big data provides big opportunities for small businesses – and these will only continue to grow over the coming years. Using analytics to understand specific business issues will help your business to develop strategies that are backed by data and insight – and ultimately add value.
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