The Myth of Big Data for Small Business

Image by Terry Freedman (License)

If you run a small or medium sized business, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re missing out. Articles like this one, this one, this one and this one (and there’s lots more) are of the opinion that money and time not spent claiming your slice of the ‘data dividend’ are wasted efforts.

But all of the above sources play the field: they’ve also run stories about how more than 70% of Business Intelligence projects fail. I’d hate to guess the percentage of how many ‘Big Data for Small Business’ projects fail, but if it’s not above 90, I’ll eat my hat.

It’s true that big data tools have never been cheaper or more accessible. But the same can be said of crystal meth. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The tools directors and managers can use to get accurate, actionable information about their business have been around for years, and they are cheaper and more accessible now, too.

Useful, practical analysis is most likely being carried out every day by people all across the business. They may not be using Hadoop or neural networks, but I’m sure that the customer service team know how many unhappy customers they’ve spoken to, the finance team know who hasn’t paid their bills and the manufacturing department know about issues with supplier’s lead times.

It’s a matter of getting all of this information in one place, or at least making it more easily accessible. That does not require Big Data techniques. If getting the answers you need will require those techniques in the future (and that’s a big if), it certainly won’t take a Microsoft, Oracle or AWS pre-prepared pitch deck and a fleet of consultants to make it happen.

What it will take is someone who wants to get to know your business, someone who’s willing to connect the dots between what you know now and what you want to know. Most external BI consultants, data scientists, enterprise data architects etc. etc. don’t want to do that, and if they do, they probably work for a consultancy that moves them around a bunch and demands 60+ hour work weeks because they know that that person is worth their weight in gold.

They’re willing to get their hands dirty in the actual business of your organisation. They’re willing to get to know you and get to know what information you need to make a lasting positive change to your business.

Because it’s honest, straightforward business sense that helps businesses grow. Big Data projects just help Big Data consultancies grow.

So, if you’re thinking of starting a Big Data project, please try hiring a savvy, ambitious maths graduate who’s read ‘SQL in 10 minutes’ instead. Train them up and let them live and breathe your business. I’m certain that the ROI on that decision will make minced meat of anything a ‘Big Data Pre-Sales Specialist’ could dream of offering to a business like yours.

P.S. If you run a small or medium sized business and you’ve successfully implemented and continued to use a cost-effective big data solution, please let me know and I’ll go get my hat (tech startups need not apply).