It's Not the Size of Your Data, It's How You Use it

Data -- whether it is defined as 'big' or 'little' -- exists everywhere, and effective use of it does not have to be confined only to the largest companies with the biggest budgets and most sophisticated IT staff. In essence, it's not the size of the data, but how you use it that really matters.

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This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Data -- whether it is defined as "big" or "little" -- exists everywhere, and effective use of it does not have to be confined only to the largest companies with the biggest budgets and most sophisticated IT staff. In essence, it's not the size of the data, but how you use it that really matters.

Big data is the rage of late, with virtually every company jumping on the bandwagon and claiming to have a "solution" that will help companies reign in information from sources far and wide and deliver actionable results.

But big data is suffering from the hype. Companies using these big data solutions fret about results left undelivered, expensive and complicated database and business intelligence systems, and questionable returns on investment. To date, big data has been primarily an enterprise endeavor, a tech experiment that only the big players have been able to dig into and throw money at -- landing it squarely in Gartner's "trough of disillusionment."

[ MORE: Big data can be a big headache for data defenders ]

What businesses of all sizes truly need is the ability to simply leverage a variety of data sources and turn that information into actionable intelligence that can help them cut costs, run the company more efficiently or improve profits. And more importantly, they want that resulting business intelligence to be easy to understand, visual and interactive.

In a survey Roambi conducted last year, almost 68% of our customers who responded ranked big data and business intelligence as their top two technology investment priorities for 2013. The reason: These businesses believe they are not able to effectively leverage existing information, estimating they review and derive value from less than half of their company's key business data. In addition, they need better ways to present their information. More than 81% of the respondents said that interactive graphics are their most useful tool for highlighting key data and understanding business decisions.

Given the hype -- and the perceived disillusionment -- perhaps it's time to put big data (or dare we say just "data"?) into perspective. Here are some considerations for your company -- whether it's big, small or in-between -- as you seek to benefit from the myriad of data available today:

* Every company can leverage data -- Don't think that because your company isn't among the Fortune 500 that it cannot leverage data. Data isn't the exclusive domain of large companies, and solutions designed to help you analyze that data do not have to cost a fortune. Today many apps exist to help even the smallest business wade through data and present it in a way that's easy to understand and actionable.

* Evaluate the key drivers of your business -- Don't gather and sort through data just for the sake of doing it. Consider your business goals -- whether it's improving sales, reducing costs, boosting revenues or something else -- and look at what data may be able to help you reach those goals, and where that data resides. By targeting your data sources, you'll be able to more efficiently find what you're looking for and drive results.

* Look at publicly available -- and free -- solutions -- Sometimes the best sources of data are right in front of you, associated with solutions you're already using, but perhaps not to their fullest extent. For example, Facebook and LinkedIn have a variety of analytics available to users, which are effective in evaluating marketing and sales efforts. Explore the functionality of your commonly used applications to see if they offer any tools that can help you meet your business goals.

* Make technology work for you -- Enhancements to commonly used applications, such as Excel and Google, can help you solve business problems and better analyze and visualize data from multiple sources. In addition, innovations in cloud computing are making it even easier and more cost-effective to integrate data from multiple sources.

* Implement tools to meet unique needs -- Not every employee who needs to leverage business data sits at a desk all day long. More likely, today, employees are mobile, using their smartphone or tablet to quickly and easily access data or show results. Replicating an entire database on mobile devices is not practical or particularly useful for users. Consider data analysis tools that are custom-built for mobile use, offering a quicker, and more effective, way to discern what the data means and present it in ways that are easy to comprehend.

By taking these ideas into consideration, your business can benefit from a wealth of data, much like The Spillers Group, which owns and operates three restaurants in the Dallas area. Shane Spillers, co-founder of the company, knew he needed to harness the abundance of information he was gathering about operations so he could tweak the business based on the insight he obtained. As someone always on the go, he also knew that he needed a mobile solution: Neither he nor his team had time to sit at a computer crunching numbers. What he needed was a simple way to communicate information at an executive level in a timely, accurate and meaningful way.

Once he found the right mobile app that tied together underlying source data from the restaurants' point of sale (POS) and accounting systems, he rolled it out to the executive team to analyze labor metrics at one restaurant. Within two weeks, they discovered labor efficiencies that cut costs by 10%, saving them thousands of dollars every pay period. Eventually they began using the system across their restaurants, and expanded it to include compensation metrics -- to tie restaurant performance directly to management compensation in an effort to improve the bottom line at each location. They also use the app to better manage controllable expenses, further improving their profitability.

As The Spillers Group discovered, a company doesn't have to be in the Fortune 500, with a multimillion IT budget, to gather, analyze and derive actionable results from data. And, the data doesn't have to be "big," either. It can be something as simple as integrating information from existing POS and accounting systems, and tying it together with other sources maintained in Google Docs.

What matters most is taking a close look at your business' unique needs; considering the data that is available in public and cloud-based apps, as well as internal systems; applying technology to leverage these data sources; and finding a solution that can produce results in a format that best suits your individual users' needs.

Becerra is responsible for developing and executing Roambi's business development and partner programs. In this role, he engages with the Roambi management and development teams to build lasting partner relationship that maximize U.S. and international business opportunities.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

This story, "It's Not the Size of Your Data, It's How You Use it" was originally published by Network World.

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