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You are here: Blog Business Weekly: Guest blog Why SMEs need to jump on board the Big Data train sooner rather than later

Why SMEs need to jump on board the Big Data train sooner rather than later

Professor Andy Neely

I for one support the view that the internet is the great transformer for businesses in the UK today – but not all businesses have equal access to the Big Data sets that can be harnessed from new technology.

Some data sets are protected. Some are a function of the installed base - the number of products and services you already have in operation. So if you have a small installed base or you cannot access particular data, you might not be dealing with Big Data, but increasingly you will be dealing with data.

One way to think about this - especially if you think your organisations doesn’t do Big Data, is to think about how you’ll use data, dropping the emphasis on big.

After all the value lies in the data, and so a pressing question for SMEs is how can they sensibly use data to improve the products and services the deliver to their customers.

As data becomes an increasingly valuable asset, SMEs will need to have a really clear sense of what data they want to own, what data they will access from others, how they are going to create and analyse this data, and how they are going to generate value and potentially profit from them.

The established SME will need to be able to ensure it can access data in much the same way as the big players or its competitors can.

A challenge facing SMEs is that they may not have the same capacity as larger players to “analyse” the new data sets, or even to build up in house teams that can do this job. This challenge will be particularly acute for established SMEs, which have been operating for a few years already.

Many of today’s new start-ups are born into a world of data, so they are created thinking about how they can use data. Indeed some businesses have created business models that are completely reliant on data.

Swarmly, for example, crowdsources data and works out where popular spots are and its App allows you to find the most popular pub or restaurant in your area so that you can go where the swarm is! Careful analysis of data clearly creates value for Swarmly’s customers.

An alternative example is Gild, which uses data to match freelance software developers with firms - think of it as a dating site for software developers and firms. Again careful analysis of data is at the heart of the Gild business model.

Data is becoming more pervasive. Mobile phones create data about where people are through GPS positioning. Every time we use the web, the weblogs we create leave a trail of data.

Every time we buy something using a credit card we create data. The systems for capturing, collating, storing and analysing these data are becoming better and faster.

A new bread of technologies - wearable technologies - will add to the stream of data being created. The challenge for established SMEs is to create the space and time to think about how they can use these data to innovate and enhance their products and services.

They need to think through what they can do and who they’ll need to partner with. If you are an established SME and not thinking about these issues, its time to jump on the Big Data train, for if you don’t the danger is you’ll be left sitting in the sidings while newer start-ups and bigger players pull out of the station and power ahead. It’s already happening.

• Andy Neely is director of the Cambridge Service Alliance, a leading partnership between global business and academics focused on understanding and developing complex service solutions.

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http://www.cambridgeservicealliance.org/

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