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Big data can be intimidating; Its name alone supports the common misconception that it’s only for big business. But the reality is that even the smallest companies can (and probably do) generate huge amounts of data – and that data may hold insights that can help propel the business forward.

With the easy-to-use cloud solutions available on the market today, unlocking data insights should no longer be viewed as a challenge to businesses who may not think they have the expertise needed for data analysis. Rather, data presents an enormous opportunity for businesses that are trying to compete with bigger brands, establish loyalty among customers and do more with less. When business owners successfully harness and utilize the data that is already at their fingertips, they can better understand their customers, become more efficient internally and innovate and transform their businesses in ways that keep them thriving.

Unlocking customer insights

One of the biggest opportunities data offers businesses is the ability to better understand customers. By analyzing customer data – what they buy, when they buy and even what they may not buy –  business owners can start to see trends that will allow them to better meet customers’ needs. Imagine if a small gaming retailer suddenly sees an increase in purchases of a specific video game. They can use that data to anticipate when the title will sell out and order a new shipment ahead of time to ensure that customers don’t find an empty shelf in place of what they came in looking for and go elsewhere to make their purchase.

Customer insight can also uncover opportunities to increase revenue – for example, a small vacation rental company is bound to see peaks and valleys at different times of the year. But what if it’s employees could use data to predict which dates will be less popular for travelers and adjust rates accordingly to encourage increased bookings? By pulling backlogs of data together into one place, those trends become visible and will enable the business owner to discover innovative ways to fill properties on traditionally slow weekends.

The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Fort Worth in Texas even used data to improve the service it was providing to its customers, or in this case, members. Like any business, the Club needed to understand how its various programs were performing and its impact on the kids it serves. The Club had been collecting data on everything from school attendance, to performance to healthy habits for years. But because it used disconnected systems to track these different items, it was nearly impossible to create a comprehensive view of the effectiveness of its programs, let alone each child. To collect and make sense of this vast amount of data, the Club enlisted partner Doyenne360 to create a system built on the Microsoft Azure cloud that recognized the data in its monthly PDF reports as they were uploaded to OneDrive and automatically updated the Club’s analytics dashboard, which was built on Microsoft Power BI. With the combination of these technologies, the Club’s staff could easily access and – more importantly – make sense of existing data, which allowed its staff to be more strategic and predictive about the kind of impact they are having on each child and adjust programs on a case-by-case basis to increase that impact as needed.

Gaining insight from within

The Club, just like a small business, needs to be able to do more with less – so it’s critical that it understands what’s working and what’s not. And data can provide that insight. Data analytics tools are more accessible and affordable today than ever before, leveling the playing field between big business and small business. With data, businesses can quickly and easily determine the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, internal processes, technology solutions and more, and make quick decisions to make the changes needed to achieve their goals.

Using Power BI to compile all its data into one cohesive dashboard led to more than just improved programs for kids and families at Fort Worth’s Boys & Girls Club. The new insights also painted a bigger picture of the effectiveness of its programs that could be brought before the board of directors and leveraged in marketing and fundraising efforts. By focusing in on individual children, the Club also saved time and money by taking out the guess work and delivering the right services to the right families the first time.

Using data to drive innovation

Companies that are truly forward thinking are also using data to innovate. When a business can get a left-to-right view of the data available to them, new business opportunities emerge. For instance, ideas for new products or services that meet customer demands or new ways to monetize an existing service. This is great news for small business owners, who are often forced to wear multiple hats. Innovation tends to take a backseat to the day-to-day task of running a business. Data analytics solutions can help quickly and easily surface opportunities for innovation without a huge time or resource investment.

But just how do small businesses find those opportunities, and where are they hiding? Often, it takes a wide range of tools and apps to run the many aspects of a business, and thus, it’s easy for data to become siloed. You may already have the data you need to uncover new opportunities; you just haven’t found the right tool to put it all together yet. The remedy for the Boys & Girls Club was Microsoft Power BI, which can combine data from various sources like spreadsheets, on-premises data sources, MailChimp, Github and dozens of other apps so you can start analyzing data in seconds with one visual, interactive and easy-to-use dashboard.

Another option for businesses with a more advanced IT infrastructure and staff is Microsoft SQL Server. SQL Server is built for use on-premises, in the cloud, or both and enables IT staff to perform advanced analytics and present rich visualizations on almost any device. Even better, SQL Server is available to SMBs at one fifth the cost of other business intelligence solutions.

Make Big Data your New Best Friend

There are tools available today that empower businesses to leverage the data their companies are generating all day, every day. These tools can compile data into one place that is easy to access and, most importantly, make data easy to understand and act upon.

Don’t let the big data buzzword discourage you from leveraging the information your business needs to thrive, especially since the data you need to move your business forward is likely already at your fingertips. By adopting these affordable, easy-to-use solutions, you can gain new insights into your customers and your own business, allowing you to stay ahead of critical trends and offer the best experiences to your customers.


David Smith