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Putting data to work

Even the smallest business generates huge amounts of commercial data on its customers and the markets it operates in which – if used correctly – can help predict future demand.

It is often said that information is power, but only if you know what to do with it. This is one of the reasons for the emergence of ‘big data analysis’, which in simple terms describes the process of extracting business intelligence from the structured and unstructured data generated by a business.

Structured data is found in fixed fields within files or records and can include customer names, addresses, and payment details. Examples of unstructured data include emails and social media messages, which often include useful commercial information but in a format that cannot be easily transferred to a database or spreadsheet.

Start small

An obvious motivation for using big data analysis is to find a solution to a specific business requirement (for example, why customer retention rates have fallen). Start small and focus on a specific challenge – a scattergun approach with no specific challenge in mind can lead to what experts call ‘analysis paralysis’ where you spend so much time analysing the cause of problems that you never get around to fixing them.

For example, the weblogs captured when a customer or prospect explores your website or app provide information that can be used to improve the customer experience. Or you could combine internal customer data with external social media data to help you better understand your customers’ purchasing preferences.

Buying time

One of the main reasons why big data analysis is so useful is that it helps you spend more time analysing information and less time trying to pull data together from various sources.

There are many software vendors offering big data analysis products and there are also free, open source applications available that can be used to interrogate data and present the results in the form of charts and reports.

A big data strategy can be created relatively quickly. Identifying the parts of the business that could benefit and designing a roadmap of how you will incorporate the insights generated sounds like a lot of work, but could probably be covered off in half a day.

Don’t get ahead of yourself

The legendary baseball coach Yogi Berra once famously said it was difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. He may have been joking, but also made a good point – no matter how much information you have on what has happened, you can never be entirely sure what will happen.

Big data analysis should be used to support decision making and you should not be afraid to challenge the information and how it is being interpreted. Some businesses will use it as a substitute for gut instinct, while others will consider both before making decisions.

Data quality is also an issue. Insights derived from unreliable data are of no use, which is why the detailed, up-to-date financial information available from a cloud-based accounting solution such as Big Red Cloud is so valuable.

Marc O'Dwyer

After completing a Graduate program in Marketing, Marc’s impressive sales career began at Allied Irish Banks, Pitney Bowes and Panasonic where he received numerous Irish and European sales performance awards and consistently exceeded targets and expectations. In 1992, Marc’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to set up his own business, Irish International Sales (IIS). Initially, this company was a reseller for Take 5 Accounts and Payroll software. Within four years, IIS became the largest reseller of Take 5 in Ireland, acquiring four other Take 5 resellers. He also found time to set up two mobile phone shops under the Cellular World brand and a web design company offering website design services for small businesses. In 2001, he bought the majority share in a small Irish software business, Big Red Book. At that time, the company was losing money. The company became profitable within two months, and Marc then acquired a payroll company to compliment Big Red Books Accounting products. In 2003, IIS were appointed as Channel Partners with SAP for their new SME product, SAP Business One. Marc sold his Take 5 business and concentrated on developing this new market for SAP As a result, by 2007, IIS was recognised as the largest Channel Partner for SAP in EMEA (Europe Middle East and Africa). In 2008, the IIS Sales Manager bought the Company from Marc in an MBO. He launched Big red cloud in June 2012, the online version of big red book, to date the company successfully converts 59% of trials into sales and the number of customers is growing rapidly. Marc continues to run both Big Red Book and Big Red Cloud which now support 75,000 businesses. He is a very keen sportsman, having played rugby for 20 years, represented Leinster at under 16 and under 20 levels, and league squash with Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club for 10 years. Marc has competed in 11 Marathons, including the London and Boston Marathons, and has completed several Triathlons and Half Ironman races. He has also completed six Ironman Races in Austria(x2), Frankfurt (Germany), Nice (France) , Mallorca (Spain) and Copenhagen (Denmark)

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