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Michelle Pluskota

Vice President, Business Services, Big South Region of Comcast Business

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What big data can do for your business

September 23, 2014

Mostly unnoticed until recently, big data is now on the radar of almost all small and medium-sized companies (SMBs). It’s catching their attention because it offers a cost-effective way to mine every single bit of data they collect on a daily basis.

Mostly unnoticed until recently, big data is now on the radar of almost all small and medium-sized companies (SMBs). It’s catching their attention because it offers a cost-effective way to mine every single bit of data they collect on a daily basis.

And many SMBs are starting to benefit from big data. Consider Mom and Pop grocery stores. Some are winning in their categories by mining and analyzing customer buying trends gathered through their loyalty programs and then boosting their offerings, special savings, and rewards. As a result, they are seeing more of their customers making purchases, and they are drawing in new customers attracted by the offerings.

What is big data? Think of it as being all the information a company wishes it had available to make better business decisions. This includes traditional information (profit and loss, point-of-sale, customer trends, etc.) overlaid with digital technology and information from social media and other online sites.

Some of this information the company collects itself. Other information comes from third-party providers. It’s what the company does with this information that truly turns it into big data. It not only gathers and stores the information, but it also shares it with everyone in its business and supply chain who needs it.

Those with access can excavate what they want and analyze the data to glean intelligence and insight that lead to better business practices and profits.

SMBs were unable to achieve such intelligence and insight until big data became available. Without it, a small store selling music players or speakers, for example, might have known that its customers bought more devices over the past holiday season than during the previous fourth quarter. But it knew little more.

The same company, with big data, also knows how many units it sold. More importantly, it knows who bought them, other purchases the customers have made, and how much money they earn, among other key insights. And it uses this information for targeted marketing, better staffing, and more accurate supplies to make the coming holiday season even greater.

Big box retailers were first to successfully maximize big data to gain a competitive edge. They quickly did so very effectively. For example, they soon learned how to analyze customer buying patterns in such detail that they could focus their marketing attention toward specific buyers in certain ZIP codes, sending them specifically targeted messages that arrived on carefully selected days of the month.

Now, big data is available to SMBs because for the first time both high-speed bandwidth and the easily accessible cloud are available to them – and at low cost.

Bandwidth gives SMBs the exceedingly fast network speeds needed to upload, share, mine, and analyze multiple terabytes of data in real time. The cloud provides the massive storage capacity needed for all this data, eliminating the huge capital expenditure a company would need to build and maintain its own large storage farms.

Many online and local SMBs are now buying the bandwidth, connecting to the cloud, and turning to big data. A small seller on eBay uses big data to analyze the spending and buying habits of its customers and of those who buy similar items online, culling valuable information about what’s trending. Then it sends registered eBay members emails about its products that match their interests – strengthening its potential to significantly increase sales.

Local restaurants are making tablet computers available at the end of the check-in line, so customers can see not only how many times they have eaten there recently, but how many more purchases they need to get a free meal. The restaurants’ goal is not to get them just to come back for the free meal, but to keep them coming back and to entice other customers to add their names and email addresses to the tablet – information that can be leveraged for future sales.

With big data now on their radar, SMBs are learning that it is easily and cost-effectively accessible to them through high-speed bandwidth and the cloud. And they are starting to find many ways to benefit from it.

This article originally appeared on Crain’s Detroit Business.

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