by Lawrence Garvin, Head Geek and technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds
The term Big Data is often mentioned in both infotech and business media with the assumption that it belongs with big businesses. However, most do not realize that small to medium businesses can benefit from an adjunct version of Big Data known affectionately as ‘Little Data.’
A shifting cloud of hype obscures its definition, but Gartner defines Big Data as a collection of large, high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision-making. This suggests that Big Data is difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualization.
Data sets have enlarged due to additional information derived from analysis of a single large set of related data, as compared to separate smaller sets with the same total amount of data. This allows correlations to be found to spot business trends and much more.
Although Big Data is criticized for being overhyped, using data to gain deeper understanding of a business, as well as allowing it to become more efficient and make better connections with customers, can be invaluable.
Little Data – The Next Big Thing?
While Big Data describes the organization and analysis of masses of information that organizations rely on to look for larger scale patterns and create targeted communications, Little Data does more. It encompasses information that is more personally related, including many of the facts we know about ourselves and our lives.
Little Data can play an important role in the way a business engages with its stakeholders and provides more effective services on an individual level. While Big Data provides insights about larger trends and group behaviors, Little Data is invaluable in adapting these insights to help develop business-employee relationships and service offerings that map to customers’ unique preferences and histories.
So discussions on Big Data usually miss a much bigger picture: the ability of Little Data to sniff out small items of data that are loosely joined. This paradigm is founded on more people than ever being able to collaborate effectively around a distributed ecosystem of information – an ecosystem of little data.
Just as no-one talks about ‘big software’ – as if size were a measure of value – one day Big Data will fade from the picture. Its successor will be a paradigm that delivers the data, of whatever size, that helps to solve problems or answer questions.
For many problems and questions, small data in itself is enough. The data on household energy use, the times of local buses, government spending – these are all small data. Everything processed in Excel is small data.
And when an SMB wants to scale up, the way to go is through componentized small data: by creating and integrating small data ‘packages’ rather than building big data monoliths. And by partitioning problems in a way that works across people and organizations, instead of creating centralized silos.
So the next decade will belong to distributed models rather than centralized ones, to collaboration not control, and to small data not Big Data.
According to the Strategy + Business blog, many companies working in relatively sparse data environments such as emerging markets, business-to-business industries, highly specialized or concentrated markets, need to rely on Little Data.
The implications of Big Data go beyond new data sources, analytical techniques and technology. Rather, a paradigm shift away from management based on gut feelings and towards data-driven decision-making is already accelerating.
Companies operating without complete or clean market data need to strive to make better use of available data, or use low cost ways to create new data.
The ‘Little Data’ paradigm need not involve expensive hardware, software, or technology infrastructure. Data acquisition costs can be low or even non-existent.
A little creativity and a willingness to learn by doing is all that is required to take advantage of Little Data. Pick a product, a region and a problem that needs attention and run a pilot project. This will allow an SMB to demonstrate that the return on effort and cost is justified.
Small and medium businesses need to start investing in analytics. Once that is done, they will seldom stop because what they learn drives business improvements that more than pay for the analytics making the situation self-funding. Executives receive insights into how to improve their competitive position and identify what might be coming next, which can be rather valuable making ‘Little Data’ a priceless asset.
Lawrence Garvin is a Head Geek and technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds, a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), and an eight-time consecutive recipient of the Microsoft MVP award in recognition for his contributions to the Microsoft TechNet WSUS forum.