29 December 2015
3 min read
Why do SMEs need big data?
“At the heart of big data is automation, or getting technology to perform processes in minutes that would potentially take humans a lifetime," explains Freddie McMahon, director of strategy and innovation at data service provider Anomaly42.
He says big data has a number of uses for small and medium-sized enterprises, because it can uncover new market intelligence or hidden trends. Big data can also be used to carry out due diligence on a potential acquisition by scouring the data universe, including social media, for any red-flag events relevant to a takeover.
"[Big data] can be used to highlight incidents of fraud or other financial crime by connecting the dots between suspicious events or activities."
In short, big data enables companies to take a helicopter view of vast data ecosystems.
Max out your storage
“It is surprising how many businesses use Excel spreadsheets or perhaps an old Access database," says Mathias Golombek, chief technology officer at database solutions company EXASOL.
“There are far better solutions out there, not just in terms of speed, but also ease of backing up, security and portability of data." The best solution, he says, is to “import your data into an in-memory analytics database – such as one of the free enterprise offerings – and install a business intelligence system (free editions are also available) to connect to it".
Hardware costs are falling, he explains. "You can buy a small powerful server for less than ever before."
Hit the cloud
Capacity is crucial. Overloading a single storage system will result in reduced performance and make it harder to retrieve data quickly. SMEs should consider solutions such as flash storage, which prioritises efficiency and is good for when high performance is required.
Cloud is great for non-business-critical data and its agility means it never gets too costly, though when choosing a cloud provider, it’s crucial to determine whether the data is stored in an industry-standard format or a proprietary format. Storing it in an industry-standard format means it could be hard to move or access without their assistance.
Where data security is of maximum importance, it might be a good idea to look at a co-located data centre close to the cloud but not actually in it. This way, SMEs are able to benefit from the cost efficiency of the cloud but the security of a data centre that is “next to" rather than “in the cloud". Using a hybrid solution allows SMEs to choose which data is business-sensitive and needs to remain private.
Back it up
Have backup, says Daniel Foster of 34sp.com. He explains: “You need to be sure that the security of your data is maintained by your provider and they should be able to give you assurances and details of the measures they have taken to protect the information you have shared with them. It is one thing to protect your data against malicious access or use, but ultimately that data is not much use if it is not reliably available for the intended purpose."
"Most data will need to be backed up, so that should the worst happen – be it a corruption of the data or loss through a hardware failure – it can be recovered.
"The backup strategy you employ may be as simple as a daily copy taken to a USB stick that lives in the boss’s pocket, or it may be as complex as a differential tiered backup involving onsite and offsite media."
But keep your eyes open
Big data can bring major benefits, but there’s a significant price to pay for getting it wrong in the form of data protection laws.
Vinod Bange, data protection expert and partner at international law firm Taylor Wessing says: “SMEs don’t need to worry about the technical complexities, but how to apply them effectively for real business value so potential pitfalls can be avoided.
"Failure to adhere to the eight data protection principles could result in a penalty of up to £500,000"