Big Data is not just for Big Businesses

“It is widely assumed that big data, which imbues a sense of grandiosity, is only for those large enterprises with enormous amounts of data and the dedicated IT staff to tackle it,” opens the recent article Big data: Why it matters to the midmarket.

Much of the noise generated these days about the big business potential of big data certainly seems to contain very little signal directed at small and midsize businesses.  Although it’s true that big businesses generate more data, faster, and in more varieties, a considerable amount of big data is externally generated, much of which is freely available for use by businesses of all sizes.

The easiest example is the poster child for leveraging big data — Google Search.  But there’s also a growing number of open data sources (e.g., weather data) and social data sources (e.g., Twitter), and, since more of the world is becoming directly digitized, more businesses are now using more data no matter how big they are.  Additionally, as Phil Simon wrote about in The New Small, the free and open source software, as-a-service, cloud, mobile, and social technology trends driving the consumerization of IT are enabling small and midsize businesses to, among other things, use more data and be more competitive with big businesses.

“Each minute of every day, information is produced about the activities of your business, your customers, and your industry,” explained Sarita Harbour in her recent blog post Harnessing Big Data: Giving Midsize Business a Competitive Edge.  “Hidden within this enormous amount of data are trends, patterns, and indicators that, if extracted and identified, can yield important information to make your business more efficient and more competitive, and ultimately, it can make you more money.”

However, the biggest driver of the misperception about big data is its over-identification with data volume.  Which is why earlier this year in his blog post It’s time for a new definition of big data, Robert Hillard used several examples to explain that big data refers more to big complexity than big volume.  While acknowledging that complex datasets tend to grow rapidly, thus making big data voluminous, his wonderfully pithy conclusion was that “big data can be very small and not all large datasets are big.”

Therefore, by extension we could say that the businesses using big data can be small, or mid-sized, and not all the businesses using big data are big.  But, of course, that’s not quite pithy enough.  So let’s simply say that big data is not just for big businesses.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.


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