Big Data, Small Data and SMEs

Data is vital to strategy and insight in the business world today, and in the future. But what exactly are Big Data and Small Data, and how are they useful to small business?

What is Big Data?

Big Data refers to massive sets of “raw” data (numbers, letters, symbols) that are too large or complex to store in traditional processing applications. What makes Big Data a massive challenge is how to organise, interpret and utilise this deluge of “chaotic” information most effectively – without this it is of little value.

The term, “Big Data”, was actually coined the 1990s, and is different to other data because it has certain features – known as the three Vs:

  • Volume on an unprecedented scale, and this is increasing continuously. The global technological per-capita capacity to keep information doubles every 40 months. Since 2012, 2.5 Exabyte of data is generated every day;
  • Velocity – the speed in which it comes in;
  • Variety – the range of sources it comes from. Data is gathered from a myriad of sources: mobile devices, cameras, software, microphones, wireless networks, remote sensing, radio-frequency identification readers – and the cheaper and more accessible these become, the more data there is.

Big data is associated with large companies, however, in many cases it could equally benefit SME’s, simply due to the agile nature of these types of businesses. Even the most potent insights are valueless if your business cannot act on them in a timely fashion. Smaller businesses have this advantage, being suited to act on data-derived insights with speed and efficiency.

In the online gaming industry, for example, SME’s are already running Big Data technology within their enterprise without even thinking about it as such. Bookmaker WinUnited has put in place a MongoDB open source non-relational database from 10gen to bring its gambling products together and help it to better update betting odds in real time. This allows them to service customers and update their information as it happens – essential qualities that define this industry.

By running Big Data through a hosted service such as MetaMarkets, the small business can benefit from immediate insight – which needs to be acted upon, and used timeously to be of value. If SMEs collaborate with a channel partner, such as Splunk, they can take advantage of some of the most effective methods to gain necessary data insight, while gaining a deep level of industry expertise. This ensures the business maximises revenues, is able to strategize and develop new products as the market feedback reflects consumer needs. It all depends on how much the SME has to spend and why what the purpose of the data is for.

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Data is useless if one is not able to interpret it, and use it effectively.

Small Data is the new Big Thing for SMEs

Small data is data that one can comprehend easily. In a way, it’s the old “data” – much more accessible, understandable and actionable for everyday tasks than Big Data. Small data is essentially what will shape our future, because where Big Data is all about predicting the future by sifting through millions of data points, small data is really all about the causation of the data, the reason behind the actions – why things happen.

Customer behaviour insight

Small Data is invaluable in SME Marketing, Client Relations and Customer Retention fields, because it clearly and quickly shows trends in product preferences which can help decipher consumer thought processes. This information is used by these departments to predict what products will be popular, how to drive sales in their target market, and gain customer loyalty by delivering to the needs of the consumer, in the right place at the right time, in the right packaging. Small data can also help to indicate where the company should be developing new product and drive their branding strategy, and therefore increase profits while lowering risk.

Even small data sets from CRM platforms, social media or email marketing programmes can also provide much-needed insight to help businesses understand customer behaviour patterns and showcase trends. Google Analytics offers free data analysis. Hootsuite, Sprout Social’s Sprout Insights, Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Moz Analytics are a few tools to consider which offer great insight into social media behaviour – all aids in helping to understand the client, hone the product delivery and gain insight into product suitability.

Learn about your SME, and gain foresight

Many companies simply want to do better analysis with the data they already have. If one’s company has been operating for a year or more, there is a likelihood that a ton of big data exists in the company records. Information from sales ledgers in various forms such as Excel or QuickBooks provide data sets and interpretable statistics to cross-reference with other information in the company provided by the Marketing and CRM departments, for example. By learning about the way in which your company behaves, one can start to predict trends and prevent potentially damaging scenarios from occurring.

Use data to gain a competitive edge

Barclays provides a free service to SMEs, whereby the business can review their market positioning – which includes a downloadable report based on your postcode, constituency or the region the company operates in. The report includes a breakdown of consumer spending in your region; income and age bands of spending growth; turnover of businesses, analysis of the largest sectors, and commentary on the broader economic situation and impacts on small business. This can be extremely useful in terms of marketing and product development, for example.

Xero, the SME cloud-based accounting platform provider, recently launched Xero Signals, giving small business access to an unprecedented level of data, launching initially for New Zealand, with more countries due to follow. It claims to represent a true signal of the state of the country’s small business economy, based on aggregated data from almost 10,000 businesses. This is incredible industry knowledge if your sector is involved in finance, for example, where cutting edge tools are essential.

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Trend spotting. Data is essential to gain insight, gain foresight and maximise profits in business of any size these days.

In the very beginning, most young SMEs probably just need a good quality CRM system, (Hubspot, Salesforce) or ERP (such as Oracle or Sage) if it’s bigger or more complex, and a proper customer contact strategy. Don’t be fooled into spending vast amounts on over-specced software and data-systems providing which are unnecessarily complicated for one’s small company. Upscale as you grow – your needs will change – but it is essential to take advantage of small data to drive strategy and profit in today’s business world.

A word of advice: An SME needs to understand clearly what its objectives are (i.e. to understand competitors / geographies or customers or increase prospect pipeline or sales etc) before launching into data analytics, because otherwise the process can become incredibly confusing and complicated – and fascinating – and one can waste valuable time searching and gaining very little.

At the end of the day, the aim of data is to enable companies to make clearer business decisions and plan for the future – and this is definitely possible using both Big Data and small data for SMEs. It all depends on what the purpose of using the data is, and whether you have a budget. Both are incredibly valuable and essential tools to have in business today. Always remember though: it’s not what knowledge and information one has, it’s what you do with it that counts.

What are your experiences using new FinTech products? We would love to hear from you, please post your comments or or get in touch via our website: Akoni

About Felicia Meyerowitz: I am passionate about technology and innovations in financial services adding value to Small and Mid-size business in a practical way. I work as a co-founder at Akoni, aiming to bring innovation to the key asset within all enterprises – cash. Follow me on @Feliciatedx.

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6 Reasons Why Professionals Want to Work at SMEs

Statistics show that the SME sector continues to grow: 58.3% of small companies plan to take on staff over the next six months, up from 56.7% last year and just 48.9% the year before. There is no doubt that the future of business rests on the bedrock of upcoming SME’s. Small companies are vital to the economy’s growth – and even more so now after Brexit. It is not surprising, therefore, that the perks of working for a small business are being noticed by the best of the jobseekers.

When Linkedin conducted its latest Job Job Satisfaction Survey, it found that 87% of professionals that took part were keen to work for a startup or small business (employing 10 or less than 10 employees), rather than at larger companies. The survey questioned more than 10,000 professionals and over 3,500 employers worldwide. 

There were some surprises amongst the statistics: the survey found that 45% employees of small businesses were Very Satisfied or Fulfilled at work; that SME’s had some of the most loyal employees possible – 3 out of ten 10 wanted to stay where they were for the rest of their lives. Just over one in three small business employees were willing to take a wage cut to work at a startup or small business, and 77% say they would recommend their small business to their friends and family as an employer.

It was found that being able to align one’s values with one’s employers values was crucial to job satisfaction. Salary and promotional opportunities are key motivators for professionals today. Another major factor was work/ life balance (see our previous blog on this) which topped the list – even before salary – for people over 40.

So – why is it so desirable to work for a startup or small business?

1. Small business are perceived as being more flexible – “more human” – when it comes to making demands on their employees. If one is part of a small team, each member matters more – to get employees performing at their best, it is important that they are supported in their work. Working from home, flexible hours, bringing kids or dogs to work – there is often a way of making challenges into advantages for the business and the employee, with a bit of creative thinking.

2. Get ahead – much faster. Because each person in a small company is relied upon from the get go,  taking on further responsibility as the company expands, and therefore your rise through the ranks is quicker. Your talents are also more noticeable because there aren’t another hundred of you doing the same job.

3. Hard, but satisfying work: It goes without saying that you are expected to produce the goods – and often for less – but there are such great rewards. To be involved at the start of a small business is always a good thing – you will ride the wave of success, and be a part of the financial wealth when that comes.

4. Culture fix: Most small businesses are very picky when it comes to new employees – and for good reason. Apart from having to have the appropriate skill set, the candidate also needs to fit into the company culture. Creativity and genius flows in a safe place to innovate and conceptualize – and everyone’s different personalities need to gel, for maximum results. Each company has it’s own quirks and fitting in comfortably with these are essential.

5. Broaden your skill set: In small companies there is more likelihood of learning new skills and possibly even working across different departments. Sometimes everyone needs to “muck in” to finish a presentation for a deadline or cover for someone who is off on leave. You’ll see how the business operates as a whole, and develop transferable skills.

6. You can make a big difference: In an a small business it is hands-on. The chance to grow and to be there as the company develops, is exciting. Many people feel satisfied in their jobs at SME’s because they’re able to see real, tangible results of their work.

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Small business may be the most attractive employment option to professionals, yet it struggles to reach the right talent. Social media and an online presence can help boost your profile in the right places in order to overcome this challenge. Image: Pexels.com

Interestingly, SME owners who took part in the same survey said that they found it difficult to attract the talent they need, because of competition from larger organisations in the job market. They battled to become noticed.

Many SME’s don’t have a specific brand – they often grow fast and are so busy managing this, that their very persona is never honed. This is an essential step in the growth of a successful small business – if you don’t know who you are – what your authentic core values are – how are customers or top drawer job-seeking professionals going to find you? Providing happy employees the brand marketing tools to sing your praises over social media, small businesses can really make an impact in all the right areas.

Times are changing – a grand job title is not much of a motivator any more. Compensation, work-life balance and opportunities for advancement rank as the three major motivators amongst job-hunters. They want to be contributors who can make a positive impact on a business, hopefully learning new skills in the process. That is why SME’s are attracting the talent they deserve, and shall continue to do so.

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Inspiring Women in Tech: Ada Lovelace, first Computer Programmer

Another worthy addition to our blog series on Inspirational Women in Tech, today we focus on Ada Lovelace – as today is  Ada Lovelace Day, which was started in Britain in 2009 as part of #DayoftheGirl. At Akoni we are inspired by women in technology and hope to see more women enter the sector drive innovation – just as she did.

Rejected at birth by her father, the famous poet, Lord Byron, who was only interested in being a father to a son, the one-month-old Augusta Ada Byron was whisked away to her maternal grandmother’s home in Kirkby Mallory, by her mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke.

There, she was largely brought up by her maternal grandmother, Lady Milbanke, who doted on her. The young Lovelace was encouraged to pursue her love of science and mathematics by her mother, as it countered the “insanity” that she had potentially inherited from father.

The young child was fragile, even suffering a bout of measles which left her paralysed and bedridden for an extended period of time. During her recovery period, the young Ada decided that she wanted to invent a way of flying. The twelve year old Ada went about this task with a clear and systematic plan. She investigated the construction of wings, studying the anatomy of birds, exploring different materials (oilsilk, wires and feathers) to build these out of – drawing on her mathematical skills to calculate the right proportions. Steam would be used in the final stage. Ada produced a fully illustrated book, “Flyology” which mapped out the entire project, illustrating her findings and inventions with plates. Perhaps she told Babbage about this production – he used to affectionately refer to her as “Lady Fairy”. She was clearly an individual, not afraid to go against the grain from the start.

Her tutors in mathematics and science included some of the best brain around – William Frend, William King, Augustus De Morgan and Mary Somerville. De Morgan said that she was “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence“. It was Mary Somerville, who became a great friend to Ada, that introduced her to Charles Babbage, a mathematician, philosopher, mechanical engineer, inventor of the concept of a programmable computer.

Babbage introduced her to his prototype machine – the Difference Engine, which entranced her. Impressed by Lovelace’s mathematical and analytical abilities, he asked her to translate the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s article on his latest machine – his Analytical Engine.

In her extensive notes on the article, Lovelace emphasised the difference between this machine and previous calculating machines – regarding this latest machine as a breakthrough, with massive potential because of its ability to be programmed to solve problems of any complexity.

Her notes also included, in great detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers using the Analytical Engine – which could have run correctly if it had been built. Based on this algorithm, Ada Lovelace is now widely considered the first computer programmer, and her method is recognised as the world’s first computer programme.

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Portrait of Ada by Margaret Sarah Carpenter 1836

Lovelace held imagination and intuition in high regard, integrating them into her scientific and mathematical explorations and concepts. Her “poetical science” led her to ask human questions – “basic assumptions” about the Analytical Engine and future inventions – how society and individuals would relate to technology as a tool.  She valued metaphysics as much as mathematics, viewing both as tools for exploring “the unseen worlds around us”.

The remarkable Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (née Byron), died of uterine cancer in 1852 at the age of 36, leaving behind three children and her husband, William King-Noel, 1st Earl of Lovelace. 

Lovelace’s astonishing intelligence, her original thought and the fact that she accomplished so much in an era when women were not given much credibility or voice was remarkable. Her self-belief from an early age is exactly what many young girls need more of today – a value that the Akoni team admire and encourage.

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#timetorebalance: Your Work/ Life Depends on It

As a small business owner, you are most likely a Jack of All Trades and a Master of Most. Managing your business often implies that you multitask and cope with production crises, cashflow nightmares and so much stress that you never sleep properly. Well – this is National Work Life Week, and having been a small business owner myself, I understand why it is necessary to create a national campaign around Work/Life Balance – because SME owners are far too busy and stressed to notice it otherwise!

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Here are some tried and true tips I have practiced – hopefully you’ll find them useful too. Listen Up – it’s time to take stock, #timetorebalance:

Remember why you started your company in the first place. You spend a large percentage of your life working – you go through stress and sacrificing many things for your SME to succeed. You need to remember the passion that lead you to getting it off the ground. Keep coming back to that. That is what will get you up in the morning.

Learn to delegate. You won’t believe how liberated you’ll feel when you hand that work that you hate doing and aren’t very good at anyway to someone who specializes in it! Now you can concentrate on what you are best at, and this will be much more rewarding and enjoyable. By delegating, you will lower your stress levels. Use tools and apps to cut down on one’s workload and money spent on travel and outsourcing significantly. Here is a range of some that may be useful:

  • Cash management and accounting tools such as Xero, Freshbooks, Quickbooks, Sage are the most widely used, and all are excellent products, well worth investing in. (Have a look at our Akoni blog on Cashflow Tips for SMEs for some more on this subject).
  • Try Skype, Google Hangouts, ClickMeeting for online meeting and webinars. These can be used to conduct webinars, teleconferencing, online meetings and presentations. No more travelling out of town or even across town – saving you money and time.
  • Asana is a task and project management productivity tool for team collaboration and communication that eliminates the use of email. Free for up to 4 users. With Asana, you can set up projects, and tasks within projects. Add staff or clients to tasks and projects to keep everyone up to date.
  • Apps like Producteev and Harvest let you see how you’re spending your time, what’s on target and what requires follow-up.
  • Pocket – this allows you to store videos, articles or anything else you find of interest. It’s all in one place and ready to look at when you have time.
  • Evernote – one of the most popular apps for managing a to-do list and keeping notes. It even has an app to make it faster to read blog posts and articles by showing them in a simple format.
  • WorkflowMax: An end-to-end time tracking and invoicing solution, seamless integration with Xero Accounting software.
  • Hootsuite for social media management
  • For some more interesting tools, have a look at useful tools for SMEs

Learn to set boundaries. If you are open about realistic timings at the beginning of each project, explaining why you need that time to do a good job, your clients are far more likely to understand – because they need the best quality product you can deliver.Turning down work is hard, but is it worth taking on if you and the client are going to be dissatisfied with the result? Your reputation may suffer, which affects future work and client relationships.

Write things down. In this age of electronics it sounds archaic, but often the simple task of writing down ideas and thoughts or tasks that you think of suddenly will reduce your stress levels. Write a  TO DO list before lights out. It clears your head, and facilitates sleep, knowing that you will have your list when you wake up. Same goes for those 2am thoughts – write it down and there is a good chance you’ll get to sleep again.

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Activate your brain and body. Your body can’t take stress for extended periods without it having often serious health consequences. Find something that you enjoy doing. The brain and body benefit far more if you practice an activity you prefer instead of dreading your training sessions. Yoga, running, lifting weights, walking – just get out and do something fun. Your brain needs blood flow to function at it’s best, and different environments are stimulating.

Family is important.  As a small business owner, speak to your employees about what they would suggest in terms of flexible hours and/or the option to work from home. Being flexible in one’s approach will have benefits all round: happier employees, better quality work, you’ll attract quality talent when recruiting and your clients will ultimately benefit from dealing with a motivated company. Have a look here for some more tips as an employer.

Remind yourself what success is. Ian Sanders, author of Juggle: Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life and Mash Up says,I recommend creating a personal dashboard where you set out the things you want in life and the reasons why you are doing them. You should write down all the things that are important to you, whether it is making money, creative stimulation, spending time with your kids or playing tennis. These are your definition of happiness and success. Then you can monitor this regularly to see how you are doing.” 

In this frenetically-paced age, it is important to keep your eye on what Really matters – your health, your happiness, your family and your goals in life. Enjoy what you do, otherwise change it. A frazzled, crabby and stressed business owner is not going to be any good to anyone. You owe it to your family, your staff and clients to be the Best Version of You possible. And that means gaining perspective by getting away from work every now and then – really make an effort to unplug from all those digital devices, look up at the sky and B-R-E-A-T-H-E deeply. Your life depends on it.

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