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Using Big Data To Improve Your Business


Two of the biggest blunders during World War Two were caused by ignoring data in favour of absolute beliefs. The ‘surprise’ attack on the Soviet Union by the Nazis in July 1941 was actually forecast months in advance by soviet intelligence officers who offered up damning evidence to Stalin of the imminent attack.  Stalin, who was convinced the German Army wouldn’t invade, ignored the evidence and had the officers shot for treason. Three years later, similar example of blind belief dealt a fatal blow to the German High Command when they chose to ignore the reality of the D-Day landings at Normandy. Despite overwhelming evidence, they were convinced the largest naval invasion of all time was actually a clever distraction for the future invasion force at Calais, a force that never arrived.

The detrimental effect of ‘evidence selection’, as psychologists call it, can also permeate the businesses world. Just look at the reaction of the financial institutions in during the housing and credit bubble during the last decade, when blind belief in eternal growth triumphed over hard economic history and reality.  Fast forward to 2013 and modern business is increasingly dependent on large volumes of data across the business in order to make reliable decisions. The smart business leaders of today use technology to build up rich data across their organisations and use that data to drive actionable insights based on hard evidence. Welcome to the era of ‘Big Data’ in business.


What is Big Data?

Big Data is the term for the collection and management of the range of data across an organisation. By collecting and analysing the mass of data in your business, everything from website data through to sales and marketing figures, you can develop deeper insights about your business. The insights  can then be shared across the organisation to improve efficiency especially in marketing, sales and work management.

No matter what area of business you are in, you’re probably surrounded by big data. If you have a website, you probably (or should) use a system such as Google Analytics to help determine the volume of site visitors, what pages they’re looking at,  and the level of conversions (sales, downloads etc). This is big data in action.

There are some very interesting examples of how big data is used in sectors ranging from health, policing and manufactoring  and retail.  The LAPD use big data to predict crime before it happens and health organisations use Google Trends to predict the spread of the Flu virus

Growth in Big Data

According to research from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), senior business figures are increasingly reliant on understanding Big Data to make major decisions, and no longer trusting business instinct. The 2013 research, based on a survey of more than 600 senior executives across the globe, suggests the use of Big Data has improved businesses’ performance, by 26 percent and that the impact will grow to over 40 percent by 2016 over the next three years. Over sixty percent of executives consider their organisations are “data-driven”, and confirm that reporting that data collection and analysis plays a critical role in their businesses’ business strategy and day-to-day decision-making.

And it’s not just senior executives who are more reliant on big data. Marketing and sales staff across all levels are increasingly expected to understand and interpret data to improve performance. The  most sought after marketers are data geeks who transform data, through targeted marketing, into business success. From a marketing and sales point of view, data is now the starting block for everything from planning campaigns to engaging with customers and measuring sales success

Poor Data Management

Organisations who aren’t managing their data effectively will often suffer. One of the major gaps in modern businesses is the lack of a data collection and management process. They may be reliant on collecting traditional customer information such as physical addresses but not collect opt-in email addresses which will limit their future ability to market online.

The second ‘data’ problem concerns data storage. If your key customer and marketing data is stored in old systems and documents such as Excel, then you have a problem. You’ll find it difficult to update and share critical information across the business, leading to poor insights. And poor insights lead too poor actions.

Thirdly, there is also a major issue with businesses and public sector organisations keeping  key business data in silos, refusing to  share it across different units. Sadly, data silos are surprisingly common in larger organisations and government.

Big Data in Practice

The technology that large and small businesses use to manage big data is fundamentally the same. The major IT companies including SAP, Intel and IBM have developed enterprise based solutions that help share and streamline the marketing, sales, product, customer service and HR data across large businesses and mutli-nationals.

But Big Data isn’t just for big companies. The new wave of lean and agile small businesses that have been springing up over the last few years depend on using big data to make the right decisions.  Here are just a few examples of how big data is being used throughout a business.

Customer Insight: there are now lots of tech tools that can be used for gaining customer insights. For example, retailers monitor and learn from brand sentiment on social networks to build an understanding of how their products and company reputation is seen among the public. Businesses are also using online surveys to canvas customer opinion. The insights are then shared across the business to make improvements.

Customer and Lead Data: marketing and sales data is now best managed and shared by using a customer relationship management tool such as Zoho CRM.  For instance a small business using big data properly will want to collect core information about leads and prospects through its website and social media, manage that information in a customer relationship management tool such as Zoho CRM and then convert the leads to sales.