April 27, 2014
Traditionally, Business Intelligence (BI) solutions have been complex and expensive, requiring long-running projects and costly operations that only large corporations can handle. Now, new types of BI services are emerging that small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can use too.
In the age of Big Data, huge and exponentially growing amounts of data are available for research and analysis. Using smart tools and agile analytical methods, SMBs may also be able to take advantage of Big – and small – data.
An example is Microsoft’s recent launch of Power BI – using good old Excel to connect and analyze structured data sources. If your data is stored in easily accessible sources like SharePoint or an SQL database, you’ll be able to do number crunching even if you’re not a qualified data scientist.
Google has also provided SMBs with data mining opportunities. If your web site is using Google Analytics to track visits and activity, you get an advanced analytics tool to mine the collected data. For a web-based business, this data and the stories it tells about its customers is indispensable.
In many countries, the government is making public data openly available. Open public data – geo-data, population/census data, new business establishments, traffic flows, public transportation data - could be very useful in business intelligence. For instance, when planning marketing and sales campaigns, open public data sources could be accessed to complement your in-house sales and customer records. A recent blog post in The Guardian discusses Big Data and open data.
For unstructured data – text data – there are also many new opportunities opening up. News agents, aggregators and feeds are helping companies stay informed about relevant market developments.
The rapid growth in social media channels and usage has inspired a number of services that search and analyze tweets and posts for brand mentions, sentiments or predictions. Companies like Gnip and DataSift are early movers here.
Cloud services are a key enabler of this trend. Rather than hosting servers, running software and storing data in-house, small companies can leave data in the cloud and access it when they need to. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is another factor in this process.
Google Analytics is a perfect example, where both the data and the software is hosted by Google, and business users access it through the web. The trade-off is that you cede control of your data to Google. Microsoft’s cloud services Office 365, SharePoint Online and Azure are also potential building blocks for companies that want to build data mining capabilities without investing up-front in hardware and software.
Our own text mining tool, My.TextOre.net, is part of this trend. Clients log in through the web and conduct searches of web sites, RSS feeds, Twitter and other sources, in any language. Data collected from each source is stored on cloud servers, where the client can access it anytime, mine content and get insights through TextOre’s unique visualization of results. Customers use My.TextOre.net on a range of areas and topics, including competitive intelligence, trend and events monitoring, travel advice / security, and market research.
Big Data, Agile Analytics, and cloud services are converging to create new BI services that SMBs can utilize. In many cases, this means that a small company can conduct its own market research, brand evaluations and competitive analysis, perhaps even handle research in due diligence or patent processes.
However, in our experience, there’s still a need for skilled and focused analysts with the right mindset for the job. Not every SMB has this kind of human resources readily available.
For companies with such competencies on staff, though, the new breeds of Business Intelligence are increasingly open for exploration.