Photo: Roman Stanek
In the past, “big data” as it’s come to be called was mostly limited to big companies with whole business intelligence functions and massive investments.Now, it’s democratized to the point where you encounter it almost every day as a consumer, and tools are being developed for everybody from small businesses to individual salespeople.
We spoke to Roman Stanek, the founder and CEO of GoodData, which is a 6-year-old company that focuses on taking all of the data people generate from the platforms they sell, market, and use to manage, and monetise it.
Because 80 per cent of his customers are small businesses, we spoke to him about what big data means for small businesses and how they can get its benefits without breaking the bank.
The scepticism people had about the value of data, still present when Stanek started the company in 2007, has mostly evaporated.
“When we started out, the focus was not on data. The recent discussion about big data and analytics and visualizations of data — the big visible successes of things like the President’s re-election and so on — they’re all examples showing that people understand that data is really kind of the oil of this century,” Stanek said. “It does feel like the right time and the right place.”
There’s one major trend that Stanek thinks has made data much more democratic and useful to small businesses. “Business processes are becoming more and more homogeneous,” Stanek said. That means that more and more people are using particular data-producing tools to manage, for example, their sales.
Stanek has seen it as a buyer as well as a vendor. “I think that small businesses are not only hungry for technology, but they’re also hungry for best practices, Stanek said. “I look at it not only as selling to small business but as a buyer. Let me give you an example. When we hire salespeople they usually come to us and say, ‘Well I have to use Salesforce, and that’s the only tool that I use.'”
That right there is what has made big data solutions affordable “The beauty of SAAS (software as a service) is that 100,000 users or customers of Salesforce are using Salesforce in more or less the same way. So we can actually build some sort of out-of-the-box solutions that are easy to deploy and easy to deliver, Stanek said. “Most small companies, they don’t compete on customisation of software, they compete on better services and selling their products and so on. So understanding what’s essential and what’s non-essential is key.”
So big data for small businesses is about taking what you already have, and using tested benchmarks and best practices to get more out of it. You don’t have to go out and discover what works, or build out a massive software system over your whole enterprise. Businesses can plug into something they already have, and make tweaks that make them better at sales or better at providing services.
It’s cheaper because the learning curve’s less steep. You’re just improving upon processes you’ve already invested in, and you’re getting the data itself from partners.
Big businesses can buy software or build out big custom solutions and then figure out best practices on their own. Small businesses don’t have — and often don’t need — that luxury.
Another of Stanek’s key insights on what’s made big data more accessible and democratic is the fact that people understand their own data. Salespeople, for example, will understand a visual representation of sales flow that might seem like nonsense to us. And when a best practice is illustrated with data that’s intuitive, it makes it easier to get people to adopt it.
It’s all part of a move from where data is in the hands of managers to where it’s in the hands of every employee.
Small businesses need to think of big data not as an obligation to go out and buy a massive software suite and hire a data scientist, but to use what they already have to make money and become more competitive.
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