Big Data Lends a Hand to Small Business

July 10, 2014

If there’s a single theme running through many of our recent blog posts, it’s the idea that Big Data can be used for good.

We’ve focused heavily on the ways that data can spark innovation and help society on a number of fronts, and I was excited to see a new article in the New York Times focusing on how Big Data is helping small businesses.

The Times reported this week on the growth in sales of “business intelligence software” that can help small businesses collect more data about their operations and respond more effectively to customers. Just two years ago, fewer than 2 percent of small companies used such software, but that figure has risen to more than 9 percent.

What’s especially exciting is that these new tools are more available to small businesses due to lower costs and improved ease of use.  

“A wealth of information that some call big data is becoming increasingly available to small businesses,” the Times reported. “Such information was once available to only big corporations with vast computing power and deep information technology departments—and more recently to online start-up companies with data-mining capabilities.”

So how can Big Data help small businesses? The Times points to several real-life applications. 

  • A seller of fresh fruit who uses a service called Desk.com to help sift through and respond to more than 1,000 customer emails each week.
  • A restaurant owner who used data to bore deeper into the performance of wait staff. The owner said data allowed him to learn of one waiter who was especially skilled in directing diners to  a specific high-margin brunch item.
  • A car wash that uses sensors to track soap levels in real time, giving the owner nearly 500 data points and allowing him to reduce waste. 

Other examples abound, including the food cart operator who received a small loan from a lender that uses data-mining software. And we've written extensively in this space on government OpenData initiatives, which can be used to inspire new businesses and encourage the creation of new products and services. (Check out opendata500.com for a look at what's out there for businesses.)

We all assume that larger businesses are using data every day. After all, it’s easier for them to collect and analyze the data to begin with. But when small businesses can access and use big data applications, that’s a recipe for economic growth all around.