IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Big Data, Big Opportunity

Managing data stores is very much an SMB problem, and one that channel pros can help mitigate by offering solutions that include BI and analytics tools. By Megan Santosus

Managing data stores is very much an SMB problem, and one that channel pros can help mitigate by offering solutions that include BI and analytics tools.

As the term suggests, the “big data” trend is propelled by the tremendous volume of information that companies are collecting, storing, and managing. For large enterprises like Walmart or Amazon, the ability to sift through all the data they encounter and gather contributes significantly to their billions in revenues. These and other companies can better target offers, create promotions, and craft merchandising strategies based on sophisticated business intelligence (BI) tools that analyze terabytes of data.

With mobile devices proliferating and social media expanding, the amount of relevant data that organizations of all sizes can utilize will only increase. Still, the idea that big data is something that significantly affects SMBs and subsequently presents opportunities for channel partners is hard for many to fathom.

There is more to the big data phenomenon than just volume, however, and therein lies the relevancy for SMBs. IBM is credited with defining big data using three criteria that go beyond the volume of data to the variety of data sources. There is structured transactional and operational data that may reside in financial, ERP, or CRM systems, and then there is unstructured data, including emails, documents, Facebook postings, Twitter feeds, machine data from sensors or RFID tags, and so on. In addition, the government has plenty of data that it is making available to the public. Added to the volume and variety mix is velocity. Organizations need to tap into and make sense of their data quickly—they can’t afford to spend days or even hours generating reports and analyzing data. To be useful, data must be actionable and therefore needs to be accessible in as close to real time as possible.

These so-called “three Vs” of volume, variety, and velocity are now often augmented by a fourth V: value. If data is of value to organizations, it should be subject to analysis. And organizations need not experience all four characteristics to have data management challenges reminiscent of big data, according to Tony Baer, a principal analyst with Ovum, an IT research firm. “Many SMBs have sufficient variety of data, and they can derive some real value by analyzing it,” he says. In their own way, these organizations have big data issues.

Tom Buiocchi, the CEO of Drobo Inc., a San Jose, Calif.-based provider of storage solutions for SMBs, agrees. “Even small businesses have big data moments,” he says. “They run out of storage space, they need more capacity, they want to use their data to make better decisions.” Too often, Buiocchi says, when people think of big data, they think of the largest organizations, and these make up only a very small percentage of businesses. “There are plenty of big data opportunities for the other 99 percent of companies,” he adds.

For channel partners, it may help to view the big data issue in terms of pain points rather than overall data volume. Ritu Jain, a small and midsize business strategist at SAS Institute Inc., a provider of business analytics software in Cary, N.C., says that “every organization is dealing with data and every organization has a different tipping point.” For large organizations, the tipping point “may be terabytes of data while a smaller organization may have a tipping point of 4 million rows of data.”

As Jain sees it, the tipping point for any organization is crossed when the amount of data on hand compromises existing storage capabilities or can no longer be effectively analyzed. In addition, data that is distributed haphazardly throughout an organization may create analytical challenges. “If you have 16 different systems that deal with customer data that isn’t standardized, you may not be able to segment customers for marketing purposes,” she says. “Even a small to midsize company has challenges keeping data timely and consistent across the organization,” she adds. Viewed in this light, managing big data is very much an SMB problem, and one that channel partners can help mitigate by offering solutions that include BI and analytics tools.

Factors for BI Adoption
Two other factors compelling BI and analytics adoption among SMBS are economics and global competition. “The economic downturn has been a wake-up call for almost every business,” asserts Julie Hunt, an independent software industry analyst and consultant at Julie Hunt Consulting in San Marcos, Texas. “With competition all over the world, no matter what size business, you have to understand what your own business is doing, and what is going to be happening next as much as you can.”

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About the Author

Megan Santosus's picture

Megan Santosus is a Boston-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to The ChannelPro Network.

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