Small business people are busy people. You’re hiring staffers, balancing your business’ budget, developing new products and creating marketing campaigns. You’ve also the person responsible for setting your business’ hours and scouting out new areas for expansion. So you’re probably not delighted that business experts are now telling you you need to study big data, too, to have a competitive advantage. You might not know what big data is — plenty of people don’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s not crucial for the success of your company.

Defining Big Data

John Weathington, while writing for the TechRepublic Web site, defines big data as massive amounts of rapidly moving and freely available information that serves a valuable need in the business marketplace. Companies who have access to big data about their own customers’ wants and needs, and their willingness to pay to get what they want, can have a big competitive advantage, especially in a difficult economy. Unfortunately, as Weathington writes, it’s tough for small business owners to access and analyze big data. The ones that do it, though, will be rewarded.

Big Data In Action

CIO Magazine recently highlighted three business successes that were made possible thanks in large part to companies harnessing and using big data to gain new customers. The magazine looked at financial firm Financial Engines. This firm uses large financial data sets and analytics tools to give clients data-based advice on how to best save for retirement. The impressive amount of trend and statistical information that the company can access is a prime selling point to new clients.

CIO also points to a company called Exmobaby that sells baby pajamas that have built-in biosensors. These sensors send health data from babies to parents. You can bet this use of data sets — the health information from babies themselves — attracts parents who want the best for their infants. Then there’s the start-up Parchment, which analyzes databases of student information — from grade point averages to SAT scores to college-acceptance data — to aid their clients, students, choose and apply for colleges. The edge that this company provides? It will help students apply to those institutions statistically most likely to accept them. Big data, then, helps both businesses and consumers. It helps consumers make better choices, and it helps those companies who provide this data gain new customers.

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