Three ways in which big data can transform a small business

Big data is a buzz phrase, but what does it really mean? Dr Antonio Rago, Associate Professor in the School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics and Rich Adams, Corporate Projects Manager at the University of Plymouth, share three ways in which big data could transform your business.

Big data is a simple concept, which leads to a complex set of possibilities. In its broadest sense, it refers to the extraction and analysis of large data sets. Advances in technology mean that businesses are gathering more data than ever before, but most are not even aware of its potential. This is, perhaps, not surprising – the amount of data held in a business can be overwhelming.

With the right expertise, though, you could use your data to transform your business. Here are three different ways of how you can use big data better:

1. Making smarter decisions

Your company might hold reams of data, but are you using it to make important decisions? A surprising number of businesses make strategic decisions based on assumptions and scant evidence. For example, you might decide to invest in a particular product because it performed well in market research, but your data is flawed and therefore the product launch fails. Proper analysis should help you achieve a clear understanding of what your data is really telling you, including revealing any biases.

Big data can be applied to recognise patterns and identify faults. Unlike humans, machines don’t get distracted and are more consistent. For example, machines can give you reliable data to make key decisions in product development. Big data can also be used to predict extreme events, when a change occurs apparently out of the blue.

There are almost limitless ways in which big data could help businesses make better decisions. The University, for instance, is applying big data to assess risk in insurance and is working with the NHS to apply image recognition techniques to identify a stroke. Put simply, it is about mining data for the right information, understanding what it is telling you and then applying that to decide on your response.

2. Optimising processes

Big data can help streamline processes by giving businesses the tools and insights to operate in a more commercially-savvy way. There is potential to overhaul a business’ processes by applying big data techniques.

Our team at the University of Plymouth has expertise in the science of extracting information from data. Although it can be applied to solve many different problems for many different types of businesses, the tools we use are the same. This can include tackling some of the hardest problems in data analysis, ranging from genome sequencing to weather forecasting, from elementary particle simulations to wind turbine geometry optimisation.

Big data analysis is also being used to mine business-relevant unstructured data, such as measuring customers’ views expressed in social media posts and in the field of fraud detection. The University has worked closely with online advertisers to predict consumers’ future buying behaviours.

3. Gaining a competitive advantage

You may have large quantities of data, but do you know what it is telling you? You want to mine through your data but perhaps you don’t really know what you’re looking for. For most businesses, it comes down to wanting to gain an advantage over competitors.

Recent research from NewVantage Partners suggests that the ‘fear of disruption’ from rival firms is driving the world’s largest companies to invest in big data, analytics and artificial intelligence.

Here at the University of Plymouth, we take a broad view of big data, incorporating machine learning into our definition. We have expertise in image analysis and recognition, which is a growing field, with huge potential across a wide range of sectors, including healthcare and manufacturing. Machines are far better than us at learning to recognise images, classifying and comparing objects and extracting meaningful data. For example, a machine programmed for image recognition could provide a more reliable means of predicting when a mechanical structure, such as a wind turbine, might develop a fault.

One particular company recently attended one of our big data events, and then decided to hire their own data scientist. Finding out more about the potential big data held for them made them realise that it was definitely worth investing in. The first step is to recognise that the potential is there for big data to transform your business. With the right expertise, you can then start to identify exactly what it can do for you. The stark fact is that, over time, if you do not engage with big data you will get left behind.

The beauty of the data you own is that it is yours alone. That gives you an immediate advantage over any of your competitors. However, there is also data out there available to everyone that could be hugely valuable to you. Both of these could contribute to the future success of your business.

Click here to find out more about the University of Plymouth’s Big Data group.

To find out how your business could work with the University of Plymouth, contact Enterprise Solutions: 0800 052 5600 or