How "Big-Data-as-a-Service" Can Help Smaller Companies Compete

The common perception of how big data is used centers around giant multi-national enterprises spending millions trying to fine tune their business strategies to eke out every last penny from their customers. But in reality, big data is worming its way into businesses large and small, often as a service instead of on-premises software.

The Evolution Of The Comment Card

Visit a bustling diner in a small town and you may see them tucked in among the bottles of ketchup and sugar packets on the linoleum counter: 3 X 5 comment cards. How was your meal? How was your service? Fill it out and tuck it in the little wooden box by the cash register, please.

Regulars might make their concerns known directly to the staff, but diners such as this - like nearly every other business in the world - need to attract and keep new customers in order to grow. That's the point behind comment cards: get as much feedback as you can so you to improve what needs fixing and keep doing what's working well.

Moving the comment card into the 21st Century is essentially what big data is all about.

The most common form of big data in busines today was created as a technological response to tracking all of the data that was generated by commercial websites. Once marketers and other business execs saw that they could monitor an online customer's responses all the way down to the mouse click, software engineers started figuring out a way to keep that data and mine it for ever more useful information.

The combination of speed and volume needed to catch all of this information is what makes big data tools and technology really necessary. But for the vast majority of businesses that do not have big ecommerce sites, is big data even worth the attempt?

It turns out, yes.

Big Data Tools Work For Small Data, Too

One of the easier ways smaller businesses are taking on big data is seeing the general value of data analytics no matter how big or small the data set is. That message is practically a non-brainer: business owners are scanning the headlines every day and getting excited about applying data to their decision-making process.

Social media is one quick way to implement big data within a smaller business. Used and analyzed properly, the information from social media can give any business instant feedback that's far more robust and immediate than those old-fashioned comment cards.

"Every time we perform a search, tweet, send an email, post a blog, comment on one, use a cell phone, shop online, update our profile on a social networking site, use a credit card, or even go to the gym, we leave behind a mountain of data, a digital footprint, that provides a treasure trove of information about our lifestyles, financial activities, health habits, social interactions, and much more," wrote former Tivoli CEO Frank Moss in his 2011 book The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices.

Big-Data-as-a-Service (BDaaS)

Using big data can go beyond mining social media as a juiced-up form of the comment card. Big data can also be integrated with existing business practices to improve and expand day-to-day operations.

It's becoming pretty well-known that big data and fast data analysis are being used by large hotels and chains to improve their yield management processes. This kind of infrastructure is typically beyond the reach of smaller hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts. It's probably overkill anyway: while a big hotel near Orlando, Fla., area might see 75 room pricing changes per day, a small independent lodging in a less-volatile market might only see a couple of price moves daily.

But that doesn't make the need for a smaller inn to adjust to local market changes any less important, says Erik Hovanec, CEO of LeisureLink, which specializes in providing yield-management as a service to smaller hospitality locations.

One of LeisureLink's clients is a 120-room property outside Myrtle Beach, SC, that "is great at hospitality, not necessarily at IT." Hovanec described. Using his company's service, the property is able to tap into information about local Myrtle Beach hotels and see real-time pricing information on other properties and make adjustments accordingly.

This is exactly what the larger hotels and chains have been doing for a while. But now this service is available to smaller, mid-market establishments. Typically, a large hotel or chain might invest $30-$40 million just to increase their yield management from 90% to 95%. Hovanec boasts that since LeisureLink's service is often the first real step into automated yield management for smaller hotels, their efficiency in yield management can rocket from 20% to 80%.

Can Big Data Work For Every Business?

At some point, any company considering a big-data approach needs to consider the one basic question: is there information out there that will help improve the business? If there's a yes in there, then a search for a big data solution might be worth the effort.

It's not that we really need another another "as-a-Service" acronym, but thanks to the use of Internet-based Big-Data-as-a-Service (BDaaS), you don't have to be a giant enteprise to play any more. These days, there's a good chance that someone out there will have the information you need or can help you find it.

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