We get it: “Big data” sounds scary — and, well, big.
Many small businesses and startups are a little afraid of the term, simply because of what (they think) it implies. “Big data” sounds like petabytes of information clogging up networks, waiting to be converted into something valuable by teams of IT professionals. The prospect can seem overwhelming, and perhaps the reason that 35 percent of startups aren't even considering big data, according to one recent survey.
But, says Paul Zikopoulous, an IBM vice president, the volume of data shouldn’t be the sole focus. Instead, “it’s about bringing data together that hasn’t been correlated in the past,” he says.
And that approach is reaping big profits for the businesses willing to take the leap. According to research from software company Exact and research firm Pb7, small businesses that use data to help make decisions are growing revenue far faster than their competitors. Businesses that use data reported revenue growth of 21 percent in their last financial year, compared to 9 percent for businesses that use data in a limited way, or not at all.
The good news: Many of your business challenges could be solved with just a little big data.
What types of challenges? According to the results of the Exact/Pb7 research, almost two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents in the professional services category would like better insight into the statuses of their projects. Some 18 percent said that more than 1 in 10 invoices were incomplete or contained an error.
Tracking issues such as these — and then being able to put proactive policies into place to prevent them from cropping up again — is a perfect use case for big data for small businesses.
You've likely heard the term business intelligence, but maybe you're not sure what it means. Simply put, business intelligence is using all that data you're collecting to make strategic decisions.
If you think getting started with big data would help your business, here are a few metrics and KPIs you might want to start tracking. Knowing how you stack up in these key areas can help drive strategic conversations at all levels of your business.
For a field service company, first-time fix is a crucial metric. If you have to send a technician back for a second or third visit because he didn't have the right part, the dispatcher took down the wrong information, or something else went wrong, that costs you a lot of money — and may even cost you a customer.
According to a 2013 Aberdeen survey, the industry average for successful first-time fix is 75 percent; that means one out of four times the problem isn’t solved on the initial visit. Aberdeen calculated that this could cost a service organization with 100 jobs/day more than $2 million a year.
If you have a mobile work order form, technicians can easily log whether the job was fixed on the first visit and note why not, if not. You can study this data to learn where processes could be improved.
Funnel drop-off rate
Your funnel drop-off rate measures the number of potential customers who don't ultimately end up buying from you.
Intuit explains that by identifying when prospective customers abandon the conversion process, companies can identify problems and make improvements. For example, you might be getting lots of visits to your website but not many customers reaching out to call you. One possible fix: Make your phone number more visible on your site. Or you’re getting lots of calls but customers aren't moving forward; is it possible your sales staff needs better training?
Consultant Michael Israel recommends comparing technician productive time (the time employees are working rather than filling out forms, sitting in meetings, etc.) to how much of that time is directly billable and not covered under a service agreement. If billable time is close to overall productive time, that’s a sign you can offer your customers a maintenance contract, providing a more reliable income stream for you and making your customers happier in the process.
“We push customers to implement robust maintenance agreement programs and sell maintenance agreement contracts aggressively,” he said. “Maintenance agreements are the true path to profitability and consistency.”
Small businesses can clearly benefit from insights extracted from big data. Start tracking your most important metrics today and gather data you can use to make better decisions. Leveraging big data will boost your business's bottom line and help you compete in today’s business climate.
At GoCanvas, we can help you turn your paper forms – one of the most valuable places to start for big data – into mobile apps and get you on the road to collecting the data you need. Better still? GoCanvas can help you extract and summarize data from your mobile app forms into insightful charts and graphs to make better decision about your business. Try GoCanvas now, free for 30 days. Already a GoCanvas customer? You've already got access to data; we can help you turn it into actionable insights with GoCanvas Business Insights.