by Patricia Ames | 2/17/16

Everybody talks about big data, but what is it really? Where do you get it, how do you compile it, and how can you use it in your business RIGHT NOW to be more effective? 

Big data is loosely defined as the detection of statistical patterns in data sets that can be used to form actionable intelligence. Every company is in a position to use the power of big data in their business on some level. Here are some ways to get started:

Expand customer intelligence

Use your CRM to help answer the customer question “don’t you remember me?” Utilize a CRM that auto-populates a customer’s information when they call in (incorporating structured data like purchase history) – and better yet, folds in social media metrics (unstructured data) to uncover potential new best customers. This allows you to answer the question “How can we treat all our customers like royalty?”

Deploy your ERP effectively 

ERP platforms are getting more and more sophisticated, moving away from transactional systems that simply record data. Today’s ERP platforms can give users active decision support in real time based on data from both internal and external sources. Integrating your ERP with an ECM system can give you even more horsepower.

Make mobile work for you

Customer intelligence and operational efficiency improvements can be amplified by combining big data with mobility. Having a full operational view accessible from your mobile phone allows for immediate decision-making. Employees in the field have access to data when and where they need it and can make decisions in real-time accordingly.

Sensors in delivery trucks and service vehicles are delivering locational data and RFID chips are reporting back from packages, crates and cars. Add a little machine-to machine interaction and you get predictive analytics that allow service trucks to signal for maintenance and automatically order parts and supplies to be sent to coincide with the scheduled service.

Combining constantly changing real-time data from the field with the structured data from your office systems can provide valuable insights. Sales calls, service calls and on-site paper processing all become faster and more efficient. Entire new business processes can be implemented straight from a mobile phone. Putting the information in the hands of the people who can act on that intelligence is a powerful differentiator.

Get on the “as a service” trend train

The explosion of unstructured data now coming in from social media,image files, journals, health records, books, audio, video and unstructured text such as the body of an email message or Web page cannot be compiled on a spreadsheet. Fortunately, there are many companies today that specialize in crunching those zettabytes of information and providing useful analytics programs that can service just about any industry. The “as a service” trend allows for almost any company to have access to an infrastructure and tools that were unimaginable even a few years ago.

Visualize success

Visualization of data and heat mapping are two of the most valuable ways to make use of your big data and make it more approachable to your team. Visualization can lead to faster decision-making, helping to quickly identify areas that need attention or improvement.

There are many tools available to help companies make sense of the avalanche of inputs pouring in. Predicting sales volumes, understanding which factors are influencing customer behavior and identifying which specific products to place and where can all be aided through visualization.

The landscape of next-generation business intelligence vendors is rich and includes companies like Tableau, Roambi and Zoomdata that are ready with solutions to make it easier for every employee within an enterprise to understand data.

Big data is here to stay

You can’t escape it, so make it your friend. McKinsey estimated that retailers exploiting data analytics at scale across their organizations could increase their operating margins by more than 60 percent, and that the U.S. health-care sector could reduce costs by 8 percent through data-analytics efficiency and quality improvements.[1]

Big data can become that final piece of the value equation that will help companies drive more operational efficiencies from existing investments. The continuous feedback loop is created by data generated in the field, and the speed at which this information is collected is happening at a furious pace. Why be left behind?

Patricia Ames is senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 10 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community. Follow her on Twitter at @OTGPublisher or contact her by email at