Getting Smart With Big Data

How smaller companies are becoming increasingly sophisticated about analyzing multiple forms of data.

May 10 2013 by William J. Holstein

The end result is that Sub-Zero, a privately held company based in Madison, Wisconsin, with an estimated $700 million in annual sales, competes robustly against multi-billion-dollar giants, whose big legacy systems make it harder for them to exploit their data. “Our investment in this hardware and software continues to pay dividends,” says Scott Lafleur, Sub-Zero’s COO. “We have been able to use these advanced tools to significantly improve the accuracy of our data analysis, which—in turn—allows us to identify improvement opportunities in our design and manufacturing processes.”

According to IBM, the world is awash in quintillion bytes of data—so much that 90 percent of the data that exists today has been created in the past two years. The data comes from everywhere: posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, cell phone records, RFID sensors and GPS signals, to name a few.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can often leapfrog larger rivals in analyzing this torrent of data because they are nimbler and don’t have large, expensive legacy systems. Larger companies also suffer from “siloes,” or different arms of the company that capture different sorts of data about customers or suppliers but are unable to consolidate that data to provide genuine insights. “Our experience tells us that smaller companies are doing a better job of integrating and optimizing cross-channel data, due in part to their ability to be more agile and make quicker decisions than their enterprise counterparts,” concluded a briefing paper by marketing and analytic firm 89 Degrees. The company, based in Boston with less than $50 million in annual sales, uses SAS software to provide services to other companies.

One underlying factor allowing SMEs to analyze data better is the increase in raw computing power, allowing more data to be “crunched” faster. “Not too many years ago, a small business couldn’t access this kind of talent and data-crunching capability in an affordable manner. You had to be a Fortune 500 company,” says Bruce Rogoff, CEO of GroundLink, a New York-based global airport limousine company with more than $30 million in sales. It works with 89 Degrees to analyze its best customers and how to market to them. By combining GroundLink’s own information with databases on credit card use, credit ratings, home location, hobbies and even preferences in pets, 89 Degrees helps GroundLink zero in on marketing that works.

Bruce R