Use small data to get the big picture

Use small data to get the big picture
April 28, 2015

The industry has been buzzing about big data for a while—and with good reason. Big data can help map trends over time, point organizations in the right direction, and reveal surprising facts about how well products and services are doing on the market. And with cloud services being adopted across the board, big data has become an indispensable tool in nearly every industry.

But while big data does many things well, there are some things it just can’t do. That’s where small data comes in. According to Forbes, small data is a dataset that contains very specific attributes that can be used to determine current states and conditions. Unlike big data, which requires massive computing power to sort through, the information contained in small data is easier to understand and apply.

One way to think of small data is as the bits of information, insights, and content sent via consumer apps. For instance, small data could be a sales forecast, a weather report, or a geographic location.

Depending on your organization, it might be very useful to extend some of your focus to small data. Here are a few tips:

Get down to details.
Small data can act as a magnifying glass that adds context to the information you receive from big data. Things like specific transaction trails, irregular expenses, and other financial markers can provide incredible insight into an individual, a department, or your organization at large. If something doesn’t quite make sense, small data can help you find answers.

Start at the places where your organization thrives—or struggles—and take a closer look to find out how you got there. By retracing your steps, you can see exactly where you went right or wrong. Then you can make adjustments or tweak certain processes without disrupting entire workflows.

Stay on the path to sustainability.
Small data can help you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability. Fuel and energy efficiency, waste reduction, and recycling are just few areas where details matter. Every organization has different sustainability goals, but one thing remains the same—we all want to do our part to keep things green.

See what materials your company spends the most on, and use small data to find out if you can reduce the volume and the cost. You can employ the same methods to cut down on electricity, paper waste, and more. While you’re adding up your acts of sustainability, you could also attract the attention of investors who want to see their money doing good things for the community and the environment.

Keep it personal.
Each of your clients and customers is unique, but that can be hard to see when you’re accustomed to looking at the big picture. Small data can help you understand individuals better, and as a result, anticipate their needs more accurately. By looking at the data for particular groups, customers, or products, you can uncover the things that are making an impact on your business, which leads to better decisions and outcomes.

Small data may seem like a trivial thing, but when used correctly, it can help your company in a big way. “Optimizing business processes can save companies millions of dollars through the analysis of relatively small datasets. Small data knows what a tracked object is doing,” says Mike Kavis, VP of Cloud Technology Partners.

As you look toward the future of your organization, don’t forget to include a space for small data. It could play an important role in helping you meet your goals. To see what other process improvements you can make by applying a universal framework, click here.

Mike Sellberg

About the author

Mike Sellberg is Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Workiva. He is the former EVP and CTO at iMed Studios and the former Divisional General Manager at Engineering Animation, Inc.