Big data and analytics seem to be the words of the decade in the business world. Unfortunately, these words can also create a sense of anxiety or fear in some professionals. That fear may be due to concerns that they don’t have the technical knowledge to harness the real power of data or that an advanced degree or a deep understanding of statistics is needed to comprehend what the data is telling them.
While that assumption may have been accurate at the conception of modern data analysis, it is no longer the case. Everyone from the local mom and pop shop to a Fortune 500 company can draw insights from data.
The Rise of Affordable Tools Makes Data Available to Everyone
In recent years, data analysis tools and services have become more affordable. Most coding languages have free learning environments where you can try out coding and follow instructional videos to learn to code, drastically reducing the need for an advanced degree. Visual analytics tools like Microsoft Power Bi and Tableau offer free versions that make it easier for individuals and businesses of all sizes to create professional charts and graphs. And once you move into paid services, there are usually pricing options inclusive to all sizes of businesses.
This combination of free and paid services provides additional opportunities to derive impactful insights from the data you collect. With the insights gained from data analysis, it may feel as though the playing field is leveled – you can run analyses on the metrics that matter for your business, such as best and worst sellers, in-store peak traffic times, and website usage, to name a few. Armed with this information, you can optimize every facet of your business and reduce the guessing around pricing, the best time to run deals, when more or fewer employees are needed, if hours of operation need to be adjusted, and so much more. Data analytics has the potential to level the playing field.
Visual Analytics Provide Actionable Insight
Chart, graph, dashboard, and KPI analyses are quickly becoming a daily task for more and more business professionals. Why? Because understanding those charts and graphs gives you actionable insights that can lead to increased productivity, increased profits, decreased costs, and many other valuable benefits. The average business professional’s ability to gain actionable insight into their business is supported by data and visual analytics.
Noah Iliinsky, a visualization expert with the IBM Research Center for Advanced Visualization, said, “Visualization is so compelling because our brains are really pattern-matching machines.” Humans can digest large amounts of data and find the meaning behind when it is in the form of a chart or graph, no Masters of Statistics required.
Consider analytics in an accounting context. Using analytics, you could see the average time it takes employees to review and prepare returns, providing insight into where additional training and specialization would benefit the employee and the firm. Your data could tell you that two employees, hired during the same season and with comparable education and experience levels, are preparing returns at very different speeds, and that the employee preparing slower is one of the most efficient and effective reviewers. With this insight, the firm can shift staff responsibilities to make your workflow more efficient, create additional capacity, generate a larger profit, and increase customer satisfaction since their returns are being finished quicker.
Steps to Harnessing the Power of Big Data
What are the next steps you can take to start harnessing your data? Here are several steps to start you down the right path:
- Learn more about data analysis through videos. There are hundreds of great videos online on data from basic principles like database design to advanced topics such as neural networks. A great place to start is with Basics of Big Data and Why is Understanding Data Important?
- Download free versions of coding languages to begin to explore what is possible with coding. Examples of where to start are R, Python, or Anaconda.
- Research visual analytics and see the hundreds of ways to make massive amounts of data into insightful, easily digestible charts and graphs.
- Look for websites that offer affordable courses in Analytics, Database Management, and Data Science. Two of my favorites are Udemy and LinkedIn Learning. These are low-cost ways to learn about data topics. LinkedIn Learning is offered to employees by a lot of organizations and could be offered by yours. If your organization doesn’t offer LinkedIn Learning, there is a free trial to see if it is worth the investment to facilitate your growth.
- Assess your company to determine what type of data is being collected and what insights could be pulled from that data.
Data analysis is an essential tool in today’s world. As the costs of access continue to go down and data accessibility continues to go up, don’t allow yourself to fall behind the times. Following these steps should put you in a great place to begin harnessing your data and create opportunities to find valuable insight.