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Harnessing the Power of Big Data for Small Business Using Microsoft Excel

Big Data and Excel?  Combining those two terms sounds odd at first glance but it is an overlooked area by many small businesses.  Big Data is a term used to define the abundance of data available internally within an organization or externally in the cloud.  Many organizations fail to take advantage of the information that sea of data can reveal for their businesses.  Microsoft Excel is a tool, if used properly, can help them leverage those extensive resources.  The following is a brief primer on Big Data and how Microsoft Excel can help organizations reap rewards.


What is Big Data?

Big Data is actually self-explanatory it’s “Big”.  The amount of data available to small business owners has exploded due to the Internet. This data explosion represents a huge opportunity to increase profits. Through the analysis of that available data, previously unknown patterns and information can be uncovered.  Those patterns and information can then be used to target clients, up sell customers and break ground into new markets. Small business owners may ask: which product\service is contributing most to my bottom line after variable cost? Which products\services are usually purchased together?  The answers to those questions and many others can be answered through the analysis of Big Data.

How to get Big Data?

The first step in harnessing the power of Big Data is developing a mechanism to query and gather data.  Microsoft Excel has a number of tools at its disposal to gather data from multiple places.  One method of collecting data from the internet is the use of Excel Add-Ins.  Excel Add-Ins are small programs built for a specific use that can be added to Microsoft Excel.  Excel Add-Ins are similar to the “Apps” downloaded on a Smartphone; they provide additional functionality for users.  Excel Add-Ins can be custom creations, off-shelf purchases or downloaded for free.  For example, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has created a free Add-In called FRED (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Economic Data).  That Add-In significantly reduces the amount of time needed to collect and organize data related to the economy.  That Add-In provides free access to over 60,000 data sets from various sources.  Similar tools can be created for businesses of all sizes to retrieve data quickly from the internet.  Another Add-In called HIVE allows users to take advantage of the scalability of Hadoop.  Hadoop, an open source platform created by Engineers at Google, is used to query and analyzes Big Data.  There are other methods of attaining data from the web as well. Amongst the other methods are smart tags, web querying tools, and database connections to name a few.

How to analyze Big Data?

The techniques used to analyze data whether Big Data or Small Data (data available in small businesses) are similar.  In both instances, statistical and analytical techniques are applied to locate patterns and reveal information.  One of the overlooked tools available in the Microsoft Excel arsenal is the Data Analysis suite.  Under that area various statistical analyses can be performed on data.  For example, correlation analysis can be used to isolate the degree to which two or more items are related.  Is a company’s retail sales more closely related to the surrounding population or transit usage in the area?  Which marketing channel (email, print, social media etc.) is better at converting a lead to a sale?  Those types of questions and many others can begin to be answered by employing this tool.

The Power of Big Data is the actionable information that it reveals about clients, markets, companies and ultimately ourselves.  The promise of Big Data for small businesses is to help them be more efficient in order to accumulate more profits.  Many of the benefits of Big Data can start today with the help of a common tool called Microsoft Excel.  Those are just a few ways that small businesses can begin to harness the power of Big Data using Microsoft Excel.


About the author



Othniel Denis is currently Principal of Excellent Ones Consulting LLC. He brings with him a background in finance, training, and information management systems. Prior to opening his own firm, Othniel spent the last 13 years in finance as an Analyst at organizations like New York University, Nassau County Government and Brookhaven National Laboratory to name a few...

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