Q&A: Is big data too big for SMEs?

March 9th, 2015 | by Aaron Tan
Q&A: Is big data too big for SMEs?

Most IT industry conversations about big data revolve around large organisations such as banks and telcos that tap on sophisticated technologies to make sense of large volumes of complex data.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which may generate just as much data, have similar big data needs, but are often not as savvy as the bigger boys in harnessing the full potential of big data.

In this month’s Q&A, we reached out to Donald Farmer, vice president of innovation and design at Qlik, a provider of self-service data analytics tools, to find out how SMEs are latching on to the big data wave.

Q: How would you assess the demand for big data solutions and services in the SME market?
A: There’s a lot of interest in big data and services in the SME market, but they are still not completely aware of what exactly is it they want to do with these solutions and services.

There’s a lot of discussion about platforms but not much discussion about applications – the search for a killer big data application for SMEs is still on.

Whenever I talk to somebody about it, the two scenarios that come up all the time are understanding social media and the Internet of Things (IoT) –  and how to best use data from devices and analyze events.

Those are the two scenarios that SMEs seem to want to explore with big data. But so far, SMEs haven’t found many killer applications for big data. There is, however, a lot of interest.

How is Qlik addressing the big data needs of SMEs?
So, the biggest challenge for any business with big data is not building the big data platform. People already understand how people build big data platforms using Cloudera and other solutions. The biggest challenge is how you get the data into the hands of business users.

This is particularly true for SMEs who may not have advanced data scientists or they may not have experience in complex IT systems. With new tools in the market such as Qlik Sense, a next-generation, self-service data visualization and analysis tool, this lack of complex technical knowledge is no longer a problem.

The ability to create personalized reports, visualizations and dashboards easily through simple drag-and-drop techniques, while ensuring centralized data security and governance, enables SMEs to better manage their data.

Additionally, Qlik solves what we call the “last mile problem” of big data. (In telecommunications, it’s described as a cable between two cities – but how do you get it connected to every phone on the desk?).

For us, the last mile problem of big data is going beyond simply building the infrastructure in the data centre – but how do we get it on the desktop of every user who needs it?

This can only be done effectively with a hybrid technology of desktop analysis and centralized big data infrastructure – and that’s exactly what Qlik provides. We have an in-memory high performance desktop tool, which is able to link using direct discovery to big data systems as well.

Are the big data needs of SMEs the same as those of large companies?
What is interesting about the world today is that SMEs may, in fact, have huge volumes of data – the amount and the complexity of the data that you have is completely unrelated to the size of your company.

A small company with 5 or 6 people based in Singapore, with an online business that operates 24/7, and doing business in five countries in Southeast Asia may generate a massive volume of complex data that would have only been generated by an oil company or an international bank 5 years ago.

That’s a tremendous challenge. Big data is about complexity and the scale of the data – it is completely unrelated to the complexity or the scale of the business.

Whether the data is coming from machine data or from social media, all of these could be major data sources. Such sources can be enormous, even for a small company – so these needs might very well match up with those of large companies.

Do you think SMEs fully understand the benefits of big data to them?
I think SMEs are beginning to understand the benefits. While they are still struggling to find the killer application, they do understand several benefits. They understand the benefits of social media analysis and they understand the benefits of mining machine data.

But they might not understand some of the more complex benefits. For example, being able to integrate customers’ information across all your systems and the ability to integrate that with external data as well – that’s something that enterprises are doing that small businesses aren’t.

Small businesses have a limited understanding but this is definitely changing, and they’re beginning to grasp the benefits better.

Is it necessary for SMEs to plug into the cloud to best take advantage of data analytics?
It is not necessary, but it is extremely cost-effective. In fact, many of the new companies who are building very innovative big data solutions are basing them on the cloud, in a specific attempt to reach out to SMEs. Many of those start-ups are in the Asia Pacific region as well.

One of the reasons that this is important here in this region is because traditionally, people haven’t had large on-the-premises deployments, and cloud and mobile is taking off very effectively here.

So I think the answer is yes, plugging into the cloud can help SMEs take advantage of these solutions, but it is not a necessity.

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