Back To The Future (of Predictions)

Have you ever wondered about predicting the future? I’m sure most of us have at one time. A classic movie (also one of my all-time favorite), “Back to the Future Part II,” shared an entertaining story of time travel and how a book with stats literally shaped the future. If you recall, Biff Tannen was the timeless bully in the movie. He (future-self) makes a daring visit to the 1950s in a time machine (via borrowed DoLorean) and gifts a sports almanac to his clueless (younger) self. Consequently, the almanac changes Biff’s fortune and the future of Hill Valley.

Hollywood portrayed a compelling story, unfortunately time travel and access to a future almanac may be limited. But what if there is a way to predict future events and behaviors without time travel? What if there is a secret to predictability? Well, there is. Valuable sets of data are heavily in use by big companies today. These data sets are being touted as the future of statistics and prediction measurements. The translation of these data is being labeled as “big data.” In the past, big data was a term used to reference very large or complicated set of data that required multitude of powerful servers to process. Even then, the data was raw and had limited usage other than for mostly archival purpose. But within the last ten years or so, the term – big data has taken on a predictive element. In the movie, using historical data (of the future sports almanac), Biff was able to make his fortune betting on sports games as he knew of the score outcomes. Similarly, the data gathered by big companies are translated into more useful and predictive information that can be applied to its customers or users. In other words, big data is now referred as the use of ‘predictive analytics’ or just predictions.

For example, Facebook and along with most social media sites are curators of big data. Everything from users ‘likes’ to preference settings are used by social media companies to custom tailor ads, messages, news feed and even friend requests. Social media uses algorithm to fetch most suitable data for its users and to enhance the user experience all gathered from its data storage. Amazon and Google are other prime examples of how big data are used to discreetly tailor your searches with products you’ve searched for in the past and make suggestions accordingly. These smart results are not random occurrences; these are the very working of big data being used to effectively target its audience. Businesses are predicting what you want using business intelligence to further enhance customer experience and increase profitability.

Unfortunately, majority of the smaller businesses are not keen to big data or its usage. Merely 23% of small businesses use a fraction of big data for its business in one shape or form. The low percentage may be due to the perception that only large companies can afford data analytics systems or ROI (Return of Investment) may be of concern. However, this is the misconception that needs clarification. With low and no cost services available from major vendors and third party providers, there are budget-friendly tools and easy deployment process for all business sizes. Below are some of the tools that all businesses can start using regardless of scale as a starting point.

Social Sites Insights (Analytics):
Many may not be aware, but there are free analytic tools built into your social sites including Facebook and Twitter. As mentioned, Facebook are big curators of data. Fortunately, social media like Facebook are sharing some of its data with users to be transparent and to also entice social ads services for businesses. Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics tools have a wealth of information to help track your followers, impressions, audiences and engagements. The information can help with targeting audiences, understanding post trends, general statistics, visitor information and so on. Additionally, if you have paid social ads service, it can even further break down the efficiency and focus marketing. Most social media sites will have similar tools available.

Google Analytics:
Google Analytics is a wonderful tool to monitor your website activity. If you have a business website, this is a must. This very useful tool can share valuable information about your website including number of visitors, duration of the visit, visitor information, browsers used, platform and so on. The service is free, but does require some basic knowledge of web coding to insert into your website pages to complete the setup. Again, a wonderful tool and great analytical gauge for your website.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software:
If you have invested in a CRM software, take advantage of its data collection. Most CRM software have a built-in reporting tool that analyzes sales performance, history, frequency, and trends. CRM data can furnish a variety of information to help improve sales workflow, sales automation, marketing analysis, and targeting prospects. All this will help shape your strategy for more effective marketing campaigns to sales performance.

Big Data Vendors:
Although big enterprises rely on its in-house data scientists and analysts to translate the data for use, small business can equally take advantage of its own data using third party data service providers. With the increasing trend of using big data, there are a growing list of data services for small business that focuses on offering user friendly analytic tools and data translation. Inquire with your trusted IT service partners about the available services to help you with data services that is congruent to your needs.

Big data used to be a forbidden fruit, once reserved for larger companies, due to the cost prohibitive nature of the concept. Today, with onslaught of obtainable cloud services, easier access to powerful servers, user friendly analytic tools and growing number of data service providers, it is becoming an important and more affordable strategy for business of all sizes. As big companies like Facebook and Amazon continue to reap the benefit of big data, the question has lingered as to when big data should be used by smaller businesses. The answer is now. Big data will continue to play a prominent role in the coming years (as growing number of businesses rely on data analytics) to make changes to its operations and predict business trends. If there’s anything we can learn, having access to data and its translation can change the future. Don’t let Biff win.