Everyone’s talking about big data and how important it is for businesses if they want to succeed in a world that is increasingly competitive. However, while big data is relatively easy to collect, it’s not that easy to make any sense of. And if businesses can’t make sense of it, well, what’s the point?

Here are some tips to help you make the most of the data that you collect.

1) Ensure you have people who are capable of insightful data analysis.

It sounds rather obvious, doesn’t it? But many businesses simply assume that the task can be managed by anyone in the marketing department. According to Olly Downs, analysing big data requires a special data management skillset (zdnet.com). Fortunately, Downs says that some universities are developing programmes that will address the current skills vacuum.

2) Collect data with a purpose.

When people hear the words big data, they assume that it means they have to collect all the data they possibly can. They don’t have a specific goal in mind or have any idea of what they want to glean from the data. The whole point of big data is to extract truly meaningful information from it; the kind of information that will make a tangible different to your bottom line.

Bear in mind, however, that because big data drills down into information much more than traditional data analysis, you might get surprising results, which could make you reassess your goals.

3) Structure your data properly.

Shira Ovide (Wall Street Journal) says that one of the biggest mistakes companies make with their big data is that they don’t organise it properly. Data may be duplicated across several databases, or data that should be kept together may be separated unnecessarily. Data that is all over the place is more difficult to analyse; it’s more difficult to see relationships and patterns. This makes it more difficult to use the data effectively.

4) Ensure you have the proper tools.

You’ll need the right software to help you structure data and to help you extrapolate insights that are meaningful to your business. Some business intelligence software is able to help in this regard, but it’s a good idea to talk to software providers to ensure that the product does meet your business’s data needs.

5) Back up all your data.

Imagine how awful it would be if you went to the trouble of defining goals, collecting the appropriate information and structuring it in an easy-to-analyse way, and then it just disappeared without a trace. Your server could crash, your system could be infected with a virus, or a lighting strike could fry all your circuits.

Always, always, but always have backups, and backups of your backups but if you do not have a backup it would be best to take it in to see what data can be recovered.

Big data can certainly help your business operate more efficiently and help you restructure your marketing plans to improve ROI. But you need to approach it in a logical, systematic and well-thought-out manner.

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