“Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past” is a quote from George Orwell’s 1984 where we first see the concept of Big Brother.

In the book, the control of information is used to sinister ends, but it got me thinking about controlling the present and understanding the past in business and how it can help us to shape the future particularly in the SME environment where there is not always big money to throw at the problem.

Businesses no matter their size are amassing more and more data on their customers from a whole host of different sources from traditional such as loyalty programmes through to social, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn etc. According to Wikipedia “big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, analysis, and visualization.” This blog is particularly interested in the analysis of the data and how it can create a competitive advantage for companies.

Wikipedia also notes that “Big data is difficult to work with using relational databases and desktop statistics and visualization packages, requiring instead “massively parallel software running on tens, hundreds, or even thousands of servers”. Which is why up until recently the focus has been around historical trends rather than real time developments.

With the advent of real time analytics software, the ability to control the present is increasingly not only possible, but vital. According to SAP, “In today’s highly competitive business climate, immediate access to an analysis of all operational data ultimately determines the success of an organization. Companies demand insight into business operations as they happen in order to be able to react quickly to changing market conditions.”.

“Small enterprises have Big Data issues also,” said Donald Feinberg, vice president and distinguished analyst, Gartner. “Big Data is not only large volumes of data but also includes the variety and complexity of the data. Looking at content such as audio, video, text, documents, small enterprises have as much Big Data as large enterprises. Solutions for small enterprises must address the issues of Big Data.”

In an article from Nouveau – it was noted that a large number of enterprises may turn to business intelligence in the cloud in the coming years in order to gain greater insights into their operations and what they can do to improve them.

Another article from Nouveau (Agility essential for acting on data insights) refers to common misconceptions that small firms do not have the resources to take full advantage of the increasing amount of information which they have access to. According to Eric Pollard editor at the Big Data Insight Group, smaller enterprises may be in a better position to take advantage of Big data as they can respond more quickly to changing market conditions if they have the appropriate tools.

Mr Pollard explained that the emergence of cheap storage and cloud based computing tools has made it easier for small and medium sized enterprises to use big data to improve their performance.

George Orwell wrote the book 1984 in 1949 when the world was a very different place. It is scary to think how many of his fictional notions are coming to fruition in the modern era. But one thing that is certain with the advent of big data, is that the past remains the past. In business the focus is less on historical trends and more on what is happening here and now with the aim of influencing the future. If George Orwell were to rewrite his party slogan as “he who controls the present controls the future” I don’t think he would be too far wrong.