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Understanding Analytics Part 2: Top External Sources of Big Data

Big data analysis is one of the most powerful strategies today’s corporations have in their repertoire. Gathering and analyzing relevant information to better understand trends and glean other insights can offer a nearly endless number of benefits for companies as they look to offer better customer services and enhance their own internal processes.

Before that analysis can result in impactful insights, though, a company must first collect the information they’ll leverage as part of the initiative. Different datasets will provide different results, and there are a range of sources where these details can come from.

In the first part of this series, we examined a few of the top internal sources of data, including transactional information, CRM details, business applications and other company-owned assets. These sources are already under the business’s control, and are therefore some of the first places data scientists look as part of their information gathering efforts.

Sometimes, however, this data isn’t enough. Whether the organization is seeking to answer broader questions about the industry, or better understand potential customers, these initiatives may require the analytics team to look outside the company’s own data sources.

When this takes place, it’s critical that the enterprise understands the most valuable places to gather data that will best benefit its current processes. Today, we’ll take a look at the top sources of external data, including public information that isn’t owned by the company.

Social media: Connecting with your customers

One of the most robust external big data sources is social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. These sites have become incredibly popular – not only for individual customers, but for corporations as well. Through social media profiles, businesses can put an ear to the ground, so to speak, and get a better understanding of their current and potential customers.

And with so many users flocking to these platforms, the potential for big data is significant:

  • Facebook had more than 1.5 billion active users as of April, 2016.
  • Twitter had 320 million active users in the first quarter of this year.
  • Instagram had 400 million active users in early 2016.
  • Other platforms aren’t far behind: Snapchat boasts more than 200 million users, Pinterest and LinkedIn were tied at 100 million active users.

In addition, helpful sources like Facebook Graph help companies make the best use of this information, aggregating a range of details that users share on the platform each day.

“Social media data can be incredibly telling.”

Overall, social media data can be incredibly telling, offering insights into both positive and negative brand feedback, as well as trends, activity patterns and customer preferences. For instance, if a company notices that a large number of social media users are seeking a specific type of product, the business can move to corner the market and address these needs – all thanks to social media big data insights.

Public government data

While social media information is no doubt powerful, this isn’t the only external data source companies should pay attention to. The federal government also provides several helpful informational sources that help today’s enterprises get a better picture of the public. According to SmartData Collective, few of the best places to look here include:

  • This site was recently set up by federal authorities as part of the U.S. government’s promise to make as much data as possible available. Best of all, these details are free, and accessible online. Here, companies will find a wealth of data, including information related to consumers, agriculture, education, manufacturing, public safety and much more.
  • Businesses looking for a more global picture can look to this site, where the U.K. government has amassed an incredible amount of metadata dating back to 1950.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau: The Census Bureau has also made a range of data available online, covering areas such as overall population, geographical information and details related to regional education.
  • CIA World Factbook: The Central Intelligence Agency no doubt has huge repositories of information at its disposal, and has made select information available via its online Factbook. This resource provides data on global population, government, military, infrastructure, economy and history. Best of all, it covers not only the U.S., but 266 other countries as well.
  • Health care information can also be incredibly powerful for companies in that industry, as well as those operation in other sectors. This site provides more than 100 years of U.S. health care information, including datasets about Medicare, population statistics and epidemiology.

Google: The data king

Google has also provided a few key, publicly available data sources. As one of the biggest search engines in the world, Google has a wealth of information about search terms, trends and other online activity. Google Trends is one of the best sources here, providing statistical information on search volumes for nearly any term – and these datasets stretch back to nearly the dawn of the internet.

Other powerful sources provided by Google including Google Finance, which includes 40 years of stock market data that is continually updated in real time. In addition, Google Books Ngrams allows companies to search and analyze the text of millions of books Google has in its repository.

The right data: Answering the big questions

Overall, in order for businesses to answer the big questions guiding their initiatives, they must have access to the right data. Public, external sources can help significantly, as can a partnership with an expert in the big data field.

Aunalytics can not only help today’s enterprises gather and analyze their available information, but can also help fill any gaps that might hold back the success of an initiative. Our scalable big data solutions ensure that your organization has everything it needs to reach the valuable insights that will make all the difference.

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Understanding Analytics Part 1: Top Internal Sources of Big Data

There’s no arguing the power of big data in today’s corporate landscape. Businesses are analyzing a seemingly endless array of data sources in order to glean insights into just about every activity – both inside their business, as well as those that are customer-facing. Right now, it seems that enterprises cannot get their hands on enough big data for analysis purposes – the opportunities and advantages to be had here are tempting, as well as actionable, and can really make all the difference for today’s companies.

However, as corporations’ hunger for data grows, so too does their search for usable data sources. There are several places where businesses can gather and collect big data, both inside and outside of their own organizations. Currently, there are a more than a few data brokers that will sell lists of information – and while these may seem helpful, it’s up to the enterprise to analyze and make the best use of this data.

What’s more, without the proper knowledge, skills and support, these lists can be incredibly ineffective and, therefore, not worth the investment. Before businesses turn to data brokers, there are a few key places that they can look to gather their own big data. Let’s take a look at some of the top informational sources, and how these can benefit your organization, no matter what industry you operate in.

Internal vs. external

Before we get into the specific sources themselves, it’s important to understand the main classification of these datasets. Overall, there are two main categories that big data can fall under: internal or external.

“Internal sources of data reflect those data that are under the control of the business,” Customer Think contributor and data scientist Bob Hayes explained. “External data, on the other hand, are any data generated outside the wall of the business.”

In this way, internal data is the information that the business already has on hand, has control of and currently owns, including details contained within the company’s own computer systems and cloud environments. External data is information that is not currently owned by the company, and can include unstructured, public data as well as information gathered by other organizations.

Today, we’ll take a deep dive into internal data sources, including those that are currently controlled by the organization under its own roof.

Internal data: Company-owned information systems

Before decision-makers and data scientists look for external sources, it’s critical to ensure that all of a business’s internal data sources are mined, analyzed and leveraged for the good of the company. While external data can offer a range of benefits that we’ll get into later, internal data sources are typically easier to collect and can be more relevant for the company’s own purposes and insights.

There are a number of impactful, internal places that companies can look to mine data. These include:

  • Transactional data and POS information: One of the most powerful sources of data resides within a firm’s financial and transactional systems. Here, companies can mine both current and historical data relating to their own business purchases, as well as information relating to the shopping trends of their customers. From these details, an organization can glean important insights, including ways to reduce their own spending and remain on budget, as well as crucial patterns pertaining to their customers’ buying habits and shopping preferences.
  • Customer relationship management system: In addition to their purchasing and shopping data, businesses can also mine data within their own CRM systems. Information like clients’ company affiliations, locations and other regional or geographical details can paint a detailed picture about where customers are located. When combined with their transactional information, these CRM details become even more powerful.
  • Internal documents: Especially now within the age of cloud computing, a company’s own internal documents are becoming more valuable than ever. Digitized copies of internal forms can provide a robust source of information, particularly when it comes to the business’s activities, policies and processes. Kapow Software noted in an infographic that emails, Word documents, PDF, XML and a range of other internal docs can be mined for big data.
  • Archives: When it comes to internal information, businesses shouldn’t limit themselves to only the most current information. Historical data can be very telling as well, which is why Kapow Software recommends looking into the company’s archived documents and data streams as well.
  • Other business applications: While CRM is one of the most robust internal sources of big data, this doesn’t mean that other internal applications cannot be mined. Other platforms that employee users leverage, including project management, marketing, productivity, enterprise resource management, human resources, expense management as well as automation apps can be incredibly beneficial as well. When mining these sources, it’s in a company’s best interest to let the nature of their big data initiative drive their decisions surrounding which sources to utilize. For example, if an organization is looking to gain insight about the current budget, sources like expense tracking and resource management will be the most helpful.
  • Device sensors: The Internet of Things is growing every day, and providing additional and increasingly unique data for analysis. Companies that utilize devices that are equipped with sensors and network connectivity can leverage these for data as well. These include IoT items that the business uses in its own office, or those that it provides for its customers. For instance, car sensors on an enterprise’s fleet of vehicles can offer a wealth of data about usage, mileage, gas and traveling expenses. Companies that offer fitness or other health sensors can gather, anonymize and analyze these sources as well.

“Internal data sources are typically easier to collect and can be more relevant.”

Internal big data: Answering the big questions

Overall, internal sources of big data can offer numerous advantages for today’s businesses. Not only are these sources incredibly telling and relevant, but they’re free of cost to the company, as this is information that the organization already owns. In this way, enterprises can launch an array of big data initiatives without ever looking beyond their own walls.

However, when it comes to analyzing these sources, it’s best to have an industry-leading partner like Aunalytics that can help your firm answer the big questions. Aunalytics specializes in big data analysis, and can help pinpoint the source that will provide the most valuable and competitive advantage for your company. To find out more, contact Aunalytics today.

And check out the second part of this series, where we investigate the top external sources of big data, and how these can be best utilized.