Big data has been the buzz of the business world for years now, with businesses across every industrial sector gathering and analyzing information in an effort to leverage the resulting actionable insights. For the past few years, “big” has been the name of the game, with organizations working to indiscriminately collect as many details in a whole host of different areas.

Now, however, a new strategy is coming to light: little data. But what, exactly, is little data? How is it related to big data? And how can this approach make all the difference for your business?

Little data: A definition

Little data comes in almost exact contrast to big data, but can also be complementary – and very important – to supporting a big data strategy.

According to TechTarget, little, or small, data are more selective pieces of information that relate to a certain topic or can help answer a more specific pain point.

“Little data comes in almost exact contrast to big data.”

“Small data is data in a volume and format that makes it accessible, informative and actionable,” TechTarget noted.

The Small Data Group further explains that little data looks to “connect people with timely, meaningful insights (derived from big data and/or ‘local’ sources) organized and packaged – often visually – to be accessible, understandable, and actionable for everyday tasks.”

A step further: What’s the difference?

The key differences here are demonstrated by big data’s defining characteristics. Big data, as opposed to little data, is often defined by what are known as the three V’s, including volume, variety and velocity. The first two are particularly important here. Whereas big data usually comes in the form of large volumes of unstructured or structured information from a range of different sources, little data simply doesn’t cover as much ground.

Little data, on the other hand, comes from more precise sources and will include a smaller amount of information in order to address a previously defined problem or question. Where big data is vastly collected and then analyzed for insights that might not have been accessible previously, little data is gathered and analyzed in a more specific way.

Forbes contributor Bernard Marr noted that little data typically includes more traditional key performance metrics, as opposed to large, indiscriminate datasets.

“Data, on its own, is practically useless. It’s just a huge set of numbers with no context,” Marr wrote. “Its value is only realized when it is used in conjunction with KPIs to deliver insights that improve decision-making and improve performance. The KPIs are the measure of performance, so without them, anything gleaned from big data is simply knowledge without action.”

Little data and big data: Working in tandem

However, this is not to say that little and big data cannot work together. In fact, little data can help bring additional insight and meaning to the analysis results of big data.

For instance, a big data analysis initiative could show certain patterns and facts about a business’s customers. Little data can then bring even more to the table, helping to answer more specific questions according to key performance indicators.

These KPIs can also be utilized to measure an organization’s ability to put its big data insights to work for the business.

“For example, a retail company could use a big data initiative to develop promotional strategies based on customer preferences, trends and customized offers,” Marr noted. “But without traditional KPIs such as revenue growth, profit margin, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty or market share, the company won’t be able to tell if the promotional strategies actually worked.”

Little data in action

Little data can also be more personal in nature, offering knowledge and actionable insights for a company’s consumers. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the fitness industry, particularly with the popularity of wearable fitness monitors that sync to a user’s mobile device.

Harvard Business Review contributor Mark Bonchek noted that oftentimes, little data pertains to each consumer as an individual, and that these details are what companies seek out to utilize as part of their big data strategies.

“Big data is controlled by organizations, while little data is controlled by individuals,” Bonchek wrote. “Companies grant permission for individuals to access big data, while individuals grant permission to organizations to access little data.”

Returning to the wearable fitness device example, little data would comprise the informational insights that are delivered by the tracking module, including distance traveled, weight changes, calorie intake, etc. A big data initiative related to these findings would require that the consumers utilizing these fitness trackers grant access to this information. From here, an organization could analyze a whole host of little data sources to offer a more global, overarching look at users’ habits.

Leveraging big and little data

If your company is interested in harnessing the power of little data as part of a big data strategy, it’s imperative to have a partner that can help fill in any gaps. Aunalytics has access to a variety of data sets, including those that can provide the right insights for your business.