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Big Data for Small Business by Stephen E. Arnold

Big Data for Small Business by Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E Arnold is a specialist in online information and retrieval. You may subscribe to his blog by writing, [email protected].
Stephen E. Arnold

Latest posts by Stephen E. Arnold (see all)

Big Data is one of the buzzwords which attract attention.

In London on May 15 and then in New York City on May 22, 2013, I had the tough job of explaining the impact of Big Data on business software.

The graphic I used to explain what my firm’s research documented evoked considerable comment. You judge for yourself.



Unlike software which computes payroll or a content management system used for blog or Web site content, big data is not tidy. One key point I made in my lectures was that there is little agreement about what Big Data means, how “big” Big Data are to qualify as big data, and what technology is required to make sense of Big Data.


Large companies like IBM have invested hundreds of millions in Big Data. IBM offers the Cognos range of analysis tools. IBM also uses its own proprietary technology and weaves together high-profile specialist technologies from SPSS (the statistics system) and Vivisimo (a federated search specialist), and home grown technology.


But what about the small business or mid-sized company which wants to tap into the insights from information flowing through Twitter, across Facebook pages, or buried within LinkedIn. Without millions to invest, what can the average business person do with Big Data?


The answer? Excel, which is the most widely used data analysis program.


If you have geographic data about your customers, you will want to take a look at GeoFlow. I explored the preview version for Excel 2013. After downloading and installing Office 365 Pro Plus (, I then downloaded and installed the Preview for GeoFlow ( You will need Windows 7 or 8 and have Microsoft’s Dot Net Version 4.x framework installed as well. To give the system a test drive, Microsoft provides a getting started document ( Microsoft also provides several data sets which you can use to exercise the system. If you want more data, Microsoft provides a number of other data sets without charge via its open government data initiative ( As I write this, this amped up Excel add in can give anyone with basic spreadsheet skills a way to make sense of mailing lists, sales records with geocodes, or public data.


Sample GeoFlow output. Source: Microsoft Corp. at


If your business belongs to a professional association, you may have access to information about other members. Maybe you want to sell to organizations engaged in agriculture. You can navigate to ( and download one or more of the 249 free datasets on the US government Web site. But once you have hundreds of megabytes of numbers, what can you do? Current versions of Excel include an Analysis ToolPack. You can install the components using the Microsoft Office Button and clicking Excel Options. Follow the prompts to the list of Add Ins available.” Once the ToolPack is available, you have access to sophisticated analytic functions, including Fourier Analysis, Regression, and various statistical tests. Microsoft offers four to 10 minute videos which contain step-by-step instructions for performing common analytic tasks. “Correlation Using Excel’s Data Analysis Toolpak, for instance, is excellent. ( Educational institutions like the University of Massachusetts provides helpful how-tos to explain some of the tricks for tapping into the power of Excel’s analytic functions. See, for example, “Using Excel for Statistical Data Analysis” (


If you have a collection of text such as emails or customer help desk files, you can use commercial semantic analysis tools to reveal insights in unstructured content. Semantria, a semantic technology developer, offers an Excel based text analytics service. The company uses cloud based technology to process the text. The results are then published to the user’s Excel spreadsheet. Semantria is a pay-as-you-go service, but the company offers a free demonstration of its technology. To learn more about navigate to You will need some basic familiarity with installing add ins and using the Semantria application programming interface. Once you have the system up and running you can get a visual report about the sentiment of one or more documents and see the text which may alert you to a potential trouble spot or pinpoint a comment which can be used as a testimonial.


Semantria output showing named entities in a document and the major themes in text content.


If you want to explore Big Data, you can take advantage of these and other low cost, easily accessible systems.

Stephen E Arnold, May 25, 2013


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Stephen E Arnold is one of the world’s leading authorities in online information systems. You can sign up for his free monthly newsletter by writing [email protected]. Check out his blogs at


  1. I am so grateful for your post.Thanks Again.

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