"Big Data" for Small Businesses and Consumers

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By Anne Rosivach

Small businesses and consumers – users of mobile devices and social media – will soon become the drivers of "big data" science. Until recently, harnessing the exploding volume of data in the Cloud or elsewhere has been the province of technology giants like Google and Facebook, and investment in big data analytical tools was restricted to large companies. Now, however, small business owners and consumers, with their smartphones and tablets, have the potential to revolutionize economic activity, according to Intuit Inc.'s President and CEO, Brad Smith.

"Big data is big news", Smith said during a teleconference overview of Intuit's new report titled "The New Data Democracy: How Big Data Will Revolutionize the Lives of Small Business and Consumers." The report, a ten-year forecast, envisions a "new data democracy" where small business owners and consumers are able to make smarter, more informed decisions by gaining access to a wealth of new information. The report was prepared by Emergent Research and is the latest in Intuit's 2020 research series.

Big Data Trends

"This is the era of 'big data for the little guy'", Smith said, commenting on three important trends identified in the report that will impact small businesses and consumers:

1. The new data democracy. Data coming from mobile devices and social media is a new type of raw material, on par with capital and labor. The terabytes of data produced by families and small businesses on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites are the foundation for the new data democracy. Smith used the term "zettabyte" to describe the amount of data that will be generated by 2020. 

2. Data empowers consumers. Big data tools will shift power from the seller to the buyer. We will see data-empowered consumers choosing their own heath care plans, retirement plans – navigating the increasingly complex maze of modern life. Data and analytical tools will enable individuals and households to make smarter, more informed decisions, and there will be greater price transparency. Big data also will facilitate stronger communities of users.

3. Data takes Main Street digital. Data levels the playing field. It puts information into the hands of entrepreneurs and small merchants. Data will enable merchants to tailor their services or products to meet customers' needs. Businesses will be able to compete with a company of any size around the globe, work more efficiently, find new customers, and improve their bottom-line results.

Big data will impact even small business owners who do not have a website, who interact with customers in a traditional way. "Many are already using mobile devices on a daily basis", Smith said. "Most of us have a cell phone or smartphone that comes with tools like GPS." 

Data Privacy 

The big data revolution also will challenge businesses, individuals, and governments to develop new privacy and security frameworks to ensure the trusted use of data. "Intuit's data is aggregated and anonymized", Smith said. "We only use data with clear transparency about how we use it. End users can change their permission at any time. We are working with government agencies to ensure that we have thirty years of confidentiality."

Big Data Tools

Intuit is entrusted with the collective data of sixty million customers – users of QuickBooks and TurboTax, among other products – a unique pool of data that covers the financial spectrum. Forty-five million of those customers use connected services – Cloud, mobile, and digital services – creating a valuable source of data and insights.

"At Intuit, products are reimagined with a mobile-only, mobile-first approach", Smith said. "We also want to unleash the power of the ecosystem to benefit from the contributions of others. . . .  We have opened up our platforms, enabling the contributions of others. We have 10,000 user-generated reports available on the Cloud created by QuickBooks users. . . .  Mint, which is a free product, improved on the 'never enter data twice' to 'never enter data at all.'"

Smith highlighted three big data tools from Intuit that small businesses are currently using:

1. QuickBooks Online's Trends feature, which anonymously aggregates customer data, allows small businesses to see how their income and expenses stack up against similar businesses. For example, a roofer in Philadelphia grossing $250,000 a year can compare results with other roofers in the area or across the country.

2. Intuit Loan Finder is a new service that helps small businesses find lenders faster and obtain lower interest rates. The service also helps lenders make risk-informed decisions, increasing the potential for small businesses to obtain a loan quickly. 

3. Mint allows customers to interpret their unique data, which helps them save money on everything from credit card fees to mortgage interest. Through its "Ways to Save" engine, Mint has identified more than $2.4 billion in savings for its ten million users. Mint is free, making it even more attractive. 

"We encourage small businesses to begin by using the data that they have – unstructured data", Smith said. "Get the customer's permission – begin to solve problems with data that you have."

"The biggest surprise in the big data revolution has been that we could have done this much sooner", Smith said. "Big data is the new raw material – the new catalyst for us to create innovative products."

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