16/12/2013 10:05 GMT | Updated 15/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Braving the Data Deluge

In my experience there are two distinct types of people, both of which can be characterised by their reaction to a storm. On the one hand there are those that choose to embrace a storm, and who delight in going out in the elements, jumping in puddles and splashing about. But there are also those that choose to stay inside in the warm and hibernate while the storm rages, away from the thunder, rain and lightning. It's a dilemma that not only tells you quite a bit about individuals and their personalities, but also neatly sums up the choice startups face when confronted with a torrent of data. When confronted with a surplus of data from multiple sources, should they, for example, shelter away from the data and ignore it? Or should they get their waterproofs on and wade in?

Every startup is different, and each one may have its own particular reasons for choosing a specific course of action. When it comes to embracing data analysis and visualisation, the majority of newer, smaller businesses are choosing to err on the side of caution. Taking shelter from this particular storm is not the best course of action for ambitious startups; can they look instead to follow the example set by larger enterprises?

Larger businesses have been reaping the benefits of data analysis to make better business decisions. The rise of data discovery tools within these organisations means that data itself has real currency, and plays a key role in helping decision-makers to get their jobs done. The same ethos can be applied to startups, with skepticism and trepidation replaced by a more positive outlook towards data. Here are some tips to encouraging a more 'wellies on' approach to the information storm, and to getting startups to fully embrace the data deluge:

1. Bring your data to life by presenting it visually - more than 70% of the information we receive is processed through our eyes. We evolved to see patterns, outliers and clusters, in an instant. Visualising the data that you already have within your business will enable you to see trends in a way that is not possible with tables and complicated spreadsheets

2. Democratise your data - data must be accessible for everyone throughout an organisation. Therefore, ensure you invest in tools that act as an extension to your fingertips rather than a technological roadblock to the speed of thought. If you need to fill out wizards, or property fields, or even write code, just to change a chart, you are not free to ask questions and receive answers efficiently

3. Data is a conversation starter not a full stop - data should not just be used for wrap-up reports or summaries. A good chart or dashboard should generate as many questions as it answers alongside the evolution of the business

4. Don't get hung up on a single data warehouse - enterprises spend huge amounts of money trying to collect all business data into one location. Following that, businesses try to design views on the data that answer every question. This is almost guaranteed to fail. For starters, businesses have data in many different places: in the cloud (Google Analytics or Salesforce), in ad-hoc Excel/CSV files, or in massive Hadoop clusters. Bringing these outlets together in one place is expensive, time consuming and impractical. Instead, get a competitive edge by building connections to them all simultaneously and blend them together live

5. Just do it - don't get put off by endless strategy meetings and goals. You need to have this in your mind but if you adopt an iterative approach you will improve over time. What is the most important business question your data can answer today? Focus on that now

The sheer quantity of data produced by businesses, whatever their size or function, can seem intimidating and as a result, can mean that putting it off for another day, or another budget is an easy decision. The most important point to take away is to see data as your friend, your means of improving, and your portal through which to view the workings of your business on a granular level. If, like approaching a heavy storm, you are prepared, approach it with the right attitude and merely see it as part of your normal day, you can start to see data as less of a hindrance and more of a help. If startups start to make steps towards understanding their data, it will go a long way towards shaping business strategy, day-to-day decision-making and act as a catalyst to development...and who knows, they may even find that splashing around in puddles can be fun!