Small Data is BIG!


Small Data is BIG!

There is a lot of talk about “Big Box” retailers and “Big Tech” businesses and “Big Data” mining. While all of these are a big part of our local, national, global, and internet economies, there are far more small businesses in existence than big businesses. Small businesses can benefit from Big Tech and Big Box and Big Data services. But for their own operations, there are data needs that maybe aren’t quite as big as Big Data but are just as important to the business.

Maybe you do not have millions of transactions to track and correlate to spending trends around the globe. But maybe you have a need to track and understand data as it applies to your small business. Just because it is small compared to Big Data does not make it less important to your enterprise.  Most businesses thrive on data to understand and manage the day-to-day operations or long-term planning for continued growth and success.

Small Data can help you find answers about your customers, your suppliers, your inventory, your employees. It can give you reminders of when things are due or record daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly sales. You can use a database for recording labor hours or expenses. You can track orders, shipments, payments, or anything else that your business needs.

Do you find yourself busy with manually creating and emailing sales reports every month? Do you spend a lot of time with repetitive tasks related to managing your data and creating reports?

Every time you manually key in data or even copy and paste it into a spreadsheet or database, you are risking making data errors by mistyping or accidentally omitting values. You can even paste data into the wrong location and damage the integrity of your data. Sometimes the errors are just inconvenient while other times, these errors can be very costly.

When employees spend time re-keying data into a database or a spreadsheet, it is usually an inefficient use of their time. They are working more with their fingers than their brains. This kind of manual efforts is tedious, time-consuming, inefficient, and error-prone.

Such tasks can often be automated using Microsoft Access. Access is a “desktop database” but can be used over a local network for the sharing of data among employees.  Multiple simultaneous users can use a properly configured Access database.

Imagine if you could simply push a button and your data would be imported without errors, cleaned and formatted into reports with notifications for specific conditions, and then reports emailed to others inside or beyond your company as needed.  A task that, in the past, might have taken minutes or even hours each time, now completed with 100% accuracy with a simple click.

The click can even be automated! It can be scheduled to happen during the night while you sleep!  How much time and aggravation would something like this save you? How much time would not be spent tracking down errors? How much more of your employees’ brains could be put to use instead of the mechanical, tedious work of manually entering and formatting data?

With computers playing such a key role in most businesses now, the need for accurate and complete and timely data has never been greater. And the need will continue to grow. Errors and omissions in your data can become very costly with incorrect sales commissions paid, missed opportunities due to bad data, regulatory compliance failures, late fees, un-invoiced services, mispriced items, and the list goes on. As computers become more and more central to business functions, and as we become more and more dependent on computers doing the work for us, it is essential to ensure that the data is complete and accurate. The best way to ensure data integrity is to eliminate manual entry wherever possible.

Microsoft Access allows automation through the use of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). This programming language is included in all Microsoft Office apps like Excel and Access and Word and Outlook. Just about anything you can do with a keyboard and mouse can be done with VBA programming in Microsoft Access.

VBA programming requires skills that typical database users do not possess. But there are many VBA programmers out there and a good one is worth their weight in gold.

An example of data management using VBA programming would include importing data files. While Access can remember how your files are imported and then re-run those steps on a new file, what if the new file is not quite the same layout as before? This happens often.

If you have data files provided to your company from outside sources and they fail to be consistently arranged, VBA can be used to create a robust import so that it can find the data even if it is different columns every time. VBA, along with Access queries can then analyze the imported data, look for errors or anomalies and adjust the results as needed. Finally, the data can be added to other data already in the system and aggregated for analysis and reporting. PDF Reports can be created and automatically emailed. This level of automation reduces human error in copy/paste and data entry and also makes your system more fault-tolerant when the data you receive is not of the highest quality.

It saves time, increases accuracy, and helps you make sense out of your data. It frees up your employees to use their brains more than their fingers.

Small businesses might not need Big Data. But they still have their own data, “Small Data,” and the business functions better when that data is clean and regularly updated. An Access database might be exactly what your business needs to sort through your data and make it useful for operations, decisions, and plans.