Big Data is a big deal to small companies – even though some are having trouble getting their arms around an exact definition. A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of SAP AG indicated that small and midsize enterprises are realizing the competitive advantages of using and managing Big Data even faster than their larger competitors. However, the survey of 154 companies indicated when asked to define what big data is, the answers were as varied as….well Big Data.

Among respondents, 28 percent define it as the massive growth in transaction data. Twenty-four percent think it’s the new technologies that address the volume, variety and velocity challenges of big data; 19 percent said Big Data refers to requirements to store and archive data for regulatory compliance; and 18 percent see Big Data as the rise in new data sources, such as data from social networks, websites, user generated content and location from mobile phones.

While definitions of Big Data may vary – SAP by the way defines it as “the unprecedented growth and convergence of social, device, equipment and corporate data” — one thing is certain, small and midsize companies want it!  About 76 percent of survey respondents view Big Data as an opportunity. Top competitive advantages of using Big Data include more efficient business operations, boosting sales, lowering costs, becoming more agile and attracting and retaining customers.

Don’t get buried in Big Data

The enormous amount of data from smart phones, embedded sensors, Facebook posts, email, and even metadata can be daunting. Start by deciding what you need to know and then gather the data you need based on that.

There are tools for managing data and companies increasingly are relying on cloud technologies. Among those surveyed in the Harris poll, 64 percent use cloud technology to manage data to some extent. Of those, 38 percent use only cloud technology to store and manage Big Data, 27 use private clouds or off-premise server farms and 11 percent said they store Big Data in a public cloud. More than a quarter (26 percent) said their companies use a hybrid of data warehousing and cloud technologies.

Not to worry if you don’t exactly know what Big Data is?  When it comes to running your business, it’s not about how you define Big Data; it’s about how you use it.