Catalyzing the growth of the Kenya tech community

Small Data: The Benefit to Techpreneurs

By Hilda Moraa
iHub Research
  Published 16 Jul 2013
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Small Data: The Benefit to Techpreneurs

Tech entrepreneurs need to start maximizing the potential of  ‘small data’ from their applications

In the last few months this year, there has been a lot of talk about ‘big data’ e.g. conferences and events demonstrating the power of open data and how it can be applied. The Open Government Partnership Conference on open data held in June this year and Big Data EA Conference that will take place on 8-9th August 2013 in Nairobi - billed as Africa’s big data conference; are two of conferences aimed at providing deeper understanding of big data and its application.

Meanwhile, we overlook the power of small data. “Small data is the amount of data you can conveniently store and process on a single machine, and in particular, a high-end laptop or server” (Definition fromOpen Knowledge Foundation Blog).

Many tech entrepreneurs have developed smart mobile applications that facilitate data collection, tracking, usage and trends of their products and services. Unfortunately, most of them do not understand how to start making use of the small chunks of data that could be meaningful to help them grow faster through informed decisions.

These small chunks of data can help tech entrepreneurs understand their customers, pricing models, and trends that could help them develop better marketing plans. Especially for entrepreneurs in e-commerce, mobile payments, social sites, and cloud applications space; among others. Examples of some of these entrepreneurs who have show already use of small data include:

  • M-Farm: M-Farm through their online platform is able to provide up to date wholesale pricing information and the trendsof wholesale prices of agricultural commodities hence helping farmers, suppliers and buyers to stay informed and have a variety of options to buy from

Monthly Average Prices for Maize

  • Eneza Education: previously known as MPrep, provide teachers, students and parents with meaningful data and tips from their SMS application to ensure quality education for all. Through their online dashboard, they aggregate reports; graphics and student responses that could help teachers and parents know strength of their students and identify ways to help them improve on their weaknesses.

Click to zoom image

  • KopoKopo: Have partnered with Safaricom to provide M-PESA Buy Goods service to small and medium businesses throughout Kenya and, today, they serve hundreds of businesses from salons to restaurants to office supply stores. Using their dashboard they are able to track intelligent payments, purchases and customers reports, which they can provide as useful to the merchants to be able to make better-informed decisions about their businesses.

    Preview of the KopoKopo Dashboard showing transactions

    The above entrepreneurs aggregate and analyze the digital traces to draw powerful inferences for target marketing and tailor service offerings and advertisements and improve system performance.

    Again, it's never as simple as just getting the data. Many entrepreneurs face technical and design challenges in making sense of that data for users. Tech entrepreneurs can take advantage of the data as a form of research and development to help them get more informed about the market. This is where they can also partner with institutions like iHub Research and the UX lab to help them extract, synthesis and analyze the small chunks of data they are collecting to useful insights.

    This (small) data revolution is just beginning as we are seeing many tech startups coming up with innovative tools and infrastructure. Even if the entrepreneurs at their early stages don't have these analytics and visualization tools; they can rely on existing open source tools and plug them in as part of their applications. By first understanding small data sets, they are able to grow into big data.

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