Thanks to significant government and private-sector investment, a new generation of data analysis tools is now within reach for small firms facing information overload.
While most so-called "big data" tools still target large enterprises that think nothing of spending six figures to manage information, a number of reasonably priced data analysis tools that small firms can use to manage large amounts of information can turn raw data into actionable analysis with minimal fuss.
Here are five such tools your small business can use to get big results from large amounts of data:
1. Google Analytics Application Gallery
Google continues to add features to its free Google Analytics data tracking package. One of the most accessible for small businesses is the Google Analytics Application Gallery.
What it does: The Application Gallery is an app market connecting third-party developers to Google Analytics to essentially expand its features. Three useful data apps on the site are Hub'Scan, LogMyCalls and GA Data Grabber for Excel. Each can help manage spending and produce easy-to-read reports from Google Analytics.
Who should use it: Google Apps Application Gallery can be a place to start for owners looking to upgrade their data analysis IQ quickly and easily.
Price: You can browse the Application Gallery for free. You can purchase apps for varying fees. Hub'scan runs $750 for 250,000 analyzed pages, LogMycalls is free to start, with paid services running $29 per month and GA Data Grabber has a $299 annual fee, per module.
2. WolframAlpha's Facebook Reports
Champaign, Ill.-based WolframAlpha uses a collection of built-in data and algorithms to interpret repositories of information. Among many on its list is Facebook, which has valuable business information such as the demographics of followers and how they interact with brand pages.
What it does: WolframAlpha's Facebook Reports provides a complete breakdown of your personal account, identifying your most active posters and your friends' activities through a series of charts, graphs, tables and other readouts.
Who should use it: Any company that does business with a personal Facebook page should download a free report from WolframAlpha. It can explain how customers access your page and who their influencers are. The pro version can be used to analyze almost limitless data sets other than Facebook's.
Price: Basic features are free. The pro version costs $4.99 per month and includes a wider set of computational tools for developing trend analysis for spreadsheets and even images.
3. Quantum Leap Buzz
Twitter arguably does a sub-par job of analyzing the data it generates. But Newark, Del.-based Quantum Leap Innovations attempts to fill that gap with a data visualization and analysis tool for both Twitter and Facebook.
What it does: Quantum Leap Buzz organizes tweets and posts into coherent themes. Search for a word or phrase and the tool attempts to give an idea of the conversation surrounding it. The number and names of people talking about a subject can be broken out, and the popularity of each theme is displayed. Themes can be analyzed for positive or negative sentiment and for how individual users react to that set of ideas.
Who should use it: This can be an important asset for social media marketers, particularly for analyzing competitors' social media strategy.
Price: The software is free to download and compatible with both Macs and PCs.
4. JackBe Presto
Need to get all types of information related to your business into one custom control panel? Chevy Chase, Md.-based JackBe might have the answer.
What it does: JackBe Presto can capture data from a variety of sources, including Microsoft Office and Server products, Oracle developer tools and Salesforce.com. These feeds are organized into do-it-yourself interactive dashboards that allow users to compare disparate streams of data essentially on demand.
Who should use it: Presto can be ideal for firms that traditionally pay analysts to interpret all that information.
Price: The service starts at $3,500 per month for 25 users.
5. Recorded Future
Cambridge Mass.-based Recorded Future partnered with the venture capital arm of the CIA and Google to develop a data aggregation tool that -- without exaggeration -- attempts to predict the future.
What it does: The tool monitors blog posts, news feeds, personal comments and forward-looking statements made over the web for the temporal relationships between coming events. Say, for instance, a company announces that a product will be launched next month. Recorded Future compares these forward-looking statements with others it finds online to quantify the probability of the predicted event happening.
But with lofty expectations can come spotty predictions, with some search topics producing unintended results. For subjects it has rich data on -- corporate announcements, product releases and the travels of well-known executives -- Recorded Future can provide a compelling glimpse into the future.
Who should use it: For businesses that operate in markets affected by the actions of large enterprises, such as unstable overseas markets, Recorded Future can offer a way to display and interpret vast amounts of public data available on certain topics. For instance, it can be worth consulting for a firm that's looking for comparative intelligence on the timing of the release of several simultaneous products.