Being left behind by big data: How tech illiteracy can kill small businesses

Being left behind by big data: How tech illiteracy can kill small businesses

A constant theme in this blog over the past five years is how companies, particularly small businesses, risk being left behind as technology accelerates.

One of those areas is Big Data, where all businesses are struggling with the information pouring into their operations and smaller companies face a challenge in dedicating the resources to manage and understand what’s happening in their markets.

The New York Times last weekend had a feature illustrating how some small business are using big data.

In one of the case studies, Brian Janezic, a 27-year-old owner of two car washes in Arizona, created his own application that automates his business and monitors consumable levels.

The New York Times‘ story further highlights how nimbler operations like Janezic’s are leaving businesses like The Serbian Crown behind.

A Virginian restaurant, the Serbian Crown, went out of business because its Google Places listing was hacked, reports tech magazine Wired.

The proprietor of the Serbian Crown, Rene Bertagna, wasn’t aware his online listing showed the restaurant as being closed on weekends and as a result customers stopped showing up, he alleges in a law suit against Google.

As a result of result of the drop in earnings, the restaurant entered a death spiral of falling service standards, declining customers and further cuts until the place closed down.

It’s difficult to judge how true Bertagna’s claim is – it’s quite possible the listing was a mistake by Google’s data scrapers or an oversight by a customer putting the data into the services. But the story does illustrate how important it is to get the correct information into online services like Google Places, Microsoft Bing and Yelp.

Bertagna himself appears to be a classic case of roadkill on the information superhighway, as he claims not to be a computer or internet user.

Bertagna emigrated to the U.S. from northern Italy when he was young. He’s 74 now, and, he says, doesn’t own a computer—he’d heard of the internet and Google but used neither.

Suddenly, a technological revolution of which he was only dimly aware was killing his business. His accountant phoned Google and in an attempt to change the listing, but got nowhere. Bertagna eventually hired an Internet consultant who took control of the Google Places listing and fixed the bad information—a relatively simple process.

The sad tale of Rene Bertagna and the Serbian Crown illustrates just how important it is for operators in the hospitality industry to be on top of their listings and online presence. This is where the customers are.

Sadly, this story isn’t news – that customers are using the web to find local businesses and read reviews of neighbourhood establishments has been the case for a decade. The move to mobile has been obvious for over five years.

Contrasting the two operations illustrates the digital divide between businesses of a different era. Unfortunately for the laggards, the rate of acceleration is so great it’s unlikely they’ll ever catch up.

The sad thing is that many of the baby boomer-owned enterprises not embracing the new technologies are further compromising the assets their proprietors are depending upon for their retirement. If you’re looking at selling your business, you need to make sure both your digital footprint and your use of technology are up to date.

Paul Wallbank is the publisher of Networked Globe, his personal blog Decoding The New Economy charts how our society is changing in the connected century.


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