April 04, 2012, 8:38 PM — When someone utters the words Big Data (and pretty much everyone does these days), the first companies that tend to come to mind are Google and Facebook--Internet companies whose entire business is based upon voraciously devouring data. However, there are plenty of other companies out there with massive volumes of information at their fingertips, and they too are undergoing data-driven transformations.
Intuit--maker of QuickBooks, Quicken and TurboTax--is one such company. It provides business and financial management solutions to small and mid-sized businesses, financial institutions such as banks and credit unions, consumers and accounting professionals. And it has mountains of data available to it, provided by users that trust it and have opted-in to share that data.
It has transactional data, behavioral data (drawn from products like TurboTax Online and Mint), user-generated data and even social data drawn from social networks and Twitter. And it wants to democratize that data through an initiative it calls "Big Data for the Little Guy," through which individuals and businesses will be able to make their own queries on Intuit's data.
"We want to save you time and money through the use of data to give you analytics that you could never afford otherwise," says Nora Denzel, senior vice president in charge of Intuit's Big Data and social design initiatives.
Denzel notes that using this data, she learned that her dry cleaner was charging her four times the average rate of dry cleaners in her city, prompting her to switch dry cleaners. Another example is determining whether you're paying more or less than others in your area for car repairs.
The data is also useful for businesses. If you're opening up a new cafe in New York City, you could use it to determine the proper wages for a new barista or an experienced barista. The data can also take you beyond comparisons.
"In QuickBooks, if you're a florist, for instance, we know what you buy," Denzel says. "Right now, while you're buying, we can tell you that you can save a certain amount of money if you buy from this vendor right now."
Big Data-Driven Transformation
Getting to the point of leveraging its data for these services has required a transformation within Intuit.
"When I began in the 80s, IT was the cost center," Denzel says. "We didn't really understand what they did. But then we aligned IT with the business and IT became the business. I think the same thing is happening now with data."