International Game Technology: Winning At The Talent Recruitment Game

Smarter workforceWhether a business is large or small, identifying, qualifying and hiring the right employees is critical to innovation and growth. But, as the recession wanes and the economy picks up, more companies are hiring, and competitionespecially for top talentis intensifying. This makes it more difficult for many companies to find the talent they need to thrive.

At the same time, options to help identify and hire candidates are expanding. For instance, employee referrals, advocacy programs, social media and mobile apps are becoming more important recruitment tools, while the role of external recruiting vendors is diminishing. While these new recruitment channels can help companies access a broader applicant pool, it’s not easy to use, integrate and optimize across them.

As a result, many businesses are reassessing and refreshing their existing recruiting practices and solutions. They are looking for knowledge and tools to give them the agility they need to compete more successfully throughout the recruitment process. .

In this three-part series, sponsored by IBM Smarter Workforce, I look at how companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) and assessment solutions to better address these issues, and new developments in this area that promise to provide further enhancements.

International Game Technology: Fueling Growth With Talent

HomepageHeroBanner_JurassicParkHeadquartered in Las Vegas, 34-year old International Game Technology (IGT) is the leading manufacturer of gaming machines. From Las Vegas to Monte Carlo, from Wheel of Fortune to James Cameron’s AVATAR, chances are you’ve played a video slots game on an IGT machine.

While IGT has been the long-time market leader, it does not rest on its laurels. In 2011, the company introduced IGT Cloud, an industry-first which lets casino operators dynamically deploy game content across multiple properties to optimize floor efficiencies, and also offer a seamless gaming experience across land-based, mobile and online devices. In 2012 IGT acquired Double Down Interactive LLC, a social gaming company and developer of DoubleDown Casino on Facebook, to fuel IGT’s expansion through new media. In 2013, IGT partnered with Casino Del Sol in Arizona to hold the AZ, to hold the Game King Championship, the first cross-platform video poker tournamentand the largest in the world, with more than 360,000 players.

To sustain this pace of growth and innovation, IGT must be able to identify and attract top talent.

Keeping Up With IGT Talent Requirements

Talent management solutions are still relatively new. Up until 2000, IGT had—like most companiesrelied on newspaper ads and human resources business partners for candidate recruitment. People would stop in to drop off hard copy applications, and everything was stored in physical file cabinets.

In 2000, IGT started using BrassRing’s cloud-based applicant tracking system. While the solution worked well, as the company grew, they needed more capabilities in the talent management area. When Laura Callender joined IGT six years ago as HRIS Staff Analyst, her job was to refresh and revamp talent management systems at the company to ensure IGT would be able to attract and retain top talent.

IGT’s first priority was to revamp the BrassRing ATS (which is now part of the IBM Kenexa Talent Suite) to keep pace with the company’s expanding global operations and hiring requirements. According to Callender, “It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day, and neglect new features. But it’s important to keep re-evaluating business needs and figure out what will really help improve the process.”

Callender took a fresh look at things, and extended the system to support IGT’s growing geographical footprint, and provide Chinese and Spanish language capabilities. She also added other capabilities, such as mobile functionality. “So many things that are cutting edge, like enabling mobile job applicants…five years ago, people wouldn’t have dreamed of job hunting and applying on a mobile phone. But now applicants might be at the dentist’s office and want to apply. We need to enable these new capabilities that will make a difference to our business,” says Callender.

Community and Support Are Key to Success

men with puzzle piecesIGT has found IBM’s “Kenexans” and the community of Smarter Workforce users invaluable in helping her figure out what changes will provide the most value to IGT. “IBM’s Kenexans help us stay ahead of these trends…they focus on helping us improve the way we do things and help us figure out what options will give us the biggest bang for the buck. Should we turn features on or off? What should we do differently? And how can we make things seamless for our users? So many things are cool, but what will we get the most value from?” observes Callender.

IBM’s Smarter Workforce Global Support Center helps IGT prioritize enhancements via an annual review. As important, IGT can call on their services as needed, not only for break/fix issues, but for new project tickets, and to get the “hand-holding” required to implement new functionality. “We’re in the middle in terms of what we need to implement, and they are there when we need them to help with the next step. It’s a closer degree of support than we get from other vendors,” notes Callender. “Out of all the vendors, in terms of support, I would choose IBM Kenexa any day.”

Callender is very active in user groups as well, which helps her learn from what others are doing, and what’s worked and what hasn’t for them. She’s attended six global conferences, and participated in user groups at all of them. As Callender puts it, “The user groups have really grown, from 30 to 40 attendees to over 100 at the last one. We don’t have an army of HR and IT people, but I can talk to users that do, like Pepsico, Time Warner and Disney, that we can really learn from. At the same time, there are companies smaller than uswith just 100 or 200 employeesthat we can help. It’s a really good way to exchange knowledge.”

The user groups also help facilitate conversations between the IBM Kenexa team and users. “We talk, and they listen. We sit in a roundtable, it’s very interactive, with experts and R&D engineers at each table to discuss topics such as referrals, triggers, etc. It’s very helpful and they act on our input.”

Getting Results

Since IBM Kenexa BrassRing is cloud based, upgrades are “very easy,” says Callender. “IBM rolls them out and turns them on. Some things you have a choice to upgrade or not. But they never break anything with an upgrade, which has happened with some of the other cloud solutions we use.”

Today, IGT hiring managers, external recruiters and applicants are all using the system. Last year, IGT used BrassRing to hire about 600 employees for mostly technical positions, with an average of about 50 applicants for each position. IGT has integrated BrassRing ATS with its SAP ERP system, so that when someone is hired, they are automatically moved from BrassRing to SAP. “Instead of having a person digging through emails to find candidates, ATS can do this for us much faster and more effectively with Boolean searches, and tagging,” states Callender.

IBM Kenexa’s BrassRing ATS also helps IGT answer important questions that impact recruitment strategy, such as:

  • What is the tipping point for the number of applicants for a certain position?
  • How can we do a fill requisitions more quickly?
  • What’s the best way to deal with counteroffers, or higher rejection rates?
  • How can we recruit people that aren’t currently looking for a job?

“We get our money’s worth from BrassRing ATS. We don’t have a formal measurement system, but we know we are saving a lot of time, which saves us money. There is no way we could function without it.” In addition, BrassRing pricing is based on the number of requisitions and applicants, so “what we pay for it aligns with our actual use, which we appreciate,” explains Callender.

Perspective

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization, fueling the innovation required to grow and thrive in today’s hyper-competitive world. Many cloud-based ATS solutions available, but as the IGT story illustrates, it’s not just the nuts and bolts of the software that matter. Being part of an active, engaged vendor support and user community can help you to:

  1. Map out a more effective strategy. Look for vendors and user communities that are collaborative, and can help you assess your requirements and how they are likely to evolve, and provide you with scalable solutions that you can deploy in an incremental manner.
  2. Get things right the first time. Your company benefits when the vendor facilitates knowledge sharing of best practices for things such as reporting considerations, workflow and underlying database structure that will take the most time and pain out of different processes. For instance, how do you set things up so applicants don’t need to fill out a new affirmative action form every time they apply for a new job, but can just edit information they’ve previously entered?
  3. Prioritize next steps. Your business is constantly evolving, and so is the hiring environment. But few organizations can do everything. Strategic prioritization is essential to figure out what new functionality will provide the most value.

The world of recruitment and talent management is changing quickly. This sets the stage for not only selecting the company and solution that best fits your immediate needs, but one that will provide a strong support experience to help you gain the best outcomes as your business and the recruitment landscape evolve.

This is the first post in a three-part blog series written by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM. The series examines talent management solutions and trends.

Looking at the Big Picture for SMB Sales and Marketing: revenue + associates

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group. Today I’m talking to Louis Gudema, president of revenue + associates, which helps companies generate more revenue through measureable sales and marketing improvements. So Louis, I’ve known you for a while and I’ve know that revenue + associates is a new company for you, what’s prompted you to start it? Louis-casual-200-pix-wide

Louis: I had a company before for a dozen years, a digital agency that I sold in 2009 that became one of the national leaders in our niche. Then I did business development for two other agencies for several years. What I saw was a need that wasn’t being addressed head on, which is corporate revenue generation. A lot of agencies and people splinter it and say we’re going to help you with your website, we’re going to help with search, or we’re going help with advertising or with sales training, or whatever it may be, social media, but they’re not looking at the whole picture. Those point solutions may not be what a company really needs, and there may be other places where the best revenue opportunities lie for them.

Laurie: Yes, I think that’s a problem all of us can relate to. We know there’s many solutions out there but we have to frame up the problem and make sure we’re getting the right solution in place for it. How do you go about solving for that because it’s pretty complex?

Louis: I look across what I call a sales and marketing audit. There’s currently over a thousand companies, for example, providing sales and marketing software and dozens of channels from things like social and search advertising to traditional things like print. So in a sales and marketing audit, I look across a company’s whole sales and marketing process, it’s a 100 plus point audit that looks at what technologies are they using, what is the strategy, internal operations, governance, budgets, how are they onboarding people and training people, do they have the staff, are there skills gaps? From that I identify the best short, mid, and long-term opportunities for the company and start working with them to drill down.

Laurie: Who are your services mainly designed for? Small, medium or larger companies, what’s the right size company for this approach?

Louis: It’s a company that really wants to grow revenue. I’ve seen surveys that three out of four small business owners don’t want to get any bigger. So I want to talk to the fourth one. I’m especially focused on mid-market companies with say 10 to 100 or 200 million in revenue. I’ve worked with companies like IBM and Philips Healthcare and Avid Technology and other very, very large companies and done millions of dollars of business with them but in terms of starting this new company and the particular approach, I’m especially focused on that mid-market.

Laurie: I know you recently published a report called Revenue Opportunities, what is that about and what did you find in there? revenue-opportunities-report-cover-190

Louis: What I did was I took a look at 196 mid-market companies in New England that were operating on a national level. Looking from the outside what could I see about how much they were adapting modern sales and marketing programs. This looks at things like did they have analytics on their website, were they doing search advertising, were they doing search engine optimization, did they have a mobile ready site? Nine different things that could be seen from the outside, and it wasn’t only because those nine things can be very valuable and generate a lot of revenue when used well.

I felt they were also an indicator of the maturity and depth of a company’s revenue generation program. What I found was that of these 200 companies that operate nationally, so they all should be really eager to do as much as they can to generate revenue because they’re in competitive national or global markets. In fact, the average among those companies was that they were using less than three of those nine important programs and the median was two. It was a very, very low adoption rate.

Laurie: Why do you think the adoption rate for these things that are so directly tied to revenue so low?

Louis: I think it’s a couple things. The real outlier at the top end were SaaS and venture-backed companies. These are new companies, they’re very data driven and they’re very comfortable with technology, and they’re part of a world, especially that venture-backed world that knows this whole modern and very effective way to really ramp up revenue quickly.

I also get into other industries, like manufacturing or medical devices or engineering or architecture. I looked across a lot of industries. Then adoption rates plummet a lot so I think you have a situation where a company that’s doing okay, and has traditional ways of generating business. They know how those work for them and there’s this massive number of new things flying at them and they don’t know what’s real, what’s not real, what’s important. They don’t know where to start. They may have even tried one or two things but sometimes if you dip your toe in the water you can’t learn to swim, sometimes you have to really go in and embrace something to get the results. For a number of reasons the adoption of these technologies has been very slow, nationally even, from studies I’ve seen.

Laurie: These results you’re getting from these companies that are all in New England, do you think they represent the larger mid-market in the U.S.?

Louis: Actually, if anything, New England may be a little ahead of the national average because half of New England market is Massachusetts and Boston is a big part of that. There’s a lot of newer SaaS and venture-backed companies in Boston and Massachusetts. SiriusDecisions did a report that came out the same week as my report. They only looked at one of the nine factors, which was marketing automation and said just 16% of B2B companies nationally are using it. In my sample it was 28%. So it’s really low.

It’s not that I’m saying that these nine programs are the end all be all. As I said I’m really taking them at kind of a litmus test or thermometer to see how deep, how well built out are the revenue generation programs. There’s lots of other things like events and email newsletters and predictive analytics and lots of other things that companies can be using traditional and digital that may be the most effective for them, but these are the ones I could see.

Laurie: In the report it discusses the upside for the companies who do get more sophisticated in terms of how they generate revenue and what programs they put into place. If you aren’t doing some of this stuff right now where should you go to get started?

Louis: Well, there are several things. First, you need to adopt the mindset and recognize that this is an important area for revenue growth and something you need to invest in. You need to adopt a data-driven mindset and realize that your gut may not always be right and sometimes the data will take you someplace new. You also need to be willing to experiment and even fail because these things will not work 100% of the time and they take implementation and analyzing and optimization to get it right.

You have to invest in people and make sure they have the skills and that you’re adopting the right tools and that you know how to use them, and you have to find someone who can probably guide you through it. That thousand plus programs, those are in dozens of categories. Some of those categories are important to some companies and not others.

Once you’ve adopted a commitment to it and to budgeting and training and so on and so forth you’re going to have to take some time to figure out what are the right things for you and how to get them to all work together. That’s where the big payoff is, it’s not adopting one or two programs, but if you adopt a marketing automation program integrate it with your CRM and integrate it with your email marketing and other things so that everything starts working together.

Laurie: Louis, where can they go to learn more about the services that revenue + associates provides? Louis: Our website is revenue + associates,. I also have a blog.

Laurie: Can they get a copy of the report there?

Louis: Yes, you can get a copy of the report there, you can download it there. There’s actually a blog post which is specifically about an SMB action plan, some of the things for a company that is new to these more modern programs, where are some of the places that you can start.  

Laurie: Sounds great. Thanks again, Louis, for your time today, for joining me on SMB Spotlight. This really looks like something a lot of SMBs will want to look into because I think even if you don’t want to grow your business in terms of people, most businesses want to become more profitable and I think that all comes into play as well. So thank you again.

Louis:Thanks, Laurie.

SAP’s Big Bet on SMBs—With a Fast Growth, Millenial Twist

sapEarlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with Kevin Gilroy, SAP’s Senior VP and GM for Global Small and Midsize Enterprise Segment & Indirect Channels to hear about SAP’s plans to go big in the small and medium business market, which SAP refers to as small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In a nutshell, the vendor is dramatically ramping up market, channel and solution initiatives to boost its profile and market share in SME.

These initiatives come with an interesting twist. Much of what SAP intends to do in the SME space will focus on recruiting partners—from both developer and VAR ranks—who can provide start-up millennial businesses with next generation solutions to help them grow at lightening speed.

The company claims that it is coming at this from a position of strength, with 80% of its 253,000 customers coming from the  SME ranks. But, SAP’s defines SMEs, as companies with revenues under $1 billion, which skews larger than how most vendors and analysts define it. So what shape will SAP’s new SME initiatives take?

Sharpening the SME Lens

telescopeTo put things in context, SAP’s courtship of SME isn’t new. As I discussed in Top SMB Takeaways: SAP Sapphire 2013, SAP has been sharpening its SME lens for a while. Last year, the vendor announced several new programs to bring the benefits of HANA’s data-crunching power to SMEs,  provide customers with the choice of running its solutions in public, private or hybrid cloud environments, and to make its solutions easier to buy and use.

As I noted in that post, SAP was focusing these initiatives not at the SME masses, but on high-growth SMEs, which SMB Group call Progressive SMBs. Progressive SMBs are growth driven, and more likely to invest in and use technology to gain market and competitive advantage than other SMBs. Our data shows that Progressive SMBs are also much more likely to anticipate revenue gains than peers whose tech investments are flat or declining.

Now, SAP is further sharpening the lens to zero in on millennials that are starting, running and making decisions in SME companies. According to Gilroy, millenials have a different view on technology than older counterparts. They are more comfortable with technology, and more likely to view it as a growth engine, instead of as a cost-cutter.

With a broad portfolio of cloud, mobile, analytics, ecommerce, talent management and ERP solutions, SAP offers many entry points for  these SMEs. The vendor has made some key acquisitions, including Ariba for ecommerce, and Success Factors for talent management, that broaden its footprint in the born on the cloud solution space. SAP has also introduced cloud-based options for many of its traditional on-premises solutions, such as SAP Business One. SMEs often prefer cloud solutions because they can usually be deployed faster, with less technical expertise and without big upfront capital expenditures, paving they way for SAP and its partners to expand their addressable market.

Furthermore, SAP is infusing HANA into its SME offerings, announcing general availability of the 9.0 version of the SAP® Business One application, version for SAP HANA. This is the first business management solution for SMEs running on SAP’s in-memory HANA computing platform. It enables SMEs to analyze structured and unstructured information within seconds instead of days, and use predictive analytics to gain new insights into data and optimize business decision-making.

Powering Up Partner Programs

1-hands-holding-jigsawSAP is powering up partner recruitment to fuel SME expansion. The vendor recruited 500 partners in 2013, growing the partner base to more than 11,500 worldwide, with about 1,000 in the U.S. Gilroy indicated that SAP is planning for double-digit channel growth, but will take a selective recruiting tack. In addition to looking for partners with a next-generation development vision, such as Liquid Analytics, SAP wants partners that are ready to scale their businesses to keep pace with SAP’s double-digit growth in SME.

The vendor has introduced and refreshed several programs to help partners go to market more effectively, including:

  • SAP Marketing University, a free, foundational marketing program to empower partners with the marketing skills they need to grow their businesses. SAP indicates the program has already led to over $1 billion in lead generation activities. Once partners have gone through the program, SAP provides them with the same marketing assets that are available to its internal marketing and sales teams.
  • Partner involvement in SAP’s Run Like Never Before ad campaign, launched in October of 2013. To data, more than 200 partners have taken executed campaigns as part of this program, which is 100% MDF reimbursable.
  • New “buy now, pay later” SME financing options that give SMEs zero-percent financing for up to 24 months for the purchase of any SAP product on the reseller price list.

Perspective

We’ve all seen how quickly innovative, fast-growth SMEs can become marquee brands, from tech sector stars such as LinkedIn to consumer brands such as Green Mountain coffee . SAP sees this too—and that technology is putting the creation-destruction cycle for businesses in hyper-drive.

So SAP’s big bet on becoming the leading IT solutions provider for these high-growth SMEs makes sense. As important, SAP is making an authentic effort to consumerize the SAP experience by reducing friction in choosing, buying and using SAP solutions.

But in this noisy SME space, crowded with competitors coveting the same high-growth SMEs, SAP still needs to do more to dispel the long-standing myth that SAP is only a big business brand. Although SAP solutions may be a good fit for high-growth SMEs, the vendor isn’t a household name with them or the millenials that its is seeking out.

SAP will also need to be cautious not to overplay the millennial hand. While millenials are likely to be more digitally savvy than older generations, the U.S. Small Business Administration says that self-employment among younger age groups has actually been dropping. From 2005 to 2010, self-employment among indi­viduals age 25 and under decreased 19 percent, compared to a 7 percent drop in the overall population. In reality, self-employment rates increase with age. For example, they were 2 percent for those 25 and under and 23 percent for those 65 and over in 2010. Simply stated, while millenials may prove to apply technology in business in more innovative ways, they are a relatively small part of the entrepreneurial population.

However, SAP is moving in the right direction. As it increases its investment to understand and engage with SMEs, SAP can continue to fine-tune its SMB story, and widen the circle of high-growth SMEs that will hear it and relate to it.

Discussing SMB Tech Trends: Part 4, The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight

Recently, I was a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Businesswith host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed  SMB Group’s 2014 Top Ten SMB Technology Trends and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The last of a four-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight.”

acaKalynn: You know, there are ten different SMB technology trends.  We’re not going to have time to go through all ten things, but there is one more that I do want to talk about.

 Even though we talk about small business and marketing and how to grow business on this show, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss your prediction regarding the Affordable Care Act or ACA. I know it’s at the forefront of my mind, it’s in the media constantly, and it’s a real issue for people right now. 

Laurie: Absolutely. Our prediction is really that the Affordable Care Act puts workforce management front and center for SMBs. 

Many SMBs have already automated and integrated things like sales and marketing and customer facing kinds of solutions, because they see this as key to business growth.

But many have put workforce management solutions on the back-burner.  They think of that as a cost area so they often limp along with a bunch of disconnected things and manual tracking to take care of things like payroll and time and attendance, scheduling and benefits. 

Kalynn, as you said, the Affordable Care Act has made everybody kind of sit up and pay attention.  We’ve gotten a little bit of a reprise because they’ve delayed the mandate for the companies with more than 50 full-time employees until next January to provide health insurance. It was supposed to kick in this January. 

But, now everybody is realizing because a lot of, unfortunately, very negative publicity and all these issues that this is very complicated and it’s a situation that’s in flux. 

SMBs are worried, and rightly so, about uncertainty, costs and regulatory risks. They are starting to realize that need to be able to more easily do things like calculating employee eligibility for benefits, choosing the right plans, managing compliance and keeping costs under control. 

So, for purely practical reasons, SMBs that haven’t paid much attention to automating in the workforce management are going to start to do so to gear up for 2015.

Kalynn: Yes, and it could take longer than they thought the whole thing did turn out to be more complicated than we were led to believe.  So, it’s probably a good idea to take this year and make sure you have in place whatever you need to have in place to make your life easier and so that you’re ready January 1st of 2015 to go live, you’ve got everything handled, you know what’s going on, and everything is taken care of from a legal stand point.  

telescopeLaurie:It’s really about having the visibility into what’s going on in the workforce. Now there are a lot of cloud-based workforce management services for SMBs. With many of them, you can usually just get the modules you need. So maybe you just need payroll and time and attendance, right, but you can add other modules like benefits as you need them and they all integrate automatically. 

Automating and integrating this gives you better visibility into things like hours worked, overtime, and all the things that you need to know about to make good choices, not only for ACA, but for other workforce management decisions.

Kalynn: Right, because any of those kinds of solutions you’re going to have reporting modules that will let you look at all of your data so that you can make the best choices, and so document it all.

Laurie:It’s like in your own personal life you want to kind of evaluate the risks and benefits of different healthcare options, right.  Well, think of how complicated that is to do that just for your own family. It’s not easy information to sift through.  Well, now think about if you have to make that choice for your workforce.

You want the ability to do what if scenario kind of thing. What if I use this plan?  What will it cost?  What are the downsides? What are the upsides?  In some cases –not that I’m advocating this– some businesses want to know if they should be cutting down workers to part-time. 

So, you want to be able to play with all that.  It’s very difficult to do that if you have any more than just a handful of employees without having some kind of workforce management solution to do it with.

Kalynn: It goes back to something that you had talked about at the very beginning of the interview. If you don’t have metrics that you can run reports with then you don’t really know what the health and well-being of your business is and what decisions you should be making.  That’s just the bottom line. 

Laurie:  Yes, and again you want to have flexibility. Think about it; right now the economy is in a lot better shape than it was a few years ago, so your decisions today might be a lot different from they would have been four years ago. 

And, you know what, in a couple of years hopefully the economy will continue to improve.  We may have a very tight labor market if that happens and companies may go back to providing richer benefits packages.  So, it’s all about being able to adjust and adapt to kind of get ahead. 

Kalynn: Right; you want to have all your options available so that you can look and scoot them around on the table and see what happens and make some good decisions.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here.

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends For 2014

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2014! A more detailed description of each follows below.

1.     Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer
2.     Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds
3.     Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars
4.     Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices
5.     SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light
6.     SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy
7.     SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value
8.     The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight
9.     It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green
10.  Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up

2014 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends in Detail

  1. Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer. Technology continues to fuel changes in what, where, and how SMB (small and medium businesses, with 1 to 999 employees) work gets done. Back in 2011, SMB Group identified the “Progressive” SMB segment. Progressive SMBs invest more in technology-based solutions, view technology as a business enabler, and are much more likely to expect revenue growth than other SMBs. This gap continues to widen as we enter 2014, and is further fueled by generational shifts–including the rise of millennials in the workforce and older exiles from the corporate world. Progressive SMBs are blending technology and business savvy to reshape business models, carve out new market niches and invent entirely new businesses. Their adoption of cloud, mobile, social and analytics will soar as they strive for both growth and agility. They will also increasingly turn to technology-fueled services—from Elance and oDesk for staffing, to shared office space and IT infrastructure services—in pursuit of these goals. As they forge ahead, they will not only continue to outpace peers, but reshape what it means to be an SMB.
  2. Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds. SMBs have bought into the cloud promise: a faster, easier, cheaper and less risky route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. SMB Group research shows SMB use of cloud business and infrastructure applications poised to grow to from 33% to 44% over the coming year. However, some cloud vendors—threatened by Wall Street and high churn rates—have backtracked on their original faster, easier, cheaper cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on added fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing models that are almost as confusing as those of the traditional software behemoths they once berated. As SMBs push further into the cloud, they will favor vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise, and steer clear of dark clouds.
  3. Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars. SMBs have been adopting mobile solutions at a fast and furious pace. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs now view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. 83% have already deployed mobile apps to help improve employee productivity; 55% are using mobile apps for specific business functions, such as CRM or order entry. 49% of SMBs are building mobile-friendly websites, and/or deploying mobile apps to engage and transact with customers. However, mobile management has failed to keep pace with this explosion, and with SMBs’ increasing business reliance on mobile solutions. Concerns about security, manageability, provisioning and cost will make mobile management a top priority for more SMBs. They will be looking for easy-to-deploy, cost-effective mobile device and application management platforms and solutions to reduce management headaches and get more value from their mobile investments.
  4.  Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices.  Many SMBs now “get” that they need a social media presence. SMB Group research reveals that more than half of small businesses and more than two-thirds of medium businesses use social media for marketing purposes. Some have invested tremendous amounts of energy to create content to feed the voracious social media beast. But the ever-increasing pressure to create fresh content, keep up with changes in users’ social network preferences, and uncertainty about the return on social investments is taking its toll. In 2014, SMBs will focus more on what networks and content really click for their target audiences, and put more time into figuring out how to convert social connections into customers. Some will integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications, and use analytics to develop more actionable social metrics. Marketing innovators will explore new opportunities, such as online mobile advertising powered by geolocation. Others will redirect some of their efforts back to marketing basics–including surveys, competitive analysis, email marketing and attending more conferences and events.
  5. SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light. SMB Group research shows that although checks and credit cards are still the top forms of payment SMBs accept, there’s no question that new payment methods are growing in use and importance. 27% of small businesses and 43% of medium businesses already equip employees with mobile payment processing solutions, and about one-quarter of SMBs intend to add this capability over the coming year. Meanwhile, mobile wallets and gift cards, PayPal and even Dwolla—a payment network that allows any business or person to send, request and accept money for very low fees—will continue to provide additional payment options for consumers. More SMBs will recognize that having the capability to accept and process a broader range of payment methods can help them attract more customers, gain new business, and even enter new markets. SMBs will also seek ways to cut time and errors out of payment processing with payment solutions that integrate with accounting and ERP, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage.
  6. SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy.  It’s been hard for many SMBs to relate to the “big data” story that most vendors have been pitching. SMB Group research reveals that only about 18% of small, and about 57% of medium businesses utilize business intelligence and analytics solutions. However, SMBs understand the value of getting the information they need, when they need it—especially as they try to compete with new, nimble born-on-the-Web startups that view data as the new business capital. In 2014, SMB-focused vendors will retool the big data story for the little guy, focusing less on zettabytes, speeds and feeds, and more on how their solutions enable and empower better insights and decision-making. Business solutions vendors will embed better and more accessible analytics and reporting tools within their solutions. Cloud-based, visualization and scenario-driven business intelligence and analytics solutions will also help SMBs take a more data-driven approach to running their businesses.
  7. SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value. While the cloud has made it easy for businesses to add a lot of new applications, integration has often been an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs are struggling to make sense of disconnected information silos, and IT is under pressure to integrate cloud-to-on-premises solutions, as well as cloud-to-cloud solutions. In 2013, integration moved up from the #4 to the #1 technology challenge for medium businesses. In 2014, we expect that integration will be a higher priority even among small businesses. After all, it doesn’t take too many disconnected applications to feel the pain of productivity drains, errors, and a lack of solid data to support decision-making. Fortunately, technology vendors of all stripes are emphasizing the importance of a unified, reliable data store as the foundation for solid analytics and reporting. Business solution vendors are increasingly offering SMBs pre-integrated suites, opening up their application programming interfaces (APIs), and creating marketplaces to make it easy to find integrated partner apps. This makes it easier for SMBs to start small, with just one or two applications, and then snap in added functionality as needed. Finally, vendors that specialize in integration solutions, such as Informatica, Scribe and Dell Boomi (just to name a few), are making their solutions more accessible to SMBs. Integration still isn’t sexy, but the improved productivity, time savings, error reduction and decision-making benefits that it enables are.
  8. The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight. Revenue growth, attracting new customers and increasing profitability are perennial goals for SMBs.  To help achieve these goals, they have been steadily moving ahead to automate and integrate sales, marketing and other customer-facing solutions. Although improving employee productivity has also been a top goal, SMB adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions has lagged behind other areas. Many SMBs continue to limp along with a patchwork of disconnected solutions and manual tracking to manage components such as time and attendance, payroll, scheduling, HR and benefits.  But with the Affordable Care Act set to take effect on January 1, 2015 for organizations with more than 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, that situation is about to change. Worried about uncertainty, costs and regulatory risks, SMBs will look for better solutions to calculate employee eligibility and benefits, and to develop proactive strategies to manage ACA compliance and costs. This will drive a significant uptick of interest in, and adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions.
  9. It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green. The push for greener IT solutions isn’t new, but in 2014, we’re moving into a perfect green storm. Due to a rash of hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme weather, the sustainability of Mother Earth is taking center stage. According to a recent Harris Poll, over 74% of American adults believe in the global warming theory, and over 73% of U.S. citizens approve of the Kyoto agreement requiring countries to limit carbon monoxide and greenhouse gas emissions. IT vendors are prepared to capitalize on this opportunity with new, energy-saving products. From Dell’s Dell PowerEdge VRTX applications and storage server, which runs on standard 100V-240V AC power and doesn’t require any specialized cooling, to IBM’s patent for a “green” button that helps cloud providers “greenify” their businesses and lets customers choose whether or not to tap clean energy to run offsite servers, it’s easier than ever for SMBs to be green and save green.
  10. Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up. SMB Group research shows that in-house IT still plays a key role in all phases of the technology solution decision-making process. But now, enabled by the cloud and the swipe of a credit card, business decision-makers are much more involved: in small businesses, 69% of owners/presidents help evaluate potential solutions, and 81% help make the final decision. In medium businesses, departmental and line-of-business executives are the most likely personnel to identify the need for new solutions. This is changing the influencer landscape. Business decision-makers aren’t as likely to turn to traditional technology guidance sources as IT decision-makers. And many of us—especially millennials—are growing skeptical of traditional media sources that increasingly push paid “native content” in the guise of news. So who will the new influencers be? Accountants and other professional advisors (for line-of-business or industry) that the SMBs have an established relationship with will become more powerful influencers. Digital word-of-mouth, references, trade associations and non-technical groups and organizations will play an increasingly important role in shaping technology purchase decisions among both business and IT professionals. Finally, technology vendors that provide unbiased education—and can clearly demonstrate how business benefits from their solutions—will have a decided advantage over those that don’t.

About SMB GROUP

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is comprised of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group areas of focus include: Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services and Green IT.

Big Data for the Little Guy

Originally published on November, 2013 on QBSBDC.com as the third of four blog posts in a series designed to help small businesses, and those that serve them, be successful.

Big data is a big buzzword–and for a good reason. We’ve already created 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – 90% in the last two years. 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. 160 million emails are sent every 60 seconds and 58 million tweets are sent each day.

Stock Market Background

Of course, most small businesses don’t need to understand and manage these boggling amounts of data. But small businesses do need to effectively find, measure and take action on the data that is important for running their businesses.

In other words, the “big” in Big Data is relative. If you’re having problems finding the data you need, when you need it, you have a big data problem! Lack of vision into what’s going on in the business can lead to missed opportunities and the inability to spot problems.

In the 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study, the SMB Group found small business use of analytics is low, but early adopters gain big advantages. Key benefits cited in the study were better answers to critical business questions, deeper understanding of customers and market trends, and the ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities while avoiding risk, just to name a few.

“I am always looking to improve my business based on what is going on in the industry, and the Trends feature in QuickBooks Online helps me do that,” said Michael Brewington, president of Arion Systems, Inc. “I can get a better understanding of my accounts receivables and payables versus other companies. That makes my business more competitive.”

analytics stat from smb group

Top Tips for Getting Smart About Your Data

What options exist for small business owners who want big business analytics capabilities? The SMB Group recommends small business owners ask themselves three questions before getting started:

  1. What information do you need to understand and measure?
  2. Where is the data and how much do you need to analyze?
  3. Who needs to use the data?

In addition to understanding what needs to be measured, small businesses should assess capabilities required to make data actionable for users. For example, do you require a solution with an easy to use interface or customized reporting? Starting with a focus on making data actionable will help ensure you maximize effectiveness once the solution is in place.

Something Old, Something New

There’s a chance your current solutions already include some form of analytics. Look into how well these tools support your needs, and integrate new analytics solutions to add more horsepower.

For example, the Trends tool included with Intuit’s QuickBooks Online product displays average sales growth, cash flow, income and expenses of small businesses within a specific industry or location to allow small business owners to compare themselves to similar businesses and make informed decisions. Trends figures are compiled from anonymized data submitted by 1.3 million QuickBooks users.

“I’ve been using the Trends feature in QuickBooks Online to see how my Oracle PeopleSoft consulting firm’s expenses compare to others in the industry,” Mr. Brewington said. “I can easily recognize if I need to continue to increase my profit margins and reduce costs to stay competitive. Trends makes it easy to stay aware of what is going on in the industry.”

Once you identify your analytics needs and any gaps in coverage, you can determine if you can implement a do-it-yourself analytics program or whether you need external resources to get the reporting you need.

Blog written by Laurie McCabe, who brings more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry to her role as co-founder and partner at SMB Group. Laurie has built widespread recognition for her capabilities and insights in the small and medium business (SMB) market in several areas, including cloud computing, mobile solutions, business solutions, social networking and collaboration, and managed services.

SMBs and Analytics: What Don’t You Know?

stock-photo-information-overload-concept-of-becoming-overtaxed-by-the-growing-flood-of-information-which-can-101476243SMB Group is planning to launch the 2013 SMB Analytics and Big Data Study this fall. We decided to develop this survey study because even though “big data” is the latest “big thing” in the IT industry, we see a scarcity of quantitative information about where small and medium businesses (SMBs) are on the analytics and big data learning curve.

At the same time, big data and analytics vendors are making enormous investments to develop and market analytics and big data solutions for SMBs. While there’s no question that analytics and big data solutions can benefit SMBs, vendors need a sharper picture of how SMBs view, think about and consume (or not!) analytics solutions in their organizations in order to successfully reach and serve these businesses.

What We Know

We learned in our 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study that SMBs are all over the map when it comes to using  analytics in their businesses. While about 41% of SMBs use analytics solutions, the kinds of solutions they use range from modules that are part of a business solution (such as CRM or ERP) to advanced analytics solutions such as SAS, IBM Cognos or Tableau. The other 59% are getting by with Excel and other homegrown analytics tools.

Slide1We also know that the cloud is on its way to becoming SMBs’ preferred deployment method for analytics and business intelligence solutions. Our survey results indicate that among SMBs that deployed analytics and BI solutions over the past two years, 31% SMBs chose to deploy a cloud-based solution. Looking ahead, 53% of SMBs planning to deploy an analytics solutions believe they will select a cloud offering.

Over the last few months, SMB Group has also been involved in different qualitative projects to understand how SMBs are using advanced analytics in their businesses. We’ve interviewed many early adopter SMBs about why they decided to step up from homegrown Excel spreadsheets to more advanced analytics solutions, and I’ve shared a their experiences in the posts noted at the end of this post.

What We Don’t Know Enough About–Yet!

The SMB Group’s 2013 SMB Analytics and Big Data Study will drill down to more comprehensively understand and gain quantitative metrics about SMB decision makers’ attitudes and practices regarding analytics and big data. It will answer questions that we have yet to see strong, quantifiable answers to, including:

  •  SMBs’ views and understanding of big data, analytics, and related terms.
  • Drivers and inhibitors for analytics solutions.
  • Whether, how and how quickly SMBs’ are transforming their businesses for a data-driven world.
  • Current use of analytics for business decision-making in different departments and across the business.
  • Who creates and who consumes analytics?
  • What are they using it for and how do they consume it?
  • What are SMBs’ appetite, readiness and budget to adopt more advanced solutions than what they are using today?
  • What internal expertise do they have available to help with solution selection, implementation, integration, business process, etc.?
  • What do they need external resources for?

What Do You Need Answers To?

all of the infoWe also know that we haven’t thought of all the questions that need answers. So we’d love for you to be one of our survey sponsors, of course, and work with us one-on-one to help further define the questions and scope of this study.

Even if you’re not able to sponsor the study, we’re still very interested in finding out what questions you think we should try to answer in this study. Please take a moment and share your ideas in the comments section. Thank you!

Recent related SMB Analytics and Big Data posts:

Seeing the Light: How SMBs Are Using Data and Insights to Get Ahead

Key Considerations: How SMBs Are Using Data and Insights to Get Ahead

Getting Results: How SMBs are Using Data and Insights to Get Ahead

Is Big Data Relevant for SMBs?

Putting Big Data To Work For SMBs

Charting Your Big Data Journey

How Zoos and Museums Use Big Data to Refresh and Reset Visitor Experience

 

 

How Zoos and Museums Use Big Data to Refresh and Reset Visitor Experience

3-kids_mFor most of us, a trip to the zoo, museum or an aquarium is a fun and interesting way to learn about animals, history, art and other cultural experiences first hand. Behind the scenes, however, these organizations must work hard to create the engaging, interactive experiences that today’s visitors want, and successfully market that experience to the public.

This is especially true today, when these typically not-for-profit venues must compete with an expanding array of theme and amusement parks, live and digital entertainment events and sports attractions. To remain viable and vibrant, zoos and museums must continually fine-tune their vision and exhibits to grow visitor traffic and membership. They need to be creative with concessions, and optimize use of their meeting rooms and cafes.

In this post, I discuss how Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and History Colorado Museum are using analytics and big data to better understand what visitors want and to deliver it.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Refreshes Visitor Engagement and Conservation Initiatives

polar-bear-003_sAt the 100-year old Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) in the Pacific Northwest, Manager Donna Powell oversees all business, budget and visitor services. The 29-acre combined zoo and aquarium promotes and practices wildlife and ecosystem conservation initiatives, and attracts more than 600,000 visitors a year.

PDZA generates millions of data records daily on attendance, exhibit and event preferences and participation in conservation initiatives—but didn’t have a good way to pull information out of it. As Powell explained, “Staff generated a SQL sales report from our point-of-sale (POS) system each morning but it only gave us turnstile sales and didn’t include online and reseller sales. So staff had to pull this all together manually, which took days.”

“It also couldn’t tell us what customers do while they visit, or what they’re saying about us on social media” adds Powell. “We need to know things like, which exhibits visitors prefer, and what conservation initiatives they’re participating in, what they liked and what they didn’t like.”

Powell knew that PDZA needed to better understand visitor trends and feedback, but had concerns that an analytics solution might be too difficult and/or expensive for an 80-person organization with 2 IT staff to deploy and use. Then she attended a presentation from the Cincinnati Zoo, and learned about the analytics system that they had deployed. “They were using the same POS as we use. They introduced us to BrightStar Partners an analytics solution provider that did their implementation that really understands zoos. The light bulb went on—if they could do it, so could we.”

PDZA went live withIBM Big Data Analytics in 2012. “Everyone immediately made the connection of how they could use this to help. We can strip things out, and see how things relate. Now we can pinpoint how different weather patterns will affect attendance and exhibits, and change scheduling as required. We can also use it for marketing. For example, after analyzing sales data and open rates, we sent a promotion to members whose membership was about expire and offered them a discount if they renewed before the end of the day. We had a 6% buy in on that campaign compared to the typical mail renewal rate of 3%.”

Other benefits Powell points to include:

  • A 700% rise in online ticket sales over the past year, with an expectation that online sales will go up another 25% by the end of this year.
  • The membership team can pull the data they need in minutes instead of waiting days for IT to extract data from the POS system to create a mailing list for campaigns.
  • PDZA also uses social media and analytics to more effectively engage millennial visitors in its conservation initiatives.

Zoo employees now use iPads to access financial, attendance, membership and retail information so they can make decisions anywhere anytime. Looking ahead, PDZA plans to introduce a mobile ticketing solution. In the future, visitors will be able to “check in” at different areas within the zoo, providing zoo managers with more data to better understand which exhibits are most popular and how much time visitors spend at them.

History Colorado Center Resets To Attract a New Target Audience

HistColorado_FrankOomsHistory Colorado Center likes to think of itself as a brand new 134 year-old museum. Founded in 1879, the museum had shared the same block with Colorado’s State Justice Center for more than 40 years. “The location wasn’t ideal, and the museum wasn’t as interactive or engaging as we would have liked,” as COO Kathryn Hill explained. “Most of our visitors were senior citizens and children on obligatory school field trips.”

In 2008, History Colorado had the opportunity to build new, state-of-the art museum–and to bring Colorado’s history alive through storytelling and interpretative exhibits. According to Hill, “We wanted to understand how we could bring history alive, attract more families, and best sustain our mission over time.”

In conjunction with planning and construction of the new building, History Colorado conducted extensive audience research to test design ideas and stories. During this process, Hill “stumbled on the story of how the Cincinnati Zoo was using analytics to drill down into all aspects of visitor behavior so they could continually improve the visitor experience.”

“As a non-profit, we don’t have a lot of money for marketing, so we needed to find a strategic way to keep a close pulse on how we can best engage families. We hadn’t budgeted for analytics, but once we learned about IBM’s BIg Data Analytics, it was a no-brainer for us,” according to Hill.

In collaboration with IBM Business partner BrightStar, History Colorado deployed IBM Big Data analytics simultaneously with their new POS system. “I’m not a tech person, but I can go in and look at admissions, programs, merchandise, food, and membership data in real-time,” notes Hill. “We have a single view of the data, and can see patterns now, such as when retail sales peak and what exhibits attract the most traffic.” This helps the Center’s 125 employees fine-tune exhibit and marketing strategies.

The museum is also developing more personalized experiences for its visitors by analyzing social media commentary, and expects that this will boost engagement and repeat visits.

“We have a unique mission to help visitors understand the present in the context of the past so Coloradans are better informed in making decisions for the future,” explains Hill. “To make this happen, we need to bring people in and provide a compelling experience. Analytics helps us do this.”

Perspective

Chances are that your organization isn’t a zoo or museum. But these stories underscore the fact that big data analytics solutions are within reach for organizations of all shapes and sizes.

However, these experiences also reveal some important pointers for getting successful outcomes from an analytics investment that other SMBs should keep in mind. First and foremost, PDZA and History Colorado had clearly articulated what information they needed, and how they would use it. In addition, both organizations:

  • Selected a solutions designed for SMB requirements and for limited IT and budgets.
  • Worked with a partner that had experience in your industry, and could tailor the solution to best meet their specific needs.
  • Had input and guidance from organizations with similar requirements.

Whether you need to know more about visitors or customers, exhibits or products, with a clear vision, solid planning, big data analytics can provide the insights your organization needs to thrive in an increasingly complex and competitive world.

This is a fourth, additional post in the blog series by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM that examines big data and its implications for SMBs. You can find the first three posts at these links:

Getting Results: How SMBs are Using Data and Insights to Get Ahead

In the first two posts in this series, Seeing the Light: How SMBs are Using Data and Insights to Get Ahead, I shared the motivations that prompted three SMBs to replace spreadsheets and intuition with a more sophisticated, analytics-driven approach to run their businesses.

In the second, I discussed the factors that decision-makers in these three companies viewed as make or break considerations in the analytics selection process.

In this third and final post, I look at how these SMBs are putting the SAS analytics solutions that they selected to work for their businesses, and the results that they’re getting.

An Early Warning System to Prevent Issues from Becoming Problems

EWS Control Chart Mock-upBGF Industries had millions of lab testing records, but lacked an effective way to extract insights from them to improve quality control. BGF wanted a system that could sort through this data, generate control charts, and proactively flag potential quality issues. The company also wanted a knowledge repository to make key findings readily available in case an issue came up again.

Working with SAS partner Lucid Analytics, BGF implemented SAS Enterprise BI for Midsize Businesses, giving BGF the “early warning system” it needs to constantly monitor production processes. “Every night this system pours through millions of lab testing records, generates control charts for each and every thing we test for, and creates a report that flags any charts where something may be out of control,” explains Bobby Hull, Corporate Quality Assurance Manager at BGF.

According to Hull,”The flexibility of the SAS solution is like Legos. You can take a little piece of this and stick it to that and get what you need.” This enabled Lucid Analytics to create a commentary field in the control charts for BGF to capture information about how to resolve quality issues. “Now we also have this guru repository so information can easily be passed on to different people,” adds Hull.

When it comes to return on investment (ROI), Hull puts it this way: “People were asking me about ROI when we started the project. I told them that I couldn’t quote them a dollar figure because how can you predict when you will avert a costly disaster? I couldn’t predict that negative, but I could tell them that the investment would pay them back because it would help us spot trends, improve quality in our products and better serve our customers–all of which it has done.” In addition, notes Hull, “It makes our auditor smile because the solution reflects our attitude toward quality and that helps enormously with ISO compliance.”

Delivering What Customers Want

Style: "Color tone - warm"Oberweis Dairy needed to better understand customer buying behavior across its three distribution channels--home delivery, ice cream and dairy stores, and distribution partners. It wanted to get its flagship home delivery service growing again, increase revenue per transaction, improve customer retention, and increase market penetration across all of its channels.

“Very complicated spreadsheets, macros and pivot tables weren’t providing the answers we needed,” according to Bruce Bedford, VP of Marketing. “Now, we understand customers’ buying behaviors like never before, and we can develop highly effective marketing campaigns across channels.”

In dairy stores, Oberweis has improved transaction-level profitability by 1.2% due to the analytical approach it can take with its menu boards. As Bedford explains, “Now we can now figure out the best configurations. What foods to put on the menu, what goes best with what. We can test ideas like, what if we feature sundaes in a waffle bowl? We can present and test different options, see what customers want. This also cuts down on the time it takes for customers to make their selections, and the time it takes for us to serve them.

In addition, customer retention for Oberweis’ home delivery service has soared by 36%–yielding over $640,000 of incremental revenue in just 6 months. “Our home delivery products are same price as in the store, but there’s a delivery fee,” Bedford notes. “We had been promoting free delivery by waiving our $2.99 weekly delivery fee for six months when customers signed up. But at the 6 month mark, we had a sharp drop in renewals. We figured it had to be tied to how we were structuring the promotion. We needed to decrease attrition, without lowering offer acceptance.”

Oberweis used SAS Business Analytics for Midsize Business to test and analyze different promotions, and learned that “when we offer new customers 99 cent delivery for one year, retention spikes up. Both promotions deliver $100 value to the customer, but the details significantly increased the retention rate, without reducing acceptance.’

The results have been so dramatic that Oberweis documented them in a paper that Bedford presented at the 2012 Midwest SAS User Group 2012 conference.

Improving Guest and Homeowner Experiences

Twiddy & Company Home ER004Twiddy & Co. balances the need to maximize revenue for its individual homeowners with the concurrent need to provide truly exceptional vacation experiences to its guests. But, a myriad of complex spreadsheets were no longer up to the job. For instance, Twiddy needed to create daily reports quickly and provide them to staff to scan so that they could efficiently address any cleaning or safety issues prior to or immediately after guests’ arrival. The company also wanted to provide vacation homeowners with the best possible value for needed property repairs and services. In addition, Twiddy wanted to optimize property bookings and pricing based on data instead of gut instinct.

Clark Twiddy, Director of Operations, recalls that when the company started to look for a solution, “It was a black hole. We didn’t know if we would need to spend $250 or $100,000 but we knew we needed better analysis and decision support. Candidly, we wouldn’t have spent $100,000, but we had to find a way innovate and improve. Our market here in North Carolina is very competitive with 14 smart companies in the same area. We joke that complacency is a great way for us to lose market share.”

According to Twiddy, SAS Business Analytics for Midsize Business and Pinnacle, a SAS partner, helped them do just that. “It used to take 3 or 4 people hours a day to get information together into reports that became obsolete the following morning. Now we can get a report in seconds and see, for example, the median day-to-day cost for a certain type of repair, and compare costs for the 1100 different service providers we contract with–saving homeowners real money. We even have vendors asking us how they’re doing on the SAS list and where they rank, so they can improve and get more business from us.”

Twiddy estimates the solution has also cut error rates by about 20% per year. “More timely, accurate reports make it less likely that we’ll send the wrong vendor to a home, or send a vendor to the wrong home, or that we’ll flat-out miss something that needs to be fixed. Our housekeeping scores have increased, and repeat guests have gone from 47% to almost 60%,” notes Twiddy.

Twiddy has also built a dynamic pricing model that he says “is an enormous help with building credibility and delivering results to homeowners. We’ve been able to deliver better bottom line results to homeowners, better vacation experiences to guests, smarter technology to staff, and sustain a high-end brand image in the mind of our customers.”

Perspective

If you’ve read all three of the posts in this series, you know that none of these companies just waved a magic wand and magically achieved successful outcomes from their analytics investments.

But, the good news is that none of these companies needed a magician–or an IT army–to help make this happen. Instead, they got there by:

  • Facing the fact that their businesses would need to employ a more sophisticated approach to gather, create and use information to make the decisions in order to move ahead.
  • Taking enough time upfront to assess what information they needed to make better decisions, what needs to happen to make this information actionable for the people who need to use it, and how you’ll measure outcomes.
  • Thoroughly evaluating internal capabilities, what they would need from an analytics solution and a solution provider, and getting the information they needed to select best-fit options for their companies.

So, mere mortal SMBs–take heart–and follow the guidance of these and other SMBs that are paving the way.

This is the final post in a three-part blog series by SMB Group sponsored by SAS that examines why and how SMBs are moving from spreadsheets and intuition to a data-driven approach to grow their businesses.

Key Considerations: How SMBs Are Using Data and Insights to Get Ahead

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In the first post in this series, Seeing the Light: How SMBs are Using Data and Insights to Get Ahead, I shared the motivations that prompted three SMBs (BGF Industries, Oberweis Dairy and Twiddy & Company) to replace spreadsheets and intuition with a more sophisticated, analytics-driven approach.

But what factors do you need to assess in order to select an analytics solution that will work best for your business? In this post, I examine the factors that these decision-makers view as make or break considerations to guide the analytics selection process and ultimately, drive successful outcomes.

What Information Do You Need to Understand and Measure?

As Albert Einstein, said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” After you’ve determined the business requirements you need to solve for, the next step is to identify the specific questions you need to answer to solve for these requirements. For instance:

  • Oberweis Dairy initially wanted to determine why customers were discontinuing home delivery service so it could get that business growing again. But the scope quickly broadened. According to Bruce Bedford, VP of Marketing, “We have three channels of business–home delivery, ice cream and dairy stores, and distribution partners. We realized we had to understand customer buying behaviors across these channels to answer questions such as, how do we increase revenue per transaction, improve customer retention, and increase market penetration.”
  • Twiddy & Co. needed to maximize occupancy and revenues for vacation homeowners while still providing an optimal vacation experience for its guests. As Clark Twiddy, Director of Operations explained, “We asked what do we want this solution to show us, and what would we do with it once we had it?” For instance, Twiddy wanted to be able to scan for safety related items so it could immediately dispatch resources to correct them. “We also wanted to track costs and performance in different vendor categories. “I wanted to know what the median cost is, for example, for carpet cleaning, what each vendor charges, and who does the best job–sort of like a private Angie’s list.”
  • BGF Industries had millions of lab testing records that it could use to improve quality control, but lacked an effective way to extract insights from them. Notes Bobby Hull, Corporate QA Manager,” We needed a system to quickly comb through all these records, generate control charts, and flag anything that might be an issue–before it becomes an issue for our customers. We also wanted to build a knowledge repository to make key findings readily available if an issue comes up again.’’

Where Will the Data Come From?

Most SMBs start with wanting to analyze internal company data. But odds are that corporate data is in different “silos,” such as an internal financials application and a cloud-based HR or CRM solution. Data silos are usually inconsistent, expensive to support and a source of contention in companies. Bringing siloed data together into an integrated data store is the foundation to build a “single version of the truth” to run reports, build dashboards, and create visual or mobile user interfaces.

BGF was fortunate. It had already built a data warehouse for its lab testing data when it decided it needed a more powerful analytics solution. But Twiddy and Oberweis faced a dilemma more common to SMBs. For example, “Our Ice Cream and Dairy Stores operate in a completely different IT environment than our Home Delivery and Wholesale businesses,” explained Bedford. “For timely, accurate reporting and analysis of cross-channel purchase behavior, we needed to start by bringing all of our consumer and inventory data together into a single data warehouse.”

Look for solution providers who can help consolidate and standardize data from different sources and formats to build an integrated, rationalized data store. This foundation will enable you to derive deeper insights, better metrics and the confidence you want from your data.

How Much Data Do You Need to Analyze?

Big data isn’t only applicable to large businesses. In fact, the “big” in big data is relative–relative to the amount of information that your organization needs to sift through to find the insights you need, when you need them.

BGF was storing over 5 million lab testing data points in a data warehouse. “Many of the solutions we looked at couldn’t handle the data volume, they would choke after a couple of million data points. We needed a solution to power through this with the speed we needed,” according to Hull.

Consider both current data volumes and what’s coming down the pike. Oberweis’ Bedford notes, “We wanted to start with market analysis, but knew that down the road that we would want also improve inventory management and gain more predictive inventory control, which would bring more data into the picture.”

It’s a safe bet that the volume and variety of digitized data relevant to your business will continue to rise exponentially. You may need to bring in new, unstructured data from company emails, from external sources such as social media, or machine generated data from processes that you automate.

Select a solution that will be ready when you need it to crunch through more data, from more places, more quickly. Analytics solutions that take advantage of new technologies, such as Hadoop and MapReduce make it possible to run analyses that used to take days or weeks in minutes, and to weave new, external data sources into your analysis as required.

How Do You Make Data Actionable?

To have value, data needs to be accessible, consumable and actionable. People must be able to interact with it, and get the information they need, when and how they need it, to perform their jobs most efficiently.

Consumability was top of mind for Twiddy & Co. “We wanted something that would not only help our executive team to make decisions, but also shape information that we could disseminate to front line managers and the field,” notes Twiddy. Executives needed planning and forecasting capabilities to help maximize occupancy for almost 1000 properties, and manage service costs among 1100 providers. “But we also needed to bring together information from different sources into one simple document for our cleaning crews who clean and inspect the homes. Our data challenges were often to make our complicated data systems clear, understandable, and most importantly actionable.”

BGF’s Hull required “a daily report of issues, divided by market segment, that segment managers could pull up and start taking actions on immediately.” BGF also wanted to augment control charts with commentary field to capture knowledge about how to resolve issues. “One of my mentors recently retired with 52 years of service. When someone like that logs something, you want to keep it and pass that knowledge on in case the issue comes up again.”

Get clarity around who needs to use the data and how. Is it executives, front line managers, people in the field–or all of the above? Business users may need visualization capabilities to make it easier to explore large amounts of data. Executives might want mobile solutions so that they have information at their fingertips at the airport. Get broad input from stakeholders upfront to deliver information in the most actionable format.

What Internal Capabilities Do You Have and What Help Will You Need?

Like most SMBs, these companies had small IT staffs, ranging from 2 to 4 full-time people. They had varying degrees of analytics expertise. Oberweis’ Bruce Bedford is a PhD and an analytics background. BGF’s Hull had experience with desktop analytics, but had to juggle his day job as Corporate Quality Assurance Manager while implementing a server-based solution. And Clark Twiddy had to help move the company off spreadsheets while fulfilling his duties as Director of Operations.

If you lack IT staff and/or in-house analytics expertise, select an experienced solution provider who can fill in the gaps with consulting, implementation, training and support services. Since analytics is major investment for most companies, and your requirements will evolve over time, look for a provider that will really listen to what you are trying to do, work with you to overcome internal challenges and constraints, and provide a solution that will grow with your business. “Don’t be over-confident about simply buying a solution…in hindsight, we should have purchased a training plan and initial setup consultant upfront. It would have saved a lot of time.”

Perspective

With all the hype surrounding analytics today, it’s easy to get derailed from your objectives by buzzwords and the next new feature. But you can stay on track if you remember that the end goal of all metrics, reports, dashboards, alerts or any other features that an analytics solution provides is to answer your business-critical questions.

Evaluating key questions at the front of the solution assessment cycle proved critical to enabling these SMBs to choose the analytics solutions and providers that would be the best fit for their companies.

If you take time upfront to lay the groundwork with a thorough internal assessment, you will dramatically increase the odds of selecting an analytics solution and solutions provider that will help you get the insights you need to grow the business and stay ahead of the competition.

In the third and final post of this series, I’ll look at how careful planning paid off for these three SMBs, and how they are using analytics to help their companies grow.

This is the second of a three-part blog series by SMB Group sponsored by SAS that examines why and how SMBs are moving from spreadsheets and intuition to a data-driven approach to grow their businesses.

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