Slide Show Version! SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Tech Trends for 2015

(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015 in slide show format!

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015

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(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015! A more detailed description of each follows below.

(Note: SMB Group is the source for all research data quoted unless otherwise indicated.)

  1. Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs.
  2. SMB IT staff and channel partners evolve into cloud managers.
  3. SMBs recalibrate IT strategy and spending for a mobile world.
  4. The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus.
  5. SMBs reinvent marketing for the new buyer journey.
  6. KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric.
  7. Analytics gets SMB-friendly with “bring your own data” and freemium offerings.
  8. It’s time to reimagine work.
  9. SMBs place a premium on protection.
  10. SMBs opt for an incremental, integrated solutions approach.

Detailed SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015

  1. Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs. SMBs increasingly view technology as a key business enabler. According to SMB Group research, 67% of small businesses (1–99 employees) and 81% of medium businesses (100–999 employees) say that technology solutions help them improve business outcomes or run the business better. However, most SMBs don’t have the resources necessary to keep pace with technology on their own. Just 19% of small businesses employ full-time dedicated IT staff. And while 86% of medium businesses have internal IT staff, they are typically IT generalists who lack expertise in newer technology areas such as mobile and analytics. As SMB requirements for fast, easy access to new social and mobile analytics solutions, more compute power and storage, and other services have been increasing, cloud adoption has boomed—with 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution and 87% using at least one cloud infrastructure solution. In 2015, cloud solutions are poised for hockey stick growth as more SMB decision-makers turn to a cloud-first approach that not only supports existing business models, but also enables them to develop innovative new products, services and business models. Public cloud adoption will continue to significantly outpace that of private cloud, but more medium businesses in particular will consider a hybrid cloud approach, particularly in industries and applications where security and privacy are top concerns.
  2. SMB IT staff and channel partners evolve into cloud managers. As the cloud becomes mainstream, both internal SMB IT staff and external channel partner roles will evolve from implementation and break/fix support to become more proactive and strategic. SMBs will look for staff and channel partners that can work with line-of-business decision-makers to better align technology investments with business goals, select best-fit solutions and manage cloud service providers. Internal IT staff and channel partners will also need stronger integration expertise to help SMBs get more value from their technology investments. Channel partners will need to cultivate consultative selling and adjust staffing skill sets accordingly. SMB decision-makers will seek help to better understand and articulate new skill-set requirements, and to hire and/or contract for these needs. They will be hungry for thought leadership from SMB vendors, analysts and other influencers.
  3. SMBs recalibrate IT strategy and spending for a mobile world. A growing majority of SMBs now regard mobile solutions as essential business enablers, with 60% saying that mobile solutions are critical to their business. 86% of SMBs agree or strongly agree that mobile apps are a complement to traditional business applications, and 71% believe that mobile apps will replace some traditional solutions entirely. Mobile solutions also account for a growing share of SMBs’ technology budgets. SMB median spending on mobile technology and solutions as a percentage of total technology spending rose from roughly 12% in 2013 to 16% in 2014. Mobile service and device costs still account for the bulk of SMB mobile budgets, but SMB spending in other areas is rising as a percentage of mobile spend. On average, in 2014, SMBs spent 11% of their mobile dollars on apps, 9% on security, 11% on mobile management and 8% on consulting. Planned increased investment in mobile apps and more diverse mobile devices will necessitate a spike in mobile management adoption as well.
  4. The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus. IT vendors and prognosticators have been forecasting explosive growth for more intelligent and connected devices of all types. However, many IoT scenarios have been cast in a consumer light, such as smart watches and Tile (a locator for items such as keys and glasses), and the IoT vision has been fuzzy for many SMBs. In 2015, however, early but compelling use-case scenarios and solutions will emerge, leading more SMBs to the “aha” moments required to spark adoption. For instance, radio-frequency identification (RFID) has been used in logistics to track pallets and crates for some time, but mostly in closed-loop systems for high-value goods. IoT will help reduce RFID costs, making it more practical and appealing to retailers to use in order to help improve inventory accuracy, automate customer checkout and reduce theft. Beacons, which are indoor positioning systems that communicate directly with smart phones via Bluetooth, provide another compelling SMB use case. For example, a network of in-store beacons can identify the location of customers in a store and send them push notifications. Or, a trucking company could install beacons to monitor the state of its trucks, provide more timely maintenance, reduce vehicle downtime and decrease costs. Once SMBs understand use cases more clearly, IoT will hold great appeal because it is mostly invisible to end users, which negates adoption issues, and it provides real-time data for better decision-making and better business outcomes.
  5. SMBs reinvent marketing for the new buyer journey. The buyer journey is evolving rapidly and includes many more touch points than ever before. SMBs must transform their marketing approach to connect with more prospects and customers, and to provide them with the right information at the right time in the buying journey. Although many small and even medium businesses rely on point solutions, more will turn to an integrated marketing approach. In 2014, 20% of small businesses and 25% of medium businesses had purchased/upgraded to a marketing automation solution in the past 24 months. Meanwhile, 22% of small businesses and 26% of medium businesses plan to purchase/upgrade a marketing automation solution in the next 12 months. More SMBs will realize that choosing the right marketing automation solution is one of the most important technology decisions they will make, particularly as cloud, mobile, social, analytics and other technologies continue to transform the buying process.
  6. KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric. Historically, vendors have tended to focus on proving solution value through return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis and metrics. But these assessments and metrics, while often beneficial, are frequently too vague and/or too dependent on nuanced measurements to be compelling for SMBs. In comparison, key performance indicators (KPIs) can provide SMBs with specific, actionable insights on business performance and what areas need improvement. With so many vendors fighting for SMB dollars, SMBs will increasingly seek out those that help them understand what KPIs are most relevant for their business and industry, and those that provide credible, specific metrics about how their solutions affect these KPIs.
  7. Analytics gets SMB-friendly with “bring your own data” and freemium offerings. Most SMBs don’t have data analysts on staff. These businesses often are intimidated by analytics solutions, which have traditionally been expensive, complex and difficult to use. But cloud computing, better user interfaces, visualization tools, improved algorithms and natural language capabilities as well as a growing number of freemium offerings designed for business decision-makers—not data scientists—are poised to change this. For instance, IBM’s Watson freemium offering allows users to bring in data from many sources, and it has capabilities that reduce data preparation and loading time, including a “fix it” button to repair data quality issues. Once data is plugged into Watson, users can query in natural language to analyze information. As more solutions designed for people with little or no data preparation and analytics skills emerge, analytics will become more consumable for SMBs.
  8. It’s time to reimagine work. Whether you prefer the hashtag #futureofwork, #newwaytowork, #reimaginework or something else, it’s clear that change is on the horizon. Processes, tools, attitudes and behaviors are shifting as mobile, social, cloud, analytics, IoT and other technology advances take hold in SMBs. Likewise, demographic shifts are reshaping the makeup of SMB workers as well as their expectations of what technology should do and how it should do it. For instance, millennials and digital natives are rising through the workforce ranks, while baby boomers are starting to retire or move to part-time work. Meanwhile, the ranks of temporary and contract workers continue to grow. The National Employment Law Project found that temporary help agencies, staffing agencies, professional employer organizations and employment placement agencies fill 2.5% of all jobs, up from 1.4% in 1990. In addition, easy-to-use consumer apps and devices have raised the bar for user experience in the business-to-business (B2B) world. This changing mix of resources, behavior, attitudes and requirements will lead more SMBs to seek better, easier and more affordable ways to access, evaluate, buy and get productive with technology solutions. Vendors that understand and plan for this evolution, provide clear solution value and make SMB customers feel that they are part of a strong ecosystem will have a decisive edge as this trend unfolds. Providing easy access and free trials, clear messaging, a delightful user experience, superior support and vibrant user communities will be key to tapping into this trend.
  9. SMBs place a premium on protection. SMBs are already using basic security and backup tools. However, our research shows that most use point solutions that only tackle part of the problem. The use of more comprehensive solutions to protect and manage data is still far from the norm. But greater reliance on technology, an increasing number of “moving parts” (traditional apps and infrastructure, cloud, social, mobile, etc.) and the need to manage data no matter where it resides necessitate better security, control and management capabilities. SMBs need only turn on the news to understand the financial, brand and legal ramifications of data breaches at large companies such as Sony Pictures, Home Depot and eBay. As awareness rises, SMBs will place a premium on more comprehensive solutions from vendors that offer proactive guidance, deeper expertise, stronger service-level agreements (SLAs) and 24/7 support for an always-on world.
  10. SMBs opt for an incremental, integrated solutions approach. New cloud, mobile and social solutions have made it easier for SMBs to access and use new applications, but they have offered little help with integration. Although 63% of SMBs have partially integrated some applications, 79% still rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom code for integration, which underscores the severity of the problem. SMBs typically lack the expertise and resources to manage the entire integration process, and they need solutions that both encompass and better integrate cloud, mobile, social, analytics, security and other technologies. However, SMBs don’t want—and can’t digest—monolithic solutions. Vendors need to accommodate SMB integration requirements with a LEGO-like approach that enables SMBs to acquire only what they need at a given point in time, and then to add on new capabilities (their own or those of partners) with as little friction as possible when new needs arise. Although integration remains one of the toughest technology nuts to crack, we see new hope. Open ecosystems, embedded integration capabilities and stronger APIs should help pave the way, as should toolsets designed to help non-technical users to configure integrations without coding if they understand business integration workflows and requirements. Built-in collaboration and social communities to help users crowdsource information, find experts and share and/or sell integrations will also be key to making SMB integration a reality.

About SMB Group

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is composed of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group’s 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.

BI and Analytics for Mid-Market Businesses: My Podcast with SAP

I recently joined Paul Clark from SAP in a thought leadership podcast to discuss the topics of Business Intelligence (BI), Enterprise Performance Management (EPM), and Social Analytics for Mid-market companies.

In the podcast, we discuss the various aspects and uses of Enterprise Performance Management (EPM), Business Intelligence (BI), and Social Analytical tools within the dynamics of a mid-market business. We talk about how the proper use of EPM and BI tools and software by companies in the mid-market can achieve a higher level of corporate consistency and efficiency in performance management.
Our conversation also turned to a newer area of business intelligence–Social Analytics. Social Analytics tools monitor and analyze market and brand sentiment and the return on social engagement with consumers. They can help mid-market companies monitor and engage with customers in the areas of support, sales and ongoing relationship development.

We offer some final advice on the “first steps” towards achieving an improved level of performance management within the mid-market corporation.

I hope you enjoy the podcast!

Podcast Segments and Timeline:

00:00 – 01:10: Introductions and backgrounds

01:10 – 16:50: Enterprise Performance Management and Business Intelligence. Here’s what we covered:

  • Defining Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) and Business Intelligence (BI) and the role it can play in helping mid-market(*) companies and where
  • The rate of adoption of performance management practices and business intelligence in mid-market organizations
  • Key issues facing mid-market leadership teams when it comes to enterprise wide performance management practices
  • Some guidance for mid-market company leaders with respect to improving corporate performance and long-term success
  • What results are mid-market companies seeing from EPM and Business Intelligence solutions?

16:50 – 30:00: Social Analytics. What we covered:

  • Defining Social Analytics and the role it can play in helping mid-market companies and where
  • Whether mid-market companies are becoming interested in monitoring social networks and social media. If so, what they plan to do with this information and insight
  • Whether the data from social networks is an opportunity for mid-market companies
  • Final advice for CFO’s first steps to improve corporate performance management.

Thanks to Paul Clark and Chris Herbert (discussion moderator) for participating in this conversation. Below are their bios.

Paul Clark

Paul Clark is responsible for the messaging and deliverables that describe the business analytics solutions from SAP, from business intelligence and enterprise information management to enterprise performance management and governance, risk, and compliance. Paul has over 20 years’ experience in marketing, specializing in product and solution marketing. He holds a BSc from the University of Bristol, UK and a Management DESS from the Université de Savoie, France.

Chris Herbert

Chris Herbert is the manager of the CFO Intellectual Exchange Network which brings thought leaders together to share experiences and engage in conversations around the office of finance and the role technology is playing to improve business performance, compliance and overall success.

Host Analytics’ New Twist on an Old Problem: Connecting CPM and Siloed Data in Midsize Companies

Host Analytics, which provides cloud-based corporate performance management (CPM) software, recently launched Business Analytics, a new business intelligence toolkit designed to give finance departments in midsize companies a more comprehensive view of their businesses–without having to deploy an enterprise BI suite.

With this announcement, Host Analytics is giving companies a new, pragmatic and streamlined approach to solving the very real problem of integrating and analyzing the ever-increasing amounts of data that they need to understand to make better business decisions.

First, A Little Background on Host Analytics

In case you’re not familiar with Host Analytics, the company was founded in 2000, and has focused on providing cloud-based CPM solutions to midsize companies. More specifically, Host Analytics’ has geared its efforts to the needs of growing companies with complex requirements, providing a comprehensive CPM suite that includes budgeting and planning, revenue planning, forecasting, financial consolidations, reporting, dashboards, scorecarding, advanced modeling capabilities, executive management reporting and data services.

Host Analytics’ formula includes:

  • A cloud-based approach to relieve companies from having to buy and maintain IT infrastructure, so they can focus on using the solution to help create competitive and market advantages. This also enables faster deployments.
  • An Excel-like user interface to make it easier for new users to get productive quickly.
  • Flexible packaging and pricing options, so that customers can buy the suite or individual functional modules–which can be added to and integrated on as-needed basis.
  • A partner ecosystem that includes technology and implementation partners such as ERP Logic, Cervello and Paradigm Analytics, to help customers optimize Host Analytics solutions.

The formula has been working well: Host Analytics grew 78% year-over-year in 2010 and 118% in 2011, and is approaching 250 customers. Host Analytics plans to expand to the UK shortly.

New Approach to an Old Problem

With its new Business Analytics capability, Host Analytics tackles an old problem with a new approach. The tool gives finance professionals integrated access, views and reporting tools for data that is siloed in other departments–such as hiring from the HR system, or what’s in the pipeline from CRM. This broader view provides users with a more complete, accurate and up-to-date view of business drivers and issues to help them make better decisions. At the same time, the tool can give other line-of-business managers insight into how their information and performance impacts the rest of the organization.

Host Analytics is doing this by embedding new BI functionality, from cloud-based BI partner Birst, directly into the CPM suite, which Host Analytics manages on their servers to give customers a one-stop shop.

Birst connectors also have Hadoop connectors that companies can use to pull in unstructured data. The tool pulls all this data together to give companies a holistic view for reports, dashboards, scorecards, etc. across all their data fields. The tool also features some nice capabilities to enable users to view reports and dashboards from their mobile devices.

Quick Take

Host Analytics Business Analytics solves an important problem for many midsize companies, who want a standardized way to access, view and report across applications, but lack the time, money or expertise to deploy traditional on-premise BI tools. For customers already using a BI solution, Host Analytics’ open architecture enables customers to use their BI tool on the Host Analytics Corporate Performance Management data for broader reporting needs via open database connectivity (OBDC) drivers.

The new offering provides both a one-stop shop to address CPM requirements and the means to get the benefits of a broader BI tool without having to deploy a big BI suite. This should hold clear appeal for existing Host Analytics midmarket customers who want a more integrated and holistic view of the business. It should also help Host Analytics get on the short-list of more midsize companies that are evaluating CPM, as it offers them a flexible way to expand BI functionality into other parts of the organization when they’re ready without having to deploy more complex BI packages.

Closing the Business Intelligence Gap for Small Businesses

Most small and medium businesses (SMBs) can relate to Albert Einstein’s famous quote that  “Information is not knowledge.”  Many SMBs have plenty of data, but find it challenging to get the insights from it that they need to run their businesses more effectively and efficiently.

Businesses have always needed the ability to track and measure critical success metrics in a quantifiable way. The problem is that when there’s too much information, people find it difficult to fully comprehend it and make decisions. In fact, more than one-quarter of SMBs in our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study indicated that “getting better insights from the data we already have” as a top technology challenge.

And the problem is growing: Scientists report that more than1.2 zettabytes of digital information were created in 2010. What’s a zettabyte, you may wonder? (I know I did.) A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes–yes, that’s 21 zeroes! Online video, social networking sites, digital photography, and smart phone data are all contributing to the data pile-up. If that’s not enough to make your head spin, researchers also predict that the annual rate at which we collectively produce data will soar 44 times over the next decade.

The Gap Between BI Haves and Have-nots

Business intelligence and analytics solutions are designed to help make sense of all of this information. However, many SMBs often view these solutions as too complex and/or expensive. And companies without an accurate, consistent and accessible data source face the additional challenge of aggregating and rationalizing data from different sources.

SMB Group surveys reveal that the smaller the company, the less likely they are to use or plan to use BI solutions (Figure 1).  Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study showed that while 33% of midsize businesses currently use and 28% plan to use BI solutions, among small businesses, just 16% currently use and 16 % plan to use BI solutions.

Figure 1: SMB Use and Plans for Business Intelligence Solutions

Source: SMB Group 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study

The danger is that relying on hunches and intuition alone can put you at risk of missing trends and market opportunities or spotting potential problems–all of which can hurt business performance.

Some of the warning signs that your company’s growth may be hampered due to an inadequate ability to analyze data are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Warning Signs That Your Company Has a Data Analysis Problem

Source: SMB Group

Closing the Gap

Adding a BI solution on top of disparate, inconsistent and unreliable data is like putting lipstick on a pig.  So you need to start by establishing a core foundation of common, trustworthy and accessible data that’s shared across core business applications and processes. If you already run your business with an integrated business solution that pulls everything together into “one version of the truth”, you’ve already fulfilled this requirement. If not, you’ll want to integrate or upgrade the core solutions that your business relies on to ensure that you have a consistent and unified data source.

With this foundation in place, BI tools, dashboards and reports can help you to zero in on the insights you need to move your business ahead. The good news for SMBs is that several vendors now provide BI solutions tailored to meet SMB requirements and budget constraints. The bad news is that it can be difficult to figure out which one will be the best fit for your business.

While there is no “one-size fits all” solution that will be right for all companies, you can start by determining the core metrics that your business needs to measure. Many of these are likely to be areas that you need to measure and track long-term. Depending on the type of business you’re in, these could include things such as:

  • The percentage of income you derive from repeat customers vs. new customers
  • Times for order to ship, ship to invoice and receivables overdue
  • Time to respond to and close customer service calls
  • Procurement and spending analysis
  • Employee turnover rate

Given the pace of change in your industry, your business goals and the overall economy, you’ll probably want to make additions and adjustments over time as well, so look for a BI solution that can adapt to your needs as they change.

Figure 3 provides a checklist of additional questions to ask as a starting point to evaluate different BI solutions.

Figure 3: Key Considerations When Evaluating BI Solutions

Source: SMB Group

Getting the insights you need from a rising avalanche of information isn’t easy–but it is a critical business success factor. With the right BI tools in place, you can harness the data you have to get the wisdom you need to grow your business and stay ahead of the competition.

 

Closing the SMB Business Intelligence Gap

Most small and medium businesses (SMBs) can relate to Albert Einstein’s famous quote that  “Information is not knowledge.”  Many SMBs have plenty of data, but find it challenging to get the insights from it that they need to run their businesses more effectively and efficiently.

Businesses have always needed the ability to track and measure critical success metrics in a quantifiable way. The problem is that when there’s too much information, people find it difficult to fully comprehend it and make decisions. In fact, more than one-quarter of SMBs in our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study indicated that “getting better insights from the data we already have” as a top technology challenge. And the problem is growing: Scientists report that more than1.2 zettabytes of digital information were created in 2010. What’s a zettabyte, you may wonder? (I know I did.) A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes–yes, that’s 21 zeroes! Online video, social networking sites, digital photography, and smart phone data are all contributing to the data pile-up. If that’s not enough to make your head spin, researchers also predict that the annual rate at which we collectively produce data will soar 44 times over the next decade.

The Gap Between BI Haves and Have-nots

Business intelligence and analytics solutions are designed to help make sense of all of this information. However, many SMBs often view these solutions as too complex and/or expensive. And companies without an accurate, consistent and accessible data source face the additional challenge of aggregating and rationalizing data from different sources.

SMB Group surveys reveal that the smaller the company, the less likely they are to use or plan to use BI solutions (Figure 1).  Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study showed that while 33% of midsize businesses currently use and 28% plan to use BI solutions, just 16% of small businesses currently use 16 % plan to use these solutions.

Figure 1: SMB Use and Plans for Business Intelligence Solutions

Source: SMB Group 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study (click to enlarge)

The danger is that relying on hunches and intuition alone can put you at risk of missing trends and market opportunities or spotting potential problems–all of which can hurt business performance.

Some of the warning signs that your company’s growth may be hampered due to am inadequate ability to analyze data are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Warning Signs That Your Company Has a Data Analysis Problem

Source: SMB Group (click to enlarge)

Closing the Gap

Adding a BI solution on top of disparate, inconsistent and unreliable data is like putting lipstick on a pig.  So you need to start by establishing a core foundation of common, trustworthy and accessible data that’s shared across core business applications and processes. If you’re already run your business with an integrated business solution that pulls everything together into “one version of the truth,” you’ve already fulfilled this requirement. If not, you’ll want to integrate or upgrade the core solutions that your business relies on to ensure that you have a consistent and unified data source.

With this foundation in place, BI tools, dashboards and reports can help you to zero in on the insights you need to move your business ahead. The good news for SMBs is that several vendors now provide BI solutions tailored to meet SMB requirements and budget constraints. The bad news is that it can be difficult to figure out which one will be the best fit for your business.

While there is no “one-size fits all” solution that will be right for all companies, you can start by determining the core metrics that your business needs to measure. Many of these are likely to be areas that you need to measure and track long-term. Depending on the type of business you’re in, these could include things such as:

  • The percentage of income you derive from repeat customers vs. new customers
  • Times for order to ship, ship to invoice and receivables overdue
  • Time to respond to and close customer service calls
  • Procurement and spending analysis
  • Employee turnover rate

Given the pace of change in your industry, your business goals and the overall economy, you’ll probably want to make additions and adjustments over time as well, so look for a BI solution that can adapt to your needs as they change.

Figure 3 provides a checklist of additional questions to ask as a starting point to evaluate different BI solutions.

Figure 3: Key Considerations When Evaluating BI Solutions

Figure 3:

Source: SMB Group

Getting the insights you need from a rising avalanche of information isn’t easy–but it is a critical business success factor. With the right BI tools in place, you can harness the data you have to get the wisdom you need to grow your business and stay ahead of the competition.

 

What is Business Intelligence, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published on July 30, 2010 in Small Business Computing)

What is Business Intelligence?

Business intelligence (BI) is an umbrella term used to encompass the processes, methods, measurements and systems businesses use to more easily view, analyze and understand information relevant to the history, current performance or future projections for a business.  Other terms that people often use to describe BI include business analytics, decision support and executive decision support. The goal of BI is to help decision-makers make more informed and better decisions to guide the business. Business intelligence software and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions accomplish this by making it simpler to aggregate, see, and slice-and-dice the data. In turn, this makes it easier to identify trends and issues, uncover new insights, and fine-tune operations to meet business goals. BI solutions can be very comprehensive, or they can focus on specific functions, such as corporate performance management, spend analysis, sales pipeline analysis and sales compensation analysis.

Why Should You Care?

Results from the SMB Group’s recently released survey, 2010 SMB Routes to Market Study reveal that SMBs view “getting better insights out of the data they already have” as their top technology challenge. BI solutions can solve this problem by providing a framework and tools to measure and manage business goals and conduct “what-if” scenarios to evaluate different courses of action.

In very small companies, spreadsheets and other ad hoc tools are often enough to get the job done. But as companies grow, the amount of data decision makers need to understand grows: new products and services, new markets and opportunities, investments in operations, sales, marketing and other systems to support growth.

As a result, more people have to be part of the data collection and analysis process, and different people in the organization (sales, marketing, finance, etc.) need to look at data in different ways. Typical problems with the spreadsheet approach include:

  • Time consuming and labor intensive to set up and maintain. Establishing a company-wide model, creating organizational plans, distributing and collecting information from different managers, consolidating multiple spreadsheets, and debugging broken macros and formulas becomes unwieldy.
  • Insufficient collaboration and feedback capabilities. Desktop spreadsheets are siloed, and don’t enable real-time data sharing and updating. Getting a unified, accurate view becomes difficult.
  • Error prone. Research shows that 20 to 40 percent of all spreadsheets contain errors, and as they become more complex, error rates multiply. Without an audit trail, changes and mistakes can go undetected and businesses make decisions based on bad information.
  • Inadequate analysis and reporting. Collecting information and cobbling it together via spreadsheets is cumbersome. The detailed information that decision-makers need can be hard to get or not even available.

Business intelligence solutions give businesses a way to streamline and unify the data collection, analysis and reporting process. BI solutions are built on a unified database, so everyone involved in the process gets a single, real-time view of the data. Many BI solutions feature self-service dashboards and reporting tools that make it easier and less time consuming to contribute to and manage the process.

What to Consider

Until recently, BI solutions have typically been too expensive and complicated for many SMBs to use and manage. But more recently, vendors have made strides to make BI solutions more tailored, accessible and affordable. For example:

  • Function-specific BI solutions. Many vendors have introduced software designed to focus on the analytical needs specific to a particular department or process. By focusing on a specific need, they can offer solutions that are simpler to use and more cost-effective. For example, vendors such as Adaptive Planning and Host Analytics focus exclusively on corporate performance management; Cloud9 Analytics concentrates on helping companies manage salesperformance; Xactly focuses on sales compensation analytics; and Rosslyn Analyticsaddresses spend management and analysis.
  • Pre-packaged solutions within a broader BI suite. Companies that offer broad, comprehensive suites that include BI, data warehousing and analytics capabilities have been re-packaging their solutions to focus on specific needs. For instance, SAP Business Objects Edgeoffers modules for planning and consolidation and for strategy management and score carding; and Birst offers pre-packaged solutions for sales, marketing and financials.
  • ERP and CRM companies providing pre-integrated BI solutions. Many ERP and CRM vendors now offer pre-integration with BI solutions to reduce the time, difficulty and expense of deploying BI to work with an existing system. Examples include NetSuite, which partners withAdaptive Planning and MyDials and Salesforce.com with Xactly for sales compensation management.
  • On demand, software-as-a-service (SaaS) BI solutions. The SaaS model removes IT infrastructure costs from the BI equation, and it can dramatically reduce or eliminate upfrontcapital costs. Many of the vendors mentioned above — and others — deliver their BI solutions via a SaaS model.

Today, there are more BI choices geared for SMB needs and budgets than ever. However, vendors characterize and target the SMB market differently, and these differences are reflected in pricing, solution capabilities and complexity. Start with a thorough assessment of our internal needs, and then carefully investigate and evaluate how different offerings map to your organizational requirements and constraints. Many vendors provide access to free trials, pilots, demonstrations, etc. to help you get a better idea of whether a specific solution will fit your needs. By taking more time upfront to assess, evaluate and compare your alternatives, you’ll greatly increase the odds of selecting a solution that will meet, but not exceed your needs and budget.

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