Intuit’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is the second post in a two-part blog series discussing Intuit’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. The first, Intuit QuickBooks Connect: Where Small Business Is Big Business provides perspectives from Intuit’s 2014 QuickBooks Connect event. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 report, Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, offers additional insights into Intuit’s approach.

intuit_blueThe writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey, and one-size-fit all doesn’t apply in SMB. Is Intuit a good fit for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

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Intuit’s Top Technology Game Changers for SMBs

Simplifying business life for small business owners is at the center of Intuit’s strategy. Intuit’s mission is to “consumerize” operational functions such as payroll, accounting and marketing so small businesses can focus more on conducting business and less on business process.

Intuit sees the cloud as critical to enabling this, and it views mobile as inextricably linked to the cloud. QuickBooks Online is Intuit’s platform to let SMBs engage from any device, anywhere, at any time to manage their finances and connect to other applications for additional functionality. Today, most SMBs are managing the business through both mobile and traditional desktop and notebook devices. Intuit’s platform can discover, facilitate and customize identity, relationships and roles depending on users’ choices.

Intuit also views the cloud as the foundation to facilitate collaborative, social engagement. For instance, Intuit’s Demandforce marketing solution lets SMBs synthesize social feeds, comments, ratings and reviews to better serve customers and enhance their brands.

Intuit wants to deliver the benefits of analytics and big data solutions to small businesses through its QuickBooks Online platform. Intuit observes aggregated behaviors across its more than 560,000 users to discover patterns and best practices. Using these insights, Intuit simplifies how tasks get done, and tailors processes for different types of businesses and user personas. This lets users set up applications and perform tasks more quickly and easily, and frees them to spend more time focusing on building their businesses.

Intuit is also embedding analytics into its solutions to help SMBs better understand where they should focus time. This builds more value by providing capabilities to identify trends and act on them. For instance, a dentist using Intuit’s Demandforce marketing solution can see when patients aren’t coming in for biannual check-ups, and set up automated reminders to boost regular visits instead of spending time making phone calls. When mundane tasks are automated, customer centricity can move to the forefront.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior

Intuit sees several major changes under way, including:

  • Rising expectations for a “delightful” experience and total solution: Small businesses want to focus on their business, not on figuring out how to use software—whether in the cloud or on premises. Instead of piecing together product components, SMBs want more turnkey solutions, with capabilities to help them automatically integrate applications, and to connect with customers and suppliers. Intuit’s platform and developer network help small businesses extend the power of QuickBooks through third-party solutions by building data integration directly into their mobile and web apps. Project Harmony is a new initiative to make all Intuit solutions simpler and more “delightful” to use.
  • Trust as an increasingly valuable currency: SMBs want technology solutions validated via “social proof,” meaning that vendors must engage in an authentic, ongoing conversation to develop and maintain their trust. Vendors must augment traditional word of mouth with digital word of mouth. Intuit is building trust in several ways, such as increasing involvement with small business associations, such as ASBDC, SCORE and The Latino Coalition, and Hire Smart, a partnership with LinkedIn to help small businesses improve hiring results. Intuit also recently sponsored the Small Business Big Game contest, awarding a Super Bowl ad to winner GoldieBlox.
  • Better-informed advisors: Small businesses want the accountants and other professionals that help them with business decisions and processes to have a deeper view of their business, industry and other businesses like them. In addition to long-term accounting partner programs, Intuit recently introduced the Innovation Catalyst program to offer partners and customers hands-on training on innovative concepts and techniques.
  • Going mobile: In the future, Intuit believes many small businesses will start with and stay exclusively with mobile, and will expect full access and capabilities to run their businesses via mobile devices. Intuit’s internal development and Intuit Developer Network are focused on providing a seamless mobile experience.

Perspective: Intuit as an SMB Technology Catalyst 

With an installed base of more than 5 million small business customers, Intuit’s sphere of influence is enormous. Although Intuit’s legacy is that of a packaged software vendor, Intuit is now fully immersed in cloud and the mobile, social and analytics capabilities that cloud computing facilitates. QuickBooks Online subscriptions have grown by 30% over the past year—and should beat that growth this year now that Intuit has dropped the price from $19.95 per user, per month to $5—or the price of a fancy coffee. This should also help Intuit fend off recent small business accounting cloud entrants such as Wave and Xero. Intuit’s Developer Network has also bulked up. By connecting more partners and customers into this platform and to each other, small business can more easily reap the benefits of these technology trends.

With thousands of hours logged in “follow me home” visits to see how small businesses really work, Intuit also understands the importance of communicating that technology is a make-or-break business differentiator in the language that small businesses speak. Intuit doesn’t underestimate the hurdles it must jump to communicate this message through its web sites, advertising and influencers so that it resonates more meaningfully with small businesses. Instead of leading with technology, Intuit leads with how to take friction out of managing the business and engaging with customers.

But change is hard—especially in established small businesses, where owners are wearing many hats and juggling many challenges. To get past the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality in the very small business market, Intuit must work doubly hard not only to further consumerize the solution experience, but also to help businesses immediately grasp how new technology solutions can help them make real business improvements.

Disclosure: Intuit is an SMB Group client and paid for most of my travel expenses to attend QuickBooks Connect.

Why Should You Take 3 Days Out of Your Schedule to Attend Dell World?

dell worldFrom November 4-6, Dell will host roughly 5,000 customer, partner and influencer attendees at its fourth annual Dell World conference in its hometown of Austin, Texas, and up to 10,000 attendees will tune in live online. 

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Dell World is Dell’s premier annual customer and partner event. Having found the three prior Dell World events I attended to be both informative and fun, I was eager to find out what’s on tap for this year’s event. So I was delighted to get a sneak preview from Jeanne Trogan, Dell’s Executive Director of Global Events, about what Dell World will offer.

With time arguably being our most valuable asset, here’s my take on why you’d want to take 3 days out of your busy schedule to attend Dell World based on this preview. 

  1. Gain a clearer understanding of how technology can help solve business problems and meet business goals.

Companies want to harness technology for better business outcomes, but it’s often hard to figure out how to do this. According to SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Routes to Market Study, small and medium businesses (SMBs) increasingly view technology as a means to automate operations and work more efficiently, and as a vital tool for creating and sustaining a vibrant, growing business (Figure 1). But the same study also shows that figuring out how different technology solutions can help their businesses is a top challenge for many SMBs.

Figure 1: SMB Technology Perspectives

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With this in mind, Dell World will provide customers–from SMB to large enterprises–with high-level advice and expertise to help them understand how and why key technology trends are reshaping business and consumer practices and behaviors. Keynote speakers, including Dell CEO Michael Dell and other tech and business innovators from business and academia will put cloud, mobile, analytics, security, the Internet of Things (IoT) and other trends into sharper focus, and help attendees stay ahead of the technology curve.

  1. Learn how to turn strategy into reality.

Refreshing your technology strategy and direction is the critical first step, but then you have to figure out how to execute. In fact, figuring out cost-effective ways to implement and/or upgrade solutions and to keep them up and running are also daunting challenges for SMBs (Figure 2).

Figure 2: SMB Technology Challenges

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Dell World is chock full of interactive sessions as well as hands-on labs and demos to help attendees kick the tires on new solutions, and fulfill the new technology requirements that their businesses require. Attendees can choose from more than 70 breakout sessions for a deeper dive into how to make technology work for the business. For instance session topics range from how to conquer cloud chaos to how to maximize mobility benefits without compromising security, and labs address areas such as big data and analytics, desktop virtualization, and streamlining IT management.

In the Solutions Expo, attendees can get an up close and personal look at the latest solutions. This year, Dell is reorienting the Solutions Expo from a Dell product-centric approach to a customer-centric problem and solution approach. The floor will feature different paths that start with technology problem areas, and guide customers toward relevant solutions and information. I think Dell’s refreshed approach to the Expo floor and demonstrations will be something that customer attendees will appreciate.

  1. Learn outside the classroom.

Just like when you were in school, sometimes the most important learning you do takes place outside of the classroom. Networking is a key part of Dell World with other attendees for fresh perspectives, exchange information and compare notes, not just at the event, but over the longer term. In addition to the serendipitous meetups that will happen spontaneously throughout Dell World, Dell is also scheduling meetings, such as an Executive Summit for CIOs, to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction.

  1. Enjoy Austin.

congress-avenue-bridgeIf you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about! If you haven’t been there, you’re in for an amazing experience. In fact, Dell keeps asking attendees where they want to have Dell World, and people want to come back. Austin has something for everyone, whether you love music, great food or the great outdoors. For starters, Dell World will feature both Weezer and Duran Duran in concert–something for everyone from millennials to baby boomers. Get some fresh air with a walk or run around Town Lake, and grab a bite or drink at the Hula Hut as a reward. At night, check out the live music and gourmet food trucks on Rainey Street, or at Austin City Limits. And don’t forget to check out the nightly bat migration under the Congress Street Bridge. Last but not least, there’s the history–Dell was born in Austin in Michael Dell’s University of Texas dorm room. Since then, Austin has grown as a tech mecca.

Dell World also marks the one-year anniversary since founder Michael Dell won an extended battle to take the company private. In a recent CNBC interview, he expressed how liberating its been to off the Wall Street treadmill and able to focus on customers, and invest more time, R&D and energy on their behalf. I have a feeling that attendees will probably pick up on how this more positive energy is coming to fruition at Dell World as well.

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.

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:

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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