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.

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.

Top SMB Takeaways: SAP Sapphire 2013

sapphireA couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Sapphire 2013, SAP’s annual user conference. As is the norm for these events, SAP opened the fire hose to reveal new directions, product and solution announcements, and partner and customer wins through a myriad of meetings and sessions.

Rather than attempt to drench you with the full blast, I’ll focus this post on what I see as most relevant for SAP’s direction in the small and medium business (SMB) space.

HANA for All

SAP HANASAP is betting big on its HANA platform, which began life in 2010 as an in-memory database and has quickly evolved to become SAP’s “development platform for innovation,” for both SAP and third-party developers.

At Sapphire, SAP underscored that HANA isn’t just for big business. The vendor discussed several initiatives to bring the benefits of HANA’s data-crunching power to SMB analytics and online transaction processing (OLTP) requirements. For instance:

  • SAP Business One on HANA. Business One is SAP’s ERP solution for small businesses and for departments in larger companies. The solution integrates core business functions, including financials, sales, customer relationship management, inventory, and operations, and includes embedded analytics and reporting capabilities. SAP offers Business One both as an on-premises offering or via a cloud-based subscription model. In September 2012, SAP announced SAP Business One analytics, powered by SAP HANA. This solution provides a Linux-based HANA analytics appliance for companies running SAP Business One on a Windows server with Microsoft’s SQL database. At Sapphire, SAP introduced a new offering, Business One, version for HANA,  slated for availability later this year. This version runs directly on HANA, enabling both the transactional (ERP) and analytical applications to run on the same Linux-based server. By running both ERP transactions and analytics on a single platform, Business One version for HANA speeds access to information for analytics, reporting and search, without slowing down transactional processing.
  • SAP Startup Focus Program, which enables startups to build solutions for small businesses. SAP has engaged over 430 startups to use HANA as a platform to develop user-friendly real-time analytics and advanced predictive solutions. For instance, Vish Cancron, CEO of Liquid Analytics, talked about his company’s cloud-based, mobile analytics applications for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android users.  As Vish explained to me in this video discussion at a prior event, Liquid Analytics uses gamification and predictive analytics to help make it easier, quicker and more fun for wholesale industry sales reps to place orders and set and meet sales goals.
  • SAP HANA One. SAP has partnered with Amazon’s Web Services Cloud to offer a pay-as-you model for trying and using HANA. SAP claims that users can import data and get up and running with HANA cloud in as few as 5 minutes. HANA One is designed for analytics professionals, SIs and ISVs, supports up to a 30 GB compressed data set, and is priced at one dollar per hour per user. While most SMBs don’t have analytics professionals, HANA One gives SIs and developers an accessible, affordable mechanism to develop and test new HANA apps for SMB customers. SAP has also created an online and community support network to help SMBs get started and navigate their way through a HANA One instance.

Cloud Front and Center

sap cloudSAP’s journey to the cloud has been underway for several years. Though the company has seen a few setbacks, almost all of SAP’s solutions are now available in the cloud, including:

  • Home-brewed SAP ERP solutions such as Business One, Business All-in-One, Business Suite  and of course, cloud-only Business ByDesign.
  • Acquired cloud solutions such SuccessFactors and Ariba.
  • Afaria, SAP’s mobile management platform, which SAP announced at the event is now available as a cloud-based service, branded as Afaria in the Cloud.
  • SAP HANA One Premium, an advanced version of SAP HANA One with the same data compression rate but with greater accessibility to SAP source data, all SAP backend systems, data integrators and full SAP Support.

SAP also offers customers a choice of running some of its ERP solutions in either a public or private cloud environment, and a choice of cloud providers as well. For instance, customers can choose to run Business One in Amazon’s AWS, or in SAP’s HANA cloud center, an SAP partner’s cloud, or in a private on-premises cloud.

Notably, SAP revealed that it’s own HANA Cloud Center has the capacity to accommodate all of its current installed base customers. This gives existing customers a convenient on ramp both to move ERP solutions to the cloud and gain the power of HANA in one fell swoop–and underscores just how important the cloud is to enable SAP’s HANA strategy.

Upgrading the User Experience

sap uiLet’s face it, SAP is not known for user-friendly software or contracts. But the company is on a quest to improve customer experience by making its solutions more accessible and user-friendly. SAP is also expanding its portfolio of rapid deployment solutions (RDS), which offer fixed cost, fixed scope preconfigured software, best practices and implementation services that give customers everything they need to get up and running on midmarket solutions such as Business All-in-One in just a few weeks. SAP currently offers over 900 rapid-deployment solutions across its product lines. In addition to developing more appealing and streamlined user interfaces, SAP is trying to simplify pricing and contracts.

When it comes to new solutions, SAP is aiming to get accessibility and ease of use right from the get go. For instance, SAP’s newly minted Afaria for the Cloud solution for mobile management sports a streamlined user interface and is priced at 1 Euro per user per month. At that price, the solution should be attractive for even very small businesses that need to manage mobile devices get an affordable solution. It also opens the door for SAP to prove its worth, develop a relationship, and sell other solutions to new small business customers.

Shining the Spotlight on Ariba

aribaAttracting new customers, growing revenues, and increasing profitability are perennial challenges for all SMBs. As revealed in SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study, about one-quarter of SMBs sell goods and services to large enterprises. These B2B SMBs want a bigger share of the billions of dollars that large businesses spend annually on goods and services. SAP is shining the spotlight on its Ariba business commerce network as a means to help them reach this end. SAP provides all of its Business One customers with a free connection into the Ariba network, and any company, whether an SAP customer or not, can enroll as a Supplier on the cloud-based Ariba Network. Once enrolled, SMBs can connect and collaborate customers, partners, peers, and prospects. Ariba gives SMBs another way to provide more value to its existing SMB customers, and an additional entry point to bring non-SAP SMBs into the SAP fold.

Perspective

We’ve all seen how quickly innovative, fast-growth start-ups can become marquee brands. SAP understands that the creation-destruction cycle for businesses in hyper-drive, as underscored by the story of Under Armour, a featured customer and keynote panelist at Sapphire. Kevin Planck, Under Armour CEO, discussed how he founded the company in his basement in 1996 to design T-shirts that would wick moisture to help athletes stay cool and dry. He also talked about how Under Armour has evolved and grown, and how SAP has helped the company achieve twelve consecutive quarters of 20%+ growth.

SAP is betting big on becoming the leading IT solutions provider for these high-growth SMBs, 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. SAP’s strategy to target  Progressive SMBs with leading edge technologies that provide clear business benefit should help it to tap in more deeply to this segment.

As important, SAP seems to be making an authentic effort to consumerize the SAP experience by reducing friction in choosing, buying and using SAP solutions. In our 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study, 42% of small businesses rate “solution is easy to use” as the top reason to put solutions on their short lists. SAP is addressing this challenge with a commitment to the cloud, tight integration to HANA within business applications, and focus on bringing new, easy to buy and use applications to market.

Although SAP isn’t likely to become the volume leader, the company is charting a leadership course to engage fast-growth SMBs–who also have the potential to become high-value SAP customers–with a differentiated and compelling story.

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

At a time when information is proliferating at an unprecedented rate, companies that effectively gather, create and use information can gain dramatic market advantages over those that don’t.  SMB Group’s 2012 Routes to Market Study shows that SMBs that have deployed business intelligence and analytics solutions are 51% more likely than peers to expect revenues to rise. Likewise, in a survey from the MIT Sloan Management Review and SAS Institute, 67% of respondents report that their companies get a competitive advantage through analytics.

Most small and medium business (SMB) decision-makers understand this at a conceptual level. But let’s face itfew have in-house business analysts and data experts. Consequently, it can be daunting just to think about moving beyond spreadsheets to a more innovative analytics-driven approach.

A Tale of Three SMBs

But it doesn’t have to be. In this three-part series, I explore the journeys that three SAS customerswithout armies of IT peoplehave taken to get more accurate, timely, usable insights for their businesses. And note: not one is a venture-backed tech or digital media start-up from Silicon Valley! In fact, all three are from traditional industries, with a combined 146 years of history behind them:

  • BGF Industries is a leading manufacturer of 2,000 high-performance Kevlar, fiberglass, and carbon products used in industries such as aerospace, marine, filtration, automotive, and ballistics. BGF was the first weaver of fiberglass textiles in 1941 when it was part of Burlington Glass Fabrics, and became a subsidiary of the Porcher Groupe of Badinieres, France in 1988. Today, BGF employs 800 people at six facilities in three states. With over 35 patents for specialized finishes and processes, BGF’s mission is to deliver excellent products and exceptional customer experience.
  • Oberweis Dairy began in 1915, when Peter J. Oberweis had too much milk and started selling it to neighbors. The Oberweis family began delivering fresh milk to homes on horse-drawn carts in 1927. Now, Oberweis continues its “Simply the Best” tradition as a family owned and operated business in Aurora, IL. Oberweis has also significantly expanded its product line, and opened 47 retail stores where customers can buy milk and enjoy its ice cream. It still delivers milk in glass bottles, although today it uses trucks instead of horses.
  • Twiddy & Company manages a portfolio of individual, privately owned vacation homes on the Northern Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Family owned and operated, Twiddy & Company employs 110 people year round and almost 500 during peak vacation season. Although the vacation rental market has changed over the years, Twiddy’s mission has remained constant throughout its 35-year history: Offer the very best selection, service, and successful experiences to both homeowners and guests. 

This post chronicles why these companies decided to bring more robust analytics capabilities into their organizations. In the second, I look at the key considerations that came into play in their search for a solution and how they decided which solution to use. The third post examines how analytics are helping their companies thrive and grow.

Triggers for Change

The vast majority of SMBs use spreadsheets and intuition for analysis and decision-making, even as spreadsheet errors proliferate, time is wasted, and trends are missed. So what drives some SMBs look for alternatives to “spreadsheet management”?

This quote from Albert Einstein sums it up nicely: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Faced with an “aha” moment that they could no longer ignore, each of the three companies we spoke with decided it was time for a change.

Creating a Competitive Edge with Better Owner and Guest Services

Wild Horse AerialIn 2009, Clark Twiddy, Director of Operations and son of founder Doug Twiddy, came home to the family business after serving in the Navy. He saw that Twiddy & Co. was “swamped in transactional data. We rent 900+ properties 25 times a year, with multiple and varied service transactions every week on each unit. We struggled to keep up with delivering great service to homeowners and guests.”

Twiddy must keep track of many variables. It needs to ensure each property is clean, safe and serviced properly for each visitor; optimize occupancy and rates for property owners; and negotiate better pricing from plumbers, carpet cleaners, electricians and other service providers.

As big, nationwide rivals entered the market, Twiddy recognized that “getting our information faster, more valuable, and easier for people who needed to act on it right away” was critical to the company’s future. “Keeping track of all the variables with Excel proved problematic. People sat behind desks and researched data for hours or days trying to find trends or just answer pretty simple questions.  For example, it was too easy to get blindsided because we didn’t spot a safety issue that should have been addressed.  The risks of unmanaged data became something we had to act upon.”

PrintStabilizing and Growing the Flagship Business

Survival of the home delivery business triggered a fresh look at alternatives at Oberweis Dairy, According to Bruce Bedford, VP of Marketing, “In 2010, we recognized that we had to stabilize and grow our flagship home delivery business, which accounts for about a third of revenues. We had to understand why customers would discontinue the service, and then take corrective marketing action to turn that around.”

At the time, Oberweis was using “very complicated” Excel spreadsheets, Visual Basic macros and pivot tables. “Although best efforts were made to figure out what was happening, it wasn’t cutting it,” explains Bedford.

Preventing Costly Process Errors

BGFCorporate QA Manager Bobby Hull and other managers at BGF had relied on individual, PC-based versions of SAS to monitor data and processes. As Hull noted, “That worked for a while, but we were growing so much, we had so much product diversity, the customer base and their demands were changing. We had to be quicker, better, faster, leaner and deliver higher quality.”

In the mid-2000s, a customer spotted a trend in a BGF product that Hull says, “We should have spotted ourselves. We had all of the information in our systems, we measured everything we could measure, but we had no good way to extract and use it.”

After investigating the issue, Hull notes that, “In hindsight, pulling the data out after the fact and looking at it, the trend was there…we should have spotted that. It was scary…these are technical fabrics going into complex, high-end industries and you can’t afford to drop the ball because it can get expensive really fast.”

As a result, BGF decided they needed “a serious way to dig into information quickly, easily and to surface it. We’d invested so much money to collect the information, but its dead money unless we do something with it.”

Perspective

Data is the new business capital. But just like financial capital, you have to invest wisely to reap value from it. As these three customer stories illuminate, making the investment to move beyond spreadsheets to an analytics-driven approach generates a very positive return on investment for the business.

Is it time for your business to make this investment? Think about what keeps you up at night. Can you put your finger on the pulse of information about operations, customers and processes–when, where and how you need it? Is your business out in front of customer trends, or playing catch up? Are you able to spot potential problems before they result in lost revenues and/or brand damage? How would you reimagine your business if you could take the pulse of key metrics more readily and easily? Thinking through the answers to these questions will help you answer this question and chart a more effective course to using data to make better business decisions and gain market advantages.

The next step is to assess internal capabilities, desired outcomes, and what you’ll need from a solution provider to reach your goals. In the second post in this series, I’ll discuss how BGF, Oberweis and Twiddy tackled this crucial phase.

This is the first of a three-part blog series by SMB Group and 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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