Cloud Is The New Normal for SMBs—But Integration Isn’t

SMB Group recently wrapped up our “2014 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study,” in which we looked how U.S. SMB technology adoption and the buying cycle in ten key solution areas, as shown below.

Business Application Solutions

IT Infrastructure Solutions

·   ERP, Financial and Accounting

·  Security

·   Collaboration

·  Data Backup

·   Marketing Automation

·  Online Storage and Sharing (new addition for 2014)

·   Contact and Customer Management

·  Server Virtualization

·   Workforce Management (new addition for 2014)

·  Desktop Virtualization

·   Business Intelligence and Analytics

·  Integration (new addition for 2014)

Cloud Adoption is Soaring

The most dramatic finding is that 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution, and 87% already use at least one cloud infrastructure solution. (Figure 1).

Figure 1: SMB Cloud Adoption

cloud adopt

Furthermore, when compared with our 2012 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study, we see  cloud adoption increasing in every solution area. For example, since 2012, SMB cloud adoption is up 10% for collaboration, 5% for business analytics and 2% for accounting and ERP. The same types of gains hold true for infrastructure  applications. In addition, we see that as SMBs shift to the cloud, purchase channels are also changing to favor direct purchase from software or a software-as-a-service/cloud vendors  and to managed service providers (MSPs).

Integration Remains Problematic

However, while the cloud has made it much easier for SMBs to access and use new applications, it has yet to do much to help SMBs integrate them. Although 63% of SMBs have at least partially integrated some applications, 79% still rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom code for integration, instead of using modern integration solutions or pre-integrated solutions (Figure 2).

Figure 2: SMB Integration Methods

integration

Integration is essential to helping SMBs reap the full business process value of new applications—and of course to gaining a more unified, consistent view of the business. But as this research signals, vendors need to do a lot more both to educate SMBs about the value of application integration, and to make their integration solutions easier to use and more affordable.

For more information

SMB Group’s 2014 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study assesses the entire SMB technology solution purchase cycle, including needs identification, information sources, advice sources, key selection and short-list criteria, and purchase channels. Fielded in February 2014, the study is based on the results of a 700-respondent web-based survey of SMB technology solution decision makers and influencers, and segmented into eight employee-size segments and 18 vertical industries.

Please contact Lisa Lincoln at (508) 734-5658 or lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com for more information about the study, including a Table of Contents.

 

 

Six Technology Resolutions for a Happier and Healthier SMB New Year

Happy New Year! While we often make personal New Year’s resolutions, I don’t think too many businesses make them. But you can start to change that in 2014 by resolving to make better use of technology to power your business, and create a more sustainable, competitive business.

With that in mind, here are a few resolutions that can help you work smarter, not harder, and enjoy a happier, healthier business in 2014.

iphone1. Manage your mobile investment. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. SMBs are using mobile apps and solutions to help employees work more productively and efficiently, and to boost customer engagement and transactions. But while mobile apps are often easy to use, you also need to provision, support, and track and manage them on the back-end. Unfortunately, many SMBs are not yet using solutions to manage mobile devices and applications, and to protect valuable data from being lost or stolen. The good news is that vendors have taken notice and are offering cloud-based mobile management solutions specifically tailored to SMB requirements and constraints. Just a few to check out include: AirWatch Professional, Mobile Iron, Tangoe, and Dell Cloud Client Manager.

Social Business People Network  inside Speech Bubble2. Tune up your content marketing strategy. Many SMBs feel overwhelmed by the care and feeding that marketing requires these days. Back in the day, when marketing was a one-way street, businesses could get by with creating a marketing campaign and collateral that would see them through a quarter or even the year. But in the digital age, businesses are under pressure to create new content every week or even every day to keep customers coming back. If you don’t have one, put a plan in place for creating and scheduling content to keep everyone on track. When you create fresh content, think upfront about ways to recycle and reuse it. For instance, if you create a YouTube video, write a blog post about some aspect of it, and tweet out bite-size tidbits from the post. In addition, put a system in place to measure what networks and content click for your target customers. Depending on your business, free or low-cost tools such as HootSuite, SocialMention, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Google Analytics, Bit.ly and/or Buffer may fit the bill. Or, you may want to investigate marketing automation solutions, such as Infusionsoft and Hubspot, that integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications to make your content investments more actionable.

men with puzzle pieces3. Integrate key workflows to get more bang for your software buck. The cloud has made it easy for businesses to add applications to address pain points on a piecemeal basis. But integration is often an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs end up with a hodge-podge of disconnected applications and workflows. People end up wasting time and making mistakes manually re-entering data into different systems, and getting accurate reports for decision-making can become a Herculean task. Things start falling through the cracks because the different applications and processes “don’t talk to each other.” This could be the year you do something about it! If you’re looking to upgrade core business apps, such as accounting, HR or CRM, consider pre-integrated suites from vendors with open application programming interfaces (APIs) and marketplaces. This makes it easier to snap in new, integrated functionality as needed. If moving to an integrated suite isn’t feasible, you can still get plenty of value just from the most repetitive workflows in your business. Many vendors (Informatica, Scribe, Actian (formerly Pervasive), Dell Boomi, Jitterbit and Mulesoft, just to name a few) offer integration solutions that enable you to connect, map fields, and integrate business processes between different applications.

Slide14. Go green to save green. You don’t need to be a tree hugger to get value from green technology. Most businesses waste not only environmental resources, but also money and time as well. Often, these resources could be invested in developing new products or services, or to hire and train employees.But its easy to be green. For instance, when you buy new products, look for vendors with green certifications from ENERGY STAR or EPEAT; use eco-friendly packaging to reduce packaging waste; and use recycled plastics in their products. Use “set it and forget” tools, such as smart power strips, to automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device, and recycle old equipment so component materials don’t end up leaching into landfills. Moving up green curve, consider making the switch from paper-based marketing, forms and faxes to digital solutions for email marketing, invoicing, etc. Replace some of your travel with web conferencing and consider creating a telecommuting program (cloud-based collaboration solutions such as Google Apps for Business, Microsoft Office 365 and IBM Smart Cloud make this easier than ever) if you haven’t already done so. Finally, if your business suffers from server and storage sprawl, virtualized server and storage resources, consider solutions such as Dell PowerEdge VRTX, which take up less space, require less power to run, and help simplify maintenance.

baroquon_Add_Money5. Upgrade and integrate payments with accounting and financials. SMB Group research shows that many SMBs still spend a lot of time manually re-entering and reconciling payments back to their accounting and financial systems. This not only saps productivity, but also results in errors that end up taking even more time to correct. If you’re still doing this manually, its time to look at solutions that automatically integrate payments with accounting, cutting time and errors out of payment processing, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage. While you’re at it, investigate whether your business would benefit from being able to accept new payment methods. Chances are, you already take checks and credit cards, but getting set up to accept ACH, mobile payments, gift cards or PayPal may be able to help you attract more customers, gain new business, and enter new markets–or just get paid faster.

cloud6. Take to the cloud–but proceed with due diligence.  Cloud computing promises organizations a faster, easier and cheaper route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. So it’s no wonder that SMBs are moving to the cloud. However, not all cloud vendors are created equal–and some have backtracked on the original cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing and contracts that are about as clear as mud. Others fall short when it comes to taking security and privacy precautions. Seek out vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise as evidenced with transparent pricing, clear and flexible contracts, free trials and clearly documented virtual and physical (data center) security measures.

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends For 2014

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

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

2014 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends in Detail

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

About SMB GROUP

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

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

 

 

Collaboration and the Progressive SMB

Almost all businesses aspire to success–but not all achieve it. SMB Group has identified and written quite a bit about what we term “Progressive SMBs.” Progressive SMBs are more growth driven and invest more in technology than their counterparts. They also view IT as a tool to help the business grow, create market advantage, and level the playing field against bigger companies.

Most important, being a Progressive SMB pays off. In our 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study, 85% of SMBs that plan to invest more in technology anticipated revenue increases. In comparison, only 42% of SMBs that plan to decrease IT spending expected revenues to rise.

Personifying the Progressive SMB: Apex Supply Chain

apex logoI recently had the chance to speak with Karolyn Schalk, VP of IT Infrastructure at Apex Supply Chain. Apex designs and manufactures what it terms “Point-Of-Work Solutions”— vending machines, cabinets, and other devices, as well as software to manage use, inventory, and replenishment. Apex solutions can manage any supplies, tools or equipment that need to be tracked and controlled.

Apex illustrates the kind of attitudes and behaviors that make the fast-growth, Progressive SMB tick. Founded just seven years ago, Apex has grown to become the global leader in automated vending, supplying over 6,500 companies with vending machine solutions. Apex has fueled this growth with new employees, innovative solutions, new locations and acquisitions.

As the company grew, it invested in sales, marketing and service solutions to help increase sales and provide responsive service. But Schalk realized that Apex also needed a better way to collaborate. Sticking with “email collaboration” would eventually slow down innovation, time to market and customer responsiveness–and along with it, growth and expansion.

Cleaning Out the Collaboration Junk Drawer

junk drawer Apex had opened more locations, hired more employees, created new offerings, and made a couple of acquisitions. It’s network of external suppliers, partners, contractors and installers expanded.

But Apex was still using Microsoft Small Business Server and an assortment of email, file sharing and SharePoint for collaboration. Over seven years, Schalk explained, “this had turned into the equivalent of a big junk drawer. Whatever organization was initially in there had been lost.”

As a result, people had problems finding the information they needed, locating the right contacts to get a job done, and tracking tasks. With “end-users living in email, time was wasted and the risk of things falling through the cracks grew,” notes Schalk. “We needed something more manageable and useable to share information and track work.”

Crossing the Collaboration Chasm

Everyone wanted something better. But, despite its faults, end-users were used to the devil they knew–the junk drawer of email and shared files–and skeptical about if and how a different collaboration solution would work.

Schalk realized that successful adoption of any new solution would hinge on users understanding why improving collaboration was critical for the company, and how better collaboration tools would help to facilitate it. She recruited different end-user groups in the company to evaluate collaboration solutions. In the process, Apex evaluated or reviewed cloud-based collaboration solutions from three major vendors, which helped to get people thinking about, seeing and talking about better ways to collaborate and get work done.

Schalk also designated a technology advocate to help end-users understand how a new collaboration solution would help streamline tasks and make their lives easier. As she observed, “My biggest ‘aha’ was understanding we needed a technology advocate. We’re all creatures of habit. People need hand-holding and encouragement to believe that there is a better solution, and show them how it can make it easier for them to share and keep track of work.”

Selecting a Solution

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Apex had decided upfront that it wanted to deploy a cloud-based collaboration solution because, as Schalk noted, “We have a lean IT staff. So the cloud gives us a way to get more value, more quickly and easily than an on-premise solution.”

“Functionality was important, but so was simplicity,” explained Schalk. “We wanted all of the collaboration tools–instant messaging, meetings, community, wikis, blogs, email, etc.–but it needed to be integrated and easy to use.” Other key factors included flexibility, support, security and backup, an easy and secure way to bring external contractors and partners into projects, and mobile capabilities.

After evaluating different solutions, Apex selected IBM’s Smart Cloud for Social Business and deployed in March 2012. According to Schalk, “The initial solution was simple to use and the pieces were well-integrated. In addition, IBM gave us great access to the product team. We felt we’d have input into product development so we’d get changes as our needs evolve.” Since the initial deployment IBM has made several enhancements; in particular, Schalk liked the direction IBM was taking with its Mobile First design point, which gave her confidence that Apex would get the capabilities it needed for a more mobile workforce and world.

She also liked that support came bundled into standard Smart Cloud for Social Business subscription pricing, and that IBM provided “corporate-grade security and backup for highly confidential new product ideas and designs.” The Smart Cloud for Social Business guest model, which lets companies set up free guest accounts for external users, was another point in its favor. “The guest model would make it easier for Apex to collaborate with contractors, suppliers and partners in a secure way,” she added.

Keeping Up With the Speed of What Customers Want

Schalk reports that with the help of the technology advocate, end-users began to explore the tool set and found benefits specific to their work groups. Since then, they have quickly begun using more of the functionality in Smart Cloud for Social Business, because “they don’t have to install anything new, its easy to use, and its all integrated.”

Apex is now better able to “keep up with the speed of what customers want.” For example, the solution is easing the roll out of Apex’s new ERP solution. According to Schalk, “People are updating the task list every 20 minutes because it’s easy. They can do work from anywhere, from home, on a tablet. Almost every other day, someone says, wow, it’s so easy to get things done with a pop-up meeting or iPad app.”

On boarding new employees in this fast-growing business has become much simpler as well. Before, people had to “hunt around to find the right info for each new hire. Now we can just point new hires to the places where we’ve published information about projects, policies and procedures,” explains Schalk.

Schalk says that employees are also using Smart Cloud for Social Business as a complement to their Salesforce.com sales and service applications. Although she would like to see the IBM and Salesforce products more fully integrated, customer support and sales teams view them as complementary, and are sharing relevant conversations and tasks between the solutions.

Perspective

Social Business People Network  inside Speech BubbleProgressive SMBs that create and sustain rapid growth are defined not only by larger IT investments, but their attitudes about applying technology to help achieve business goals.

Many SMBs recognize that effective collaboration is critical to building and growing a successful business. Taking steps to develop a more collaborative culture, such as Apex did, pave the way to getting the results you want from a collaboration solution. As the Apex story illustrates, it pays off to:

  • Focus on collaboration as a means to desired business outcomes–such as faster time to market, or faster decision-making.
  • Get people engaged in the process early on to elevate awareness and conversations about better ways to get things done.
  • Lend a helping hand–such as a technology advocate–to help users who are reluctant to change see how a different approach will make their lives easier.

This sets the stage not only for selecting the solution that will best meet your business needs, but also ensures faster user adoption and, ultimately, the outcomes you’re looking for from that solution.

This blog was sponsored by IBM Smart Cloud for Social Business to help educate small and medium businesses (SMBs) about how collaboration tools and social technologies can help 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.

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.

 

Will Actian Connect, Analyze and Act on the SMB Market Opportunity?

After marking my calendar to attend Pervasive’s 2013 Integration World, I had to wonder whether or not Actian’s pending acquisition of Pervasive would be a done deal–or not–by April 14, when the conference was due to kick off.

After all, I figured that if things were still up in the air, I’d probably leave with more questions than answers. Although it seemed pretty clear to me that the combined entity would be able to bring a lot more to the table in the large enterprise big data space, it wasn’t clear to me what it would mean for the merged company’s future in the SMB market.

Evidently, the events team wasn’t sure about whether or not the acquisition would be a done deal in time for the event either, as they had two sets of signage and materials printed up and ready to go for either eventuality.

Fortunately, the acquisition became final on April 11, three days in advance of the event, and the events team got to use the Actian version. And although it’s too soon to expect a roadmap from the freshly combined entity, the event did give me a chance to think about what may be on tap.

 Actian Connects with Pervasive

actian pervasive imagesFirst, the background. Privately held Actian Corp closed the deal to acquire Pervasive, which had prior to this been publicly traded on NASDAQ, on April 11 for $161.7 million. Under the agreement, Pervasive becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Actian. In total, the merged company employs about 510 people.

Each company has been around a long time and has deep roots in the database world. Actian got its start from a predecessor company named Ingres in the late 1980s, which went through two acquisitions and a divestiture to then emerge as the new Ingres Corporation, best known for Ingres Database, an SQL relational database management system, available in community (open-source) and enterprise versions. On a quest to evolve into a big data company, the company acquired VectorWise, an analytical database in 2010. In 2011, the company rebranded itself as Actian and in 2012, it bought object-store database vendor Versant.

Likewise, Pervasive began as a database company in 1982, with its Btrieve offering. After a few acquisitions, spinouts and name changes, the company became Pervasive Software in 1997, when Btrieve evolved into Pervasive PSQL. In 2003, Pervasive entered the integration business when it purchased Data Junction (now Pervasive Data Integrator). Today, many SMB-oriented ISVs use Pervasive data integration solutions in their offerings. Data Integrator technologies are also at the core of Galaxy Marketplace, which Pervasive launched in 2011 (see Pervasive Puts Its Galaxy Integration Community Into Orbit). In addition, Pervasive jumped into the big data arena, most notably with DataRush, a predictive data analytics engine, in 2006.

In both companies, legacy database products still account for a big chunk of revenues, and have funded expansion to develop and/or acquire the big data solutions that they are targeting to fuel future growth. As noted by Steve Shine, Actian CEO in the press release announcing the deal, that target is to deliver big data solutions for enterprises of all sizes:  “Every moment, people, businesses and machines generate explosive volumes and varieties of data leveraging their existing networks and, more increasingly, the cloud. Companies that embrace this data as their most strategic asset will thrive, while those that don’t lose their competitive advantage.”

Giving companies the ability to “Connect, Analyze and Act” is Actian’s corporate mantra. Pervasive gives Actian the strong integration capabilities that it needed to fill out the connect piece of its big data story. Meanwhile, DataRush’s high-powered BI and analytics solutions should significantly beef up analytics and processing capabilities.

Where SMBs Have Fit Into the Story to Date

Small and medium businesses (SMBs) have been vital to Pervasive. The company has relied primarily on indirect channel partners to reach SMBs. ISVs in particular have been integral to its success. It has partnered with vendors such as Intuit, Salesforce, UserVoice and others who sell through embedded integrations and connectors built with Pervasive Data Integrator and with ISVs, such as GlobalShop, EBP, and Abacus, that build their solutions on Pervasive SQL database. A good strategy, as SMBs don’t often have the bandwidth, expertise or resources to tend to the integration plumbing necessary to connect financials, marketing, CRM and other solutions.

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 2.41.23 PMIn 2011, Pervasive also introduced Galaxy Integration Marketplace, a portal where users can find integration guidance and buy pre-built integration solutions in Amazon-like fashion. On the flip side, the portal gives integration developers a window into what integrations people are looking for, as well as a lot of very handy tools–including a storefront–to provision and manage products, subscriptions, payment processing, etc.

Currently, Galaxy has about 100 integration apps, from Freshbooks to Salesforce, which is priced at $25 per month, to integrations that are priced at $5000 or $6000 per year.

Pervasive is also working on a new capability, code-named Maestro, that will have a simple mapping interface so providers can map custom fields on top of pre-built connectors. Again, the Galaxy approach makes it easy for under-resourced SMBs to tackle the complicated integration problem.

On the other hand, Pervasive’s big data offerings, such as DataRush, have pretty much been a large enterprise play, and Actian’s primary focus and customer base has resided with large enterprises to date.

Where Will SMBs Fit in the Future?

Will Actian continue to maintain a strong focus on SMBs? In conversations at Integration World, as well as in the press release, Shine indicated that Actian intends to cover the spectrum from large to small: “Actian’s innovations make it easy for organisations large and small to connect, analyse and act on their fast-changing and fast-growing diverse data assets throughout the entire data lifecycle.”

Furthermore, Pervasive has an established and successful model of working with ISVs to embed and sell through its solutions–a solid approach to reach and serve SMBs, who need  integration solutions that they can quickly deploy and from which they can get value. The Galaxy Marketplace complements this approach by adding the value of community insight and new ways to source and purchase integration solutions.

However, Actian will face many challenges as it tries to span from large enterprises to small–especially in increasingly crowded and hyped integration, analytics and big data markets. And, as more SMBs become aware of and educated about what big data is and why they need to have a strategy for it, how will Actian push through the noise and surface to get into consideration in that arena?

Easier said than done–both on engineering and marketing fronts, especially as large customers tend to have a lot more pull than small ones, and the fragmented nature of the market makes SMBs much harder to reach and serve.

Actian will need to make a bold statement. It must double down on engaging SMB-focused developers, SIs and other sell-through partners both within, as well as beyond its current integration ecosystem. If Actian could, for instance, apply low-friction approaches such as Galaxy into other areas, such as analytics, it could prove a powerful play for helping SMBs not only connect, but to also analyze and act on their data once its integrated.

I’ll be watching to see if Actian chooses to make some significant moves in SMB directions as well as in the large enterprise space. Will SMBs be treated as a strategic market focus, or as business as usual? Actian’s decisions will signal whether it intends to pursue a broader play in the SMB market–or not.

Sage Streamlining Takes a Major Turn With the Sale of ACT! and SalesLogix

sage imagesLast week, The Sage Group announced that it is selling its Sage Act! contact manager and SalesLogix CRM to Swiftpage. Swiftpage is a U.S. based digital marketing software vendor and has been a Sage partner supplying Sage E-Marketing as a connected service for three-plus years. The move is part of Sage’s strategy to streamline its business software portfolio and focus on its core application areas, accounting, ERP and payroll. Sage is also selling Sage Nonprofit Solutions to Accel-KKR, a private equity firm.

In addition, Sage is unloading four solutions sold in Europe. Combined, these sales amount to about $145 million, and result in a loss to Sage. Accel-KKR and Sage provided Swiftpage with significant capital to help finance Swiftpage’s SalesLogix and ACT! purchases. Sage will retain 16.1% ownership in this deal.

The sale affects about 1,000 of Sage’s 13,000 employees, with about 250 people from Sage ACT! and SalesLogix moving to Swiftpage. In my conversation with Himanshu Palsule, Sage’s North American support group is working with Swiftpage to put an escalation process in place for customers.

Sage isn’t exiting the CRM market, however. It is retaining Sage CRM (which it acquired as part of its purchase of ACCPAC several years ago) as its core CRM product.

Following Through On a Strategy to Streamline

Sage’s announcement doesn’t come as a big surprise. At Sage Summit 2012 last August, Sage North America management revealed its strategy to concentrate development on what Sage termed core solutions areas–namely financials, ERP, and payroll, as discussed in my post, Sage Turns a New Leaf: Top Takeaways from Sage Summit 2012.

At the event, Sage North America CEO Pascal Houillon set forth Sage’s strategy to move from a heavily decentralized product management and marketing approach to one that is more centralized and focused—and to put the company on a stronger growth trajectory. By streamlining its offerings, Sage intends to provide customers and partners with a more integrated experience and more flexibility to take advantage of new cloud-based connected services.

Shedding CRM Solutions That Weren’t Keeping Pace with Market Trends

Over the years, Sage has been very acquisitive. But many of its acquisitions haven’t really paid off. This has been particularly true for Sage ACT! and SalesLogix, both of which Sage acquired in 2001 when it bought Interact Commerce. Sage bought these products when desktop and client-server computing were at their peak–but about to wane. Since then, of course, the likes of Salesforce.com, Zoho CRM, Nimble and many other CRM cloud offerings have come to the forefront. Meanwhile, Sage has struggled to make the cloud transition with its CRM products. In addition, Sage hasn’t been able to keep pace with developing the new social capabilities that customers want in CRM solutions. These limitations have made it difficult to sell these products to new customers.

While Sage did develop integrations for ACT! and SalesLogix with its financials solutions, its attempts to cross-sell CRM to its installed base of financials and ERP customers met with limited success. The partner channel and end-user decision-makers for CRM and financials solutions are very different, and Sage was unable to develop an effective method to bridge the gap. As a result, there is very little customer overlap between the two.

With ACT! and SalesLogix off the plate, Sage intends to increase its focus on its core financials and ERP products, including Sage 50 (formerly Peachtree), Sage 1oo ERP (formerly Sage ERP MAS 90 & 200), Sage 300 ERP (formerly ACCPAC), and Sage ERP X3, and provide a richer set of connected services for these solutions.

Moving Forward

For a very long time, Sage has looked to acquisitions as a way to fuel growth, acquiring scores of business software products over the years. Sage has had a hard time rationalizing its strategy, sparking much criticism for having a cluttered portfolio, too many products and not enough focus.

Now, Sage is taking a 180-degree turn to sell off surplus solutions, freeing up development and marketing resources to create cleaner, more integrated solutions and messaging. While it’s too early to tell if this new strategy will result in the growth Sage is looking for, the move does give the company more bandwidth to concentrate on its core financial solutions, and give its remaining Sage CRM product the types of cloud, social  and mobile capabilities that it needs to be competitive. In addition, Sage no longer has to contend with the politics of competing product lines and partner channels.

While the move may be a bit emotionally jarring for current ACT!  and SalesLogix customers, they shouldn’t experience too much change in the short term. Over time, they may in fact see an upside, if Swiftpage, which has a strong focus in the digital marketing space,  can infuse the former Sage solutions with the updated cloud, social and mobile capabilities that they will need to attract new customers.

Save Time by Streamlining Business Applications with Integration

Originally published on December 17, 2013 on QBSBDC.com as the last of four blog posts in a series designed to help small businesses, and those that serve them, be successful.

men with puzzle piecesAt one point or another, most small business owners have had to work with applications that don’t talk to each other. It might be a payroll system that doesn’t integrate with financial accounting or a payments acceptance tool that doesn’t sync with inventory management. The experience leaves beleaguered small business owners thinking, “there has got to be a better way.”

Research from Scribe Software found that although 75% of SMBs say integration is important, integration among business applications has been low. Using disparate applications drains productivity, wastes time and leads to errors and poor decision-making. But what is a small business owner to do?

Fortunately, technology vendors of all stripes are emphasizing the importance of a unified, reliable data store as the foundation for solid analytics and reporting. This includes offering pre-integrated solutions, creating marketplaces to make it easier to find integrated partner apps and opening up their application programming interfaces (APIs).

Intuit is one such vendor. The company recently launched Apps.com, an app store where small businesses can find apps that work with QuickBooks. It made its QuickBooks Online API free to encourage more third-party developers to create applications that integrate with QuickBooks.

Intuit also announced the first of many new partnerships designed to enhance the capabilities of the QuickBooks platform. The first was with mobile payments company Square to feed transaction data into QuickBooks. The second deal was with American Express Open where small businesses using the Open cards can have data from receipts integrated into QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online accounts.

In the coming year, we expect integration will be a higher priority even among small businesses. After all, it doesn’t take too many disconnected applications to feel the pain of productivity drains, errors, and a lack of solid data to support decision-making. Integration still isn’t sexy, but the improved productivity, time savings, error reduction and decision-making benefits that it enables are.

Laurie McCabe 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.

Follow Laurie on Twitter at @LaurieMcCabe and @SMBGroup.

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