Intacct Collaborate: Bringing Sales and Finance Together

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight. 

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and today I’m here on the SMB Spotlight at Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2014 Conference.  I’m talking to Aaron Harris, who is the Chief Technology Officer for Intacct.  Aaron, thank you for sharing time with me today.  Can you tell me a little bit about Intacct, who you are, what you do?

Aaron: Sure.  Thanks Laurie.  Intacct is a cloud accounting and finance solution that we have designed for small and medium-sized businesses.  We’ve taken a best in class approach, so all of our resources are targeted at building just what the accounting and finance team needs, the general ledger, payables, receivables.  We’ve got a strong relationship with Salesforce, so if you’re using Salesforce we’ve got a very nice native integration where Intacct and Salesforce synchronize data and processes and it’s a beautiful way to get your front office and your back office working together.

Laurie: So what are you highlighting here?  I know you have an announcement about some new collaboration capabilities with Salesforce.  What’s going on with that?

Aaron:      That’s right.  So at Dreamforce this year we are announcing Intacct Collaborate.  What Intacct Collaborate does it takes Salesforce Chatter and extends it into Intacct so that your sales and your marketing and support people who are using Salesforce today and who are collaborating on Chatter are using now the same network that the accounting team, the finance team, project managers are using on the backend.  So there’s one social network, there’s one collaborative network across the enterprise for the whole organization to work on.

Laurie: Good.  It sounds like that makes it easier for everybody to feed information into the whole financial process.

Aaron: That’s right.  There’s a lot pieces to it.  Obviously there are some great stories, right?  I’m a sales rep, I’ve got a deal that I want to get done, I need to get a 10% discount approved on that deal.  In the old world I’d write an email to the CFO, the CFO doesn’t know anything about what I’m talking about so the CFO has got to go do some research.  She responds to the email, there’s lots of back and forth, none of the communication is captured, right?  So it slows down the sale, it adds frustration, there’s no log to what happened.  So in this world that all happens via chatting and collaborating, and it’s all in real-time, it’s all captured, it’s all part of the record.  We also see this being useful within the accounting and finance team, getting them to collaborate over some of the more tricky business processes.  I was talking to a CFO the other day who said 20% of finance transactions are exceptional, they’re complex.  And we spend 80% of our time on those 20% of the transactions, the exceptions.  We have to find out what’s going on, what do we do?  Having Collaborate allows them to not only more efficiently communicate about these transactions and these exceptions, but it generates a log that you keep the communication around the transaction.

Laurie: I know Intacct is really aimed at small and medium businesses, but that’s a very diverse audience, so what segments of the SNB market are really the sweet spot for Intacct?

Aaron: Sure, so there’s really two categories of customers who are choosing Intacct.  The first is companies who have outgrown their first accounting product, usually it’s QuickBooks.  They’ll outgrow it when they need to automate processes that are manual.  Perhaps they’re now a multi-location business and it’s just too difficult to aggregate or consolidate data across the locations.  It might be that the reporting tools available in QuickBooks don’t give them kind of insight that they need, which product lines are the most profitable, which of my professional services engagements are losing money and which are making money?  This kind of insight is just not possible in some of the low-end products.  Or it may just be that this is a growing company that expects to go public, they need to have proper controls in place, they need to have a certain way they’re going to get through their Sarbanes–Oxley audits, so they need a product that will help them…

Laurie: Even if you’re preparing to be acquired or something like that.  If you sell the business you would need that.

Aaron: Exactly.  You need a product that cannot just assure external auditors that you’re following these controls, but that allows you to provide the evidence that you’re doing it.

Laurie: And that’s about half of your customers are coming from that.

Aaron: About half.  So the other half are people who have embraced the cloud.  They love Salesforce, they love some of the other cloud products.  They can see that with Salesforce they’re getting constant innovation, it embraces mobile technology.  You know what I’m talking about.

Laurie: Yeah, they just want to be able to do things on the fly, they way they want, on the device of choice.

Aaron: And no more headaches about hosting the infrastructure, that’s security, right?

Laurie: No, they don’t want to mess with that.

Aaron: So they want to take their accounting and finance processes and modernize them to the same extent as they already have sales and marketing.  So they’re choosing Intacct not just because it’s cloud and it gives them the same advantages they’re getting through Salesforce, they’re also choosing it because it’s fully integrated with Salesforce.  They’ve got the full front office/back office integration, data synchronization, process integration.

Laurie: It takes the integration headache away too.

Aaron: That’s right.  No more disconnect in the process.

Laurie: So how can a potential customer or prospect learn a little bit more or better evaluate whether this might be a good fit for them?

Aaron: The easiest way is to go to our website, go to  There’s a number of things you can do there, but maybe the easiest is just to get a trial.

Laurie: So you do still offer a free trial?  I think a lot of them don’t anymore

Aaron: We do.  We’re very proud of our product, we think it’s very easy to use, so get a trial.  We actually walk you through how to learn more.  It’s actually a really nice way to learn about Intacct.

Laurie: That’s great.  Well Aaron, thank you again for sharing that information with me about Intacct.  I think it will be really valuable for a lot of small and medium businesses out there.  Have a great rest of Dreamforce.

Aaron: Thanks Laurie.

Laurie: Thank you.

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.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Information Do You Need to Understand and Measure?

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

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

Where Will the Data Come From?

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

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

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

How Much Data Do You Need to Analyze?

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

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

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

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

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

How Do You Make Data Actionable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

Putting Big Data To Work For SMBs

info you need photoIn my previous post, Is Big Data Relevant for SMBs?, I looked at the underlying trends driving the buzz around big data, and why big data is relevant for SMBs. I also discussed why “big” is a relative term–relative to the amount of information that your organization needs to sift through to find the insights you need, when you need them, and the widening performance gap between businesses that can find the right needles in the data haystack, and those that can’t.

But, charting the course from information overload to actionable business insights isn’t easy, especially for resource-constrained SMBs. In this post, I’ll draw on my conversations with three IBM business partners to discuss what they are seeing, and how they are helping SMB analytics novices chart a course to a successful big data landing. They include:

  • FYI Solutions is an IT consultancy based in Parisppany, NJ. FYI specializes in business analytics solutions for financial services, insurance, life sciences, media & publishing, and automotive companies. In business for 29 years, FYI Solutions takes pride in creating lasting value through lasting relationships–the average FYI Solutions client relationship is 15 years.
  • LPA Systems, Inc. is a business analytics and business intelligence company with deep roots in the healthcare, hospitality, finance and insurance industries. Founded in 2001, LPA’s main office is in Rochester, New York, with additional offices in Houston, Dallas and Cleveland.
  • Waypoint Consulting is a business analytics and financial performance management consultancy based in Newton Square, PA and a 2012 Philly 100 company. Waypoint combines proprietary methodologies, partner products and certified consultants to help customers deliver analytic solutions. Waypoint’s Project Management process provides clients with full transparency into a project while ensuring solutions are delivered on time and under budget.

Houston (or Parsippany, Rochester, Newtown Square), We Have A Problem

SMBs rarely seek out “big data” solutions. Instead, they’re looking to solve a business problem. They may need guidance to understand what data they need to solve the problem, where the data is that they need to use, and how to capture and use the data to address challenges and meet business goals.

Trying to solve business problems is nothing new. What’s changed is that they are dealing with more data, located in more places, and created in different formats. The other big thing that’s changed is that they need to get information and insights faster.

As Joe Rodriguez, Software Practice Leader, FYI Solutions states, “They can be coming at it from different angles. They may have delivery people in the field telling them that it’s too slow to do queries to check on inventory–they are waiting too long and losing money. Or their information is stuck in different silos, and it’s a time-consuming, laborious process to try to pull it into an enterprise wide view.” Or as Brendan McGuire, Managing Partner, WayPoint Consulting puts it, “With more external and internal data available, companies can no longer effectively leverage and use the data with the tools they’ve been using.”

The Right Stuff for Successful Outcomes

Most SMBs that come to these solution providers are just getting started down the analytics path. They come in frustrated with ever-more complicated Excel spreadsheets and pivot tables that take too much energy to create and update, and that propagate too many errors to trust.

Some are also coming from industries, such as healthcare, that have undergone a rapid transition to digital records due to new regulatory requirements. All of a sudden, they are swamped with data.

Few have in-house experts that are well-versed in analytic best practices and approaches, and many don’t even have business analysts. As Joe Rodriguez puts it, “We often have a brand new customer who will come to us because they have a problem to tackle. They may have limited knowledge about analytics, and need us to help them understand it and how it can help them.”

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????So what does it take for these novices to successfully navigate up the curve? The solution providers I spoke with shared common views on the essentials for good outcomes.

  1. Start with smarter decision-making, not tools. Start with a close examination of the business drivers for a more advanced analytics approach–not with the tools. As Brendan McGuire noted, “The first and most important part of the conversation is working with the client to understand what processes do they have and what decisions do they need to make, and how can better data insights support this? Or as Barbara Schiffman, Director of Technology Solutions, FYI Solutions says, “We don’t start out by talking about the tools. In fact, the tools are incidental. We start with what business problems are you experiencing? Where do you really want to be instead of where you are today?”
  2. Get on the right entrance ramp. As mentioned above, many SMBs are just getting started up the analytics curve. With so many bright and shiny objects under the big data umbrella, it can be tempting to bite off more than you can chew. Jesse McNulty, Account Manager, LPA Systems summed it up this way: Most SMBs are just getting started and have enough to do with getting good basic functional reporting in place. They can get enormous benefits just from getting the foundation in place, then build on their analytics competency from there. But some are already farther along, and ready to move into location analytics, forecasting, predictive analytics or other more advanced things–like prescriptive analytics.” On the flip side, they may not have given much thought to mobile analytics right out the gate, but could benefit from it. According to Brendan McGuire, “Most SMBs don’t initially think about it. But once we end up talking about it, many of them realize that their executives and business users are using tablets and smartphones, and that mobile needs to be part of the plan upfront.”
  3. Create the right roadmap for your business. I know I just said to stay focused, but at the same time, you also need to create a roadmap that will serve your needs as things evolve in your business, the market and with the competition. As Barbara Schiffman advises, “You shouldn’t just put a tactical Band-Aid on the problem. You need enough detail to figure out the real problems, solve for those today, but also look ahead to the future, and the types of problems that could arise.” Keep in mind that this is your roadmap, for your business. Just as there are many different entry points, the roadmap for each business will be different. “At the end of the day, it’s all about what solution will deliver the best business ROI for your company,” notes Schiffman.
  4. Decode data requirements. Take time up front to think through what data your business needs to enable better decision-making. What data are you drawing on today for decision-making and business processes? Where is the data, and how can you make it more accurate and usable? What data are you missing that you need, and how can you get it? Once you have a clear picture of the key data sources you need to pull from, you can start to figure out which tools you’ll need for the job. If you’re like many SMBs, you probably have data in different “silos”, such as an internal financials application and a cloud-based HR or CRM solution. Integrating these data sources is likely an investment you’ll need to make. As Brendan McGuire advises, “Data silos are inconsistent, expensive to support, cause errors. When you have an integrated data store, and you use that for analytics, it doesn’t impact your transactional systems. You use that to do any level of reporting, build dashboards, create mobile interfaces.”
  5. Evaluate industry-specific solutions. While horizontal solutions may fit the bill in some cases, tailor-made, industry-specific solutions and a solution provider with expertise in your industry can often save time, money and a lot of aggravation. As Jesse McNulty explained, “There is tremendous change occurring in the healthcare industry as payment models shift from fee-for-service to pay-for-performance or full risk. There are many nuances, for instance, to areas such as managing chronic disease populations, and healthcare organizations have very specific metrics that they need to monitor to improve business performance against them.” Having a pre-configured solution that integrates the internal and external data, structured and unstructured, into one location, and addresses specific healthcare needs with healthcare terminology and business practices helps save clients time and money. According to McNulty, “This enables us to get a client’s electronic medical records (EMR) system connected to and running on our Chronic Disease Management analytics in as little as two weeks.”
  6. Find a partner that provides comprehensive services. Because most SMBs will take an incremental approach, it’s important to seek out comprehensive services in this rapidly evolving area. Look for solution providers that offer consulting, and implementation and support services, and demonstrate a deep commitment to establishing ongoing relationships with their customers. However, since no one provider is ever likely to be able to do it all, in this volatile space, selecting a vendor that’s part of a strong ecosystem is also important. Being part of a bigger ecosystem gives solution providers the knowledge and training they need to stay ahead of the big data learning curve, and improve the offerings and services they provide to you.


As all investment literature warns, past performance in not a guarantee of future success. Just ask Blockbuster, which was blindsided by consumers’ shifting preferences for renting movies; RIM BlackBerry, which underestimated how much the bring your own device (BYOD) trend would impact its smartphone sales to businesses; or Energizer, which missed the boat on how fast the sales of single-use, disposable batteries was dropping.

For most SMBs, being able to mine untapped data for business benefits is still at the aspirational stage. But now is the time to seriously consider what impact big data and analytics will have for your business, your customers and your industry. Think about trends you see taking shape–and even about the ones that you can now only imagine. What information and insights would help you capitalize on these trends? Likewise, what information are you missing that puts the business at risk?

Clearly, the perfect storm is taking shape as data volume, variety and velocity continue to soar ahead, almost guaranteeing that the businesses that can harness it to their advantage will benefit, and those that don’t will be blindsided.

This is the second of a three-part blog series by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM that examines big data and its implications for SMBs. The first post, Is Big Data Relevant for SMBs?, parses through the underlying trends and hype surrounding big data, and what is important and relevant for SMBs. In my next and final post in this series, I’ll talk about ways that you can get the conversation going and the questions you need to ask to help your business move ahead.

Is Big Data Relevant for SMBs?

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????There’s little doubt that “big data” is the latest “big thing” in the IT industry. But for many small and medium business (SMB) decision-makers, big data is a somewhat fuzzy term. Ask any number of them what big data means, and you’re likely to get different definitions. Making matters worse, the “big” in big data, along with endless discussions of petabytes and zettabytes, make many SMBs skeptical that big data is relevant for their businesses.

So it’s not hard to make the case that “big data” is has become an over-hyped and poorly understood catch-all phrase. What does big data really mean, and what are the implications for SMBs? When we parse through the underlying trends and hype surrounding big data, what’s left that is actually important and relevant for SMBs?

The Realities Driving Big Data Buzz

The big part of big data is easy to understand. Basically, the volume and variety of digitized data is increasing exponentially. Think about how much and how many kinds of information have moved from physical to digital form just over the last several years. Doctors have moved from paper charts to electronic medical records; merchants have moved from paper credit card imprinters to POS terminals to virtual terminals to mobile payment devices. Movies have moved from Blockbuster to Netflix; and photos have move from Kodak to Facebook and Instagram. “Smart” machines–from traffic sensors to seismographs–are creating entirely new digital data streams as well.

As a result, researchers report that we have already created 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, and that 90% of it has been generated in the last two years alone. While quintillions are hard to wrap your head around, these facts make the concept more accessible:

  • 150,000 new URLs are created each day.
  • Twitter sees roughly 58 million tweets every day, and has more than 554 million accounts.
  • 160 million emails are sent every 60 seconds.
  • Over 20 billion credit card payments are processed annually in the U.S.
  • Power companies are moving from physical meter to digital “smart” meter readings, and going from monthly reading to gathering meter information every 15 minutes. This adds up to 96 million reads per day for every million meters–or a 3,000-fold increase in data.

The term “big data” refers to having the ability to dig in to this growing data avalanche more effectively and quickly with tools that make it easier to store, manage, analyze and act on information.

Big is Relative When It Comes to Big Data

According to findings from the IBM Institute for Business Value and Said Business School, University of Oxford, most large enterprises define the “big” in big data as databases with more than 100 terabytes, while most midmarket companies (less than 1,000 employees) consider anything more than 1 terabyte as “big”.

The fact of the matter is, “big” is a relative term–relative to the amount of information that your organization needs to sift through to find the insights you need to operate the business more proactively and profitably. Basically, if the data set is too big for your company to effectively manage and get insights from, then you’re facing a big data challenge.

This isn’t just a large enterprise problem. In SMB Group studies, SMB decision-makers repeatedly cite “getting better insights from the data we already have” as a top business challenge. SMBs may not be dealing with terabytes of data, but many are finding that tools that used to suffice–such as Excel spreadsheets–fall short even when it comes to analyzing internal transactional databases.

Welcome to the Insight Economy

info you need photoWith the amount and variety of digitized growing exponentially, these challenges and requirements will only increase.

Business that can find the right needles in the data haystack more quickly, easily and reliably than competitors can reap enormous market advantages. 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 the IBM-Oxford University study, three out of five midmarket respondents using business and analytics solutions reported that they are realizing significant advantages, most notably to “identify new opportunities in the marketplace” and to “understand and respond to customers better.”

Take the example of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. With one of the lowest public subsidies in the U.S., the zoo needed to increase attendance and boost food and retail sales to operate profitably. But the zoo was unable to easily access the data–which resided on different systems–so it could plan how to do this. The zoo implemented a business intelligence solution to get better insight into customer trends and its own operations, and answer questions such as, “How many people spend money outside of admissions costs?” and “What time of day do ice cream sales peak?” By answering these questions and others, the zoo was able to increase retail and food sales by 35%, save more than $140,000 per year in marketing dollars through more targeted, successful campaigns, and increase overall zoo attendance by 50,000 in one year.

Unfortunately, many SMBs are lagging large enterprises in this area. The IBM-Oxford Study revealed that the gap between large enterprises and the midmarket is increasing, and the SMB Group 2012 Routes to Market Study shows that the smaller the company, the less likely they are to use or plan to use BI solutions.


Businesses have always needed the ability to measure critical success metrics and make sound business decisions. Big data solutions are designed to help businesses to do this in a world where the volume and variety of data is growing at breakneck speed.

When you look at the realities that are driving the big data bandwagon, its clear that long after the buzz fades, these realities will have a long-lasting impact on how businesses of all sizes operate. Over time, the performance gap will widen between businesses that can readily get the insights they need, when they need them, and those that can’t.

That said, figuring out where and how to start isn’t easy, especially for SMBs who are often resource-constrained. The good news, however, is that this is definitely an area where you want to take small steps first. In the next blog of this series, we’ll draw on conversations with IBM business partners to learn how they are helping SMBs to chart the big data journey.

This is the first of a three-part blog series by SMB Group and sponsored by IBM that examines big data and its implications for SMBs. In the next post, I’ll discuss how IBM business partners are helping SMBs take practical steps to put big data to work for their businesses.

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoy the podcast!

Podcast Segments and Timeline:

00:00 – 01:10: Introductions and backgrounds

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Clark

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

Chris Herbert

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

MSP Cloud Challenges in the Midmarket–and How IBM Helps Meet Them

In my recent post, A View From the MSP Trenches: Cloud Opportunities in the Midmarket, I examined how MSPs see the midmarket opportunity shaping up, and why they are partnering with IBM to capitalize on these opportunities. I discussed how MSPs are taking advantage of cloud-based technology solutions and IBM’s offerings to help their midmarket companies offload infrastructure management, deploy the leading-edge solutions, and achieve the performance, availability and security required for mission-critical applications.

I also wanted to learn more about the challenges that MSPs face, and how they work with IBM to surmount these hurdles. This post focuses on that side of my conversation with the same three MSPs, who I’ll reintroduce here:

  • Oxford Networks characterizes itself as “a 112 year-old start-up,” which began as a phone company and has since reinvented itself a couple of times over to become a high-end carrier’s carrier transport network. Oxford recently acquired an MSP and a data center, and is building on this to offer a spectrum of IT and telecom services to SMBs.
  • Perimeter E-Security delivers highly secure infrastructure protection and compliance solutions via its security-as-a-software platform, including: firewall management and monitoring, vulnerability scanning, intrusion detection and prevention, hosted email, hosted collaboration, email security, message archiving and mobile device management. Perimeter offers its services in the cloud, and on customer premises.  About two-thirds of its customers are small and midsize businesses (SMBs).
  • Velocity Technology Solutions provides virtual private cloud managed application and hosting services for its customers’ ERP solutions. It also hosts and manages connected applications, such as analytics and workforce automation; and complementary technical solutions, such as imaging. Velocity offers remote managed services for customers’ on premises applications, including a full replication service for disaster recovery.  Velocity’s customers range from businesses with about $50M in annual revenues to the Fortune 500.

MSPs must keep pace with a rapidly changing technology landscape and provide consistent, high performance cloud services. After all, that’s precisely why their customers are outsourcing infrastructure and application management to them in the first place. In their view, IBM provides them with the proven solutions and expertise that they need to deliver superior quality of service. As Tom Bruno, President & CEO, Velocity Technology Solutions, noted, “IBM has the most stable infrastructure. We can tap into the strength and girth of IBM to get the peace of mind that we need to deliver high-availability service.”

Some of the specific areas in which MSPs find strong value in the IBM partnership include:

  • Resources to scale and grow. By standardizing on IBM hardware and middleware, they are able to efficiently create and manage a high-availability environment. For instance, Velocity Technology Solutions works closely with IBM to identify and standardize the server, storage, and middleware stack to support “just about any application the customer wants,” according to Bruno.  “One of the biggest challenges is that ERP is advancing so fast–with a rush of analytics, mobile apps, collaboration and process flow. Customers want to upgrade, and with IBM, we can get these upgrades down to a science, and offer customers freedom of choice.” Or, as Craig Gunderson, President & CEO of Oxford Networks told me, “When we acquired the data center, it wasn’t up to snuff. IBM technologists helped us to reconfigure it and build for the future.”
  • Speed and agility. The bar to stay ahead of the technology curve is rising quickly, and MSPs must move at warp speed to stay ahead of it. While MSPs are often small or midmarket companies themselves, their IBM partnerships help give them the agility they need to take advantage of leading-edge technologies. “The IBM SmartCloud, DataFlex, V Systems and other IBM solutions are core to our PaaS and IaaS offerings. This means we can make more capabilities available more quickly to customers,” notes Gunderson.  MSPs need a stable but flexible technology foundation, says Perimeter E-Security’s Andrew Jacquith. “We add a terabyte of data per day to our cloud email and archiving platforms. IBM helps provide a secure, scalable cloud fabric to support our growth.”
  • End-to-end services. MSPs don’t want to or can’t provide everything a customer may need across the entire technology spectrum. But they are taking advantage of IBM’s ecosystem to broaden their service portfolios and give their customers a one-stop shopping experience. At Oxford Networks, for example, “Customers are asking us to be more of a business solutions provider. This wasn’t our core competency, but we can provide end-to-end solutions via IBM SaaS partners’ says Gunderson. “Partnering with other partners in the IBM ecosystem gives us the ability to meet the converging needs of our customers.”

In late September, IBM launched new global initiatives for MSPs, which provide additional resources to help them meet core technology challenges, including:

  • Access to four new Global Centers of Excellence (in addition to 40 existing IBM Innovation Centers). These centers provide MSPs with hands-on technical skills in technologies such asIBM SmartCloud, PureSystems, storage, security and collaboration.
  • A new virtual briefing center for MSPs to share ideas and knowledge about industry trends, customer requirements and best practices with their peers and with IBM experts.
  • PureSystems, which provides a new, integrated, by-design platform to tune hardware and software resources for data intensive workloads, and gain more flexibility to configure applications for either an on-premise or hosted environment.
  • More options for IBM SmartCloud, giving MSPs the choice to either integrate SmartCloud as an IBM-backed solution, or provide SmartCloud under their own brand.

Profitable business growth is another key challenge for all companies, and MSPs are no exception. The MSPs I spoke with believe that IBM sets itself apart with the quality of business planning and marketing support that it provides. “IBM partners with us to help us plan and capture more midmarket business,” states E-Perimeter’s Jacquith.  “The level of partnering is very deep.”

In the case of Oxford Networks, IBM and its advertising firm, Ogilivy and Mather, helped Oxford to determine which markets to focus on and how to grow intelligently. IBM also brings in Avnet personnel to help Oxford educate customers and prospects.  “IBM is very hands-on. We have never seen another company provide this level of support,” says Gunderson.

IBM new global initiatives for MSPs also offer more marketing and operational support. These included dedicated marketing and sales support, and a new program to help MSPs build a complete marketing plan. Other assistance includes a four-part education seminar to help MSPs use social media to grow their businesses, and IBM analytic capabilities to identify new customers and drive more repeat business.

IBM Global Financing (IGF) is stepping in with flexible, affordable financing options to help MSPs acquire the solutions and services they need to grow. Plans include 12-month, 0% loans for IBM Systems, Storage and Software. MSPs that select PureSystems platforms can also defer their first payment for 90 days.

All told, IBM’s focus on MSPs adds up to a tremendous value not only for MSPs, but for their customers. Instead of just throwing resources at them, IBM has put together an integrated program to address their technology and business challenges. In addition, IBM’s dedicated marketing and sales support provides MSPs with real people who get to know them and understand their individual goals and challenges. With this coordinated and personalized approach, IBM can to get the right resources to MSPs when and how they need it. In turn, these MSPs will be able acquire the skills and resources they need to help their midmarket customers achieve their goals.

This is the fourth of a five-part blog series by SMB Group that examines the evolution of midmarket business technology solutions and IBM’s Managed Service Provider Channel programs. In the next post, I’ll discuss upcoming IBM’s MSP program announcements slated for November.


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