Cloud Cover: Cloud Management and Security for SMBs

Cloud solutions already play a big role in most small and medium business (SMBs), with SMB adoption of cloud solutions gaining momentum across many solution areas (Figure 1). For many SMBs, the cloud offers a way to use new solutions to help grow the business despite limited IT resources and budgets.

Figure 1: SMB Current and Planned Solution Deployment Methods

Benefits such as cost effectiveness, flexibility, and easier and faster deployment are driving SMB adoption of cloud applications and storage solutions (Figure 2). The cloud gives SMBs the opportunity to harness more of the solutions that they need to get ahead–solutions that many would never have been able to deploy and manage on their own.

Figure 2: SMB Drivers For Cloud Adoption


But as cloud adoption grows, so does the complexity of managing and securing data in the cloud. As SMBs start to utilize a mix of public, private and hybrid clouds to meet different requirements, managing multiple solutions across multiple types of clouds can strain SMB resources. Many struggle to gain a holistic view of cloud performance. Compounding the situation, as SMBs spread data across multiple cloud environments, challenges to locate and safeguard data increase. In fact, SMB Group’s SMB Group 2015 Routes to Market Study shows that medium businesses rank security as their second most pressing technology challenge, and for small businesses, security is #1.

So how can SMBs continue to take advantage of new cloud solutions that help move the business forward, and at the same time, more easily manage and protect their data in this increasingly dispersed cloud environment?

Take Ownership of Your Cloud Strategy 

Because cloud solutions are typically easier to acquire and start using than traditional on-premises applications, many SMBs have taken a tactical approach to cloud adoption. It’s likely that corporate, line of business, small groups and individuals have all “turned on” cloud solutions for different purposes.

Think about it: the odds are good that you’re using public cloud services, such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps for Work, or Dropbox, and maybe using a platform-as-a-service like, and an , or Infrastructure-as-a-service like Amazon Web Services to run a traditional financial application, or for testing and development.

There’s nothing wrong with using a mix of cloud services and deployment options. But an ad hoc, siloed cloud approach can quickly spiral out of control–leaving you with poor visibility, a lack of control and management, and potential security risks.

Take a step back and inventory who is using what and why. Then look ahead to develop a more proactive and strategic cloud strategy that aligns with business goals, applications and workloads, IT resources and budgets, as well as your requirements in areas such as compliance, security and performance.

Consider the differences (Figure 3) between public, private and hybrid clouds. Clouds come in different shapes and sizes. Understanding the differences can help you determine which type of cloud deployment is best suited to your business goals, workloads, resources and security requirements. There’s no one size fits all answer; even for the same application and workload, a private cloud may be the right option for one organization, while a public software-as-a-service (SaaS) might be best fit for another.

Figure 3: Different Types of Cloud Application Deployments


Increasingly, SMBs are exploring a hybrid cloud model, in which some resources run in the public cloud, while others run in a private cloud. This approach is gaining momentum in situations where organizations want to use a public cloud/SaaS app, but security requirements dictate keeping some resources/data behind the corporate firewall; or companies need “burst” capacity for peak times, or have different needs for different data types/users.

Take Control of Cloud Security and Management

securityAs SMB reliance on cloud solutions rises, so does the need for better management and security. Solutions such as Dell Cloud Manager, featured at Dell World 2015, can help SMBs simplify and streamline cloud management of their cloud across multiple applications running in different private and public cloud platforms. Instead of having to juggle management dashboards from multiple cloud providers, Dell Cloud Manager gives IT a way to manage heterogeneous clouds from a single pane of glass. With this type of cloud management solution, SMBs can monitor, manage and govern existing cloud solutions, and bring new solutions into a centralized environment more easily.

Protecting your data–regardless of which cloud, on-premise system or network, or user device–also creates new security challenges. To address these concerns and protect data wherever it goes, Dell showcased new, more comprehensive security solutions. Some are designed specifically to address cloud challenges, such as:

  • Dell One Identity Cloud Access Manager 8.1, which enables secure access to all internal and cloud-based web applications, enforces security policies and controls. This new version also incorporates SaaS-based, multi-factor authentication.
  • Dell Data Protection, Cloud Edition 2.0, which allows businesses to encrypt their data and apply policy controls to data as it moves from endpoints to leading public cloud platforms, such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive for Business, Box and Dropbox.
  • Dell SecureWorks, which now includes a new, on-demand Emergency Cyber Incident Response (ECIR) capability for clients using AWS. The solution helps organizations investigate cyber incidents affecting assets deployed on the AWS Cloud, and more easily and efficiently and contain, mitigate cyber incident response investigations.

Be Prepared for the Future

As SMBs rely more on cloud solutions to run their businesses, the requirements to manage, secure and protect data across different cloud environments will continue to rise. While an ad hoc approach to the cloud may provide a quick fix, it won’t provide the visibility and control needed for sustained, long-term success. By taking a proactive approach, SMBs can build a cloud strategy that not only provides a tactical fix to immediate challenges, but also helps ensure that you can securely scale and adapt it to meet future needs as well.

This post is sponsored by Dell.  

Building a Successful Corporate Culture: Tips from Glassdoor’s 2014 CEO of the Year

This video interview was recorded on September 16, 2015, and originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight.

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and I’m talking with Rob Reid, CEO at Intacct, who was honored with the Glassdoor CEO of the Year award last year in the small and midsized company category. This is the second part of a two-part video series and in this part, I’m talking to Rob about some of his tips and perspectives on business as someone who’s founded and run a lot of successful businesses, what are some of the key areas that you could focus on to advance your business and get ahead.

Rob:  You know, I a lot of people ask me so, how were you able to create this organization and have a culture that seems to really be working? The first thing I’d pass on is you need to have a really compelling mission. The mission must be customer-centric, and driven by why you’re doing it, not how you’re doing it. When people come to Intacct, most think, oh they do accounting and finance management and ERP and I’m like, no. We’re helping change the world. For instance, we work with the Nike Foundation, and they go on in and help improve women’s’ ability to start businesses in Africa. How does Intacct help empower that? As Nike instituted programs across Africa, they found a lot of inconsistency in the success rate of women starting their own businesses. Intacct has gone in and we broke down village-by-village what was happening. So Nike could see what was working and change their program for higher success rates. That’s the kind of mission we have.

Laurie: Helping companies understand what levers they need to pull to create success

Rob: The other tip, and this seems obvious to most people, but organizations need to hire the right people. It’s like “Ah, yeah, yeah. Hire the right people.” But what you have to do is you have to hone in on the individual’s traits. What we do at Intacct is we look at first, is, are you a customer-centric type of individual? Do you care about others? Do you care about the customer? Do you care about your fellow employees? Do you care about our partners? If people inject in the interview process say, “Well, tell me about my budget responsibility” or “Tell me about how many people are going to be reporting to me” or “Tell me about how fast I’m going to be able to move up in the organization?” they may not fit in.

Laurie: Like “me, me, me”?

Rob: Yeah, this means “No, no, no!.” What we want to hear is, “Tell me how I can contribute. Tell me about how other people here and how they work together to have a bigger meaning.” We also look for people who are just naturally curious. Because if you’re naturally curious, you’re going to attack the status quo. If you attack the status quo, we go back to that other point of trying to improve whatever we’re working on. There are a lot of times where you work hard, and it’s like “Look at what we did!” And we’re like, “That’s great. Now how are we gonna do better?” And they go, “Oh yeah. Oh yeah! Yeah, let’s go do better!” We really try to look at how can we hire the talent that aligns for our mission. Now, what we’ve done at Intacct may not be right for others. But you need to think about what are the traits that you need in an individual in your organization? We’ve found that team players, that are customer-centric and very curious, are the best fit. Intacct has the highest customer satisfaction rating in the whole ERP industry, not just cloud, not just midmarket, according to both G2 Crowd and Entrust Radius. We’re off the charts in comparison to everybody else. I interview every person, making sure that they’ve got the right traits and the right kind of behaviors and the right attitudes. You know, in our industry we’re lucky enough that we have really intelligent people so most people walking through the door are smart, they’re motivated, now are they gonna fit in to be able to take it to the next level?

Laurie:  Culturally. Yes, culture’s really important.

Rob: You know, my son was in crew in college. It isn’t all about just the strength of pulling the oar, it’s pulling it together in unison. If one person hits that water a little bit differently, guess what? The boat starts to go in a different direction. So that’s one of the things that we are trying to achieve at Intacct, is making sure everyone’s pulling together. It’s amazing what you can do when you’ve got a true team all pulling.

Laurie: I’m sure it makes a difference for the customers too, and that’s why Intacct’s customer retention’s so high.

Rob: So there’s another thing that is really important. That’s to have clear, defined goals and objectives. And getting them written down, and mutually agreed upon. It allows you to hold people accountable. When I talk with others and they’re saying, “Yeah you know, it just doesn’t feel like we’re achieving the kind of success we’d like to have.” It’s one of the first things I ask them is, does everybody in the organization have written objectives? Whether it be weekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever it might be, whatever’s right for that organization, get it in writing and mutually agreed upon.

Laurie: I love that because I think too many times we all have our own assumptions and we don’t make sure that they’re synced up.

Rob: Right. Then one other thing is that we’re dealing mainly with knowledge workers and they like to be stimulated by more than just work and we really like to have a work life balance. It’s not just work.

Laurie: Hallelujah!

Rob: It’s work and life so we encourage that our employees take time with their families. We encourage that they give back to their community. The organization invests in a lot of different community types of programs and you know, I think that then our employees feel like we’re really, we really do care, which we do. And having an empathetic, caring, curious organization is just a wonderful thing.

Laurie: Rob, these are great perspectives, great insights into Intacct and its culture that other companies can learn from. I really appreciate your time and thank you for talking to me today

Rob: It was super seeing you again, and thank you Laurie.

Automation and Insight: Intacct’s Focus for Dreamforce 2015

This video interview was recorded on September 16, 2015, and originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight.

Laurie: Today I have the opportunity to talk to Rob Reid who is CEO of Intacct, which is a cloud-based financial management solutions company. We’re here at Dreamforce 2015 for this SMB Spotlight. Rob, I’m delighted to be speaking with you.

Rob: It’s a real pleasure. It’s always good to see you.

Laurie: Thanks and likewise! Before we kind of get into some of the specifics of what Intacct is focusing on at Dreamforce, can you provide a quick review about Intacct–who you are and what you do?

Rob:  Sure. At Intacct we deliver ERP solutions for midmarket firms. We focus on being best in class and complementing other best in class applications like Salesforce. So connecting the front office and back office seamlessly is one of the things that we really focus on at Intacct . We’re doing that for midmarket firms that are typically going through a lot of growth that want to automate their processes so they can invest in their mission. You know, so maybe they can hire more engineers, or if they’re a not for profit going on out and really helping the world. We help them eliminate some of the costs of running the business so that they can go and attempt the big things.

Laurie: Yes, helping midmarket companies to automate a lot of backend processes. So how did you arrive at this focus?

Rob: So you know the industry has pretty much segmented for while when we got into the market several years ago. There were solutions initially for enterprise corporations, such as Oracle and SAP. And because there are millions of very small businesses in the United States and across the world, businesses like Intuit went after that arena. And requirements are significantly different between what a large enterprise needs and what an owner/operator needs. But in the middle market, in the past, it was pretty much Microsoft and Sage with offerings there to help those organizations grow and to try to become larger companies. And unfortunately, Microsoft and Sage didn’t migrate to the cloud too quickly. The cloud changes the economic model, it’s a more cost-effective, easy to use type of environment, and enables much better reporting than ever before. So organizations like Intacct went on in to that sector to take advantage of cloud, and it’s been working great for us. We’ve been achieving 40% growth for the last four to five years. We now have 9,000 customers in locations all over the world in every continent other than the Arctic, and it’s just working for these organizations.

Laurie: Here at Dreamforce, you have some announcements or focal points that you’re highlighting here at Dreamforce. Could you talk about that?

Rob: I’d be glad to. At Dreamforce we’re showing Intacct Subscription Billing capability, which allows you to automate the subscription billing practices that you have. So many different industries are moving to subscription billing, they need an adaptive way to do the monthly billing and then connect that from a revenue recognition perspective. So we offer Intacct Subscription Billing, on top of the Salesforce1 platform. It’s totally integrated in with Salesforce, so there’s a seamless flow from the front office into the back office, so you’re accurately billing your customers. In turn, customers are happier, and will pay the bill faster. We’ve tied the revenue recognition requirements in and automated the whole overall process.

Laurie:  You’re absolutely right, even products now are on subscriptions, like on Amazon I have certain things set up for subscription, like vitamins, because I know that I’m going to need them every so often. I think that subscription capability is going to be key for a lot of companies.

Rob:  I’m glad you brought that up about getting your vitamins and other consumer things, but I want to clarify that our subscription billing solution is really focused on B2B type organizations. There are solutions from our partners that do a great job for the B2C area.

Laurie: So you integrate with partner solutions to handle the subscription billing in a B2C environment. Ok, what else is Intacct focusing on here?

Rob: In addition to automation to help organizations take out costs, they need to know exactly what’s going on with regard to revenue and their overall performance. They need to get information to the management team and all the employees about what’s going on in real time. They need empirical data to make both strategic and tactical decisions. If they can see what’s happening, they can spot opportunities and go after them. Or if all of a sudden there’s a new issue starting to bubble, you’ll see it and you can hone in on it. So we have delivered the Intacct Visual Board Book to give organizations the ability to see not just gap performance measures, but the operational measures that go on all the time. In today’s world, many times the operational measures are more important than the gap measures.

Laurie: If you can see where you’ve got either an opportunity or an issue and fix that or address it right away it’s gonna make a big difference.

Rob: Yes, and since we’re here at Dreamforce, there are a lot software companies here, and the change in monthly recurring revenue is actually the most comprehensive way to look at a software company’s health. Looking at revenue from the past, you’re always looking at things in the rearview mirror. When you’re seeing changes in real-time, you know exactly what’s happening. For instance, one of the challenges for most subscription-based software companies is the cost of customer acquisition. Well at Intacct, we’re providing you that information in real-time. Our Visual Board Book it’s keeping track of cash, it’s keeping track of what your customer lifetime value is, all that’s automated and provided visually. Everything is data-driven so that you make the right decisions. So as important as it is to have a financial management system to automate your processes, I think it’s even more important to be able to have the empirical data to make the right decisions.

Laurie: Right, have the insights and get everybody on the same page instead of everybody having a different opinion about what to do.

Rob: You know, you and I have known each other for a long period of time. I’ve been in Fortune 500 companies and I’ve never had more information to make the right decisions than I have right now at Intacct. We use Salesforce, we use Intacct, we use Marketo, we have about 30 different cloud solutions that we’ve integrated in together. We’ve got dashboards on everything and know what’s going on in the real-time.

Laurie: So these capabilities help you grow a business and sustain a business.

Rob: Yes, and that draws us back to that midmarket. According to The Economist, 89% of all the jobs created in our economy since the Great Recession are in the midmarket. The midmarket is driving our economy today. In fact, enterprise level new jobs have gone down 10% since the Great Recession. So we’re helping growth-oriented midmarket organizations take it to the next level. It’s just really an exciting time.

Laurie: We have known each other a long time Rob, and I know you have a lot of experience in business, and you were also honored with the Glassdoor CEO of the Year award last year. I’m looking forward to Part 2 of this interview, where we’ll talk about your management tips for midmarket businesses over and above automation and analytics.

Unit4 Kicks Off North America Market Focus

unit4_logoUnit4, long-time European ERP leader, is making a concerted push into North America. To that end, it hosted industry analysts at the beautiful 60 State Street Boston venue on June 10. Read my Storify account of the event here.

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.


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