Acumatica’s Strategy to Woo On-Premise Accounting and ERP Customers to its Cloud

Acumatica estimates that tens of thousands of SMBs are still using on-premise accounting and ERP—and that now is the perfect time to woo them to its cloud-based ERP platform. At Acumatica’s Analyst Day event last week, CEO Jon Roskill made the case that adoption of cloud ERP has lagged in comparison to other areas because businesses have been hesitant to trust cloud vendors with core transactional systems. Looking ahead, however, he estimates that the cloud switch is flipping in the SMB market to favor cloud-based ERP implementations.

SMB Group forecasts a similar trajectory (Figure 1), for a couple of key reasons.

Figure 1: SMB Cloud Deployment TrajectorySlide1

First, SMB use of and satisfaction with cloud solutions in other areas is sparking adoption and consideration of cloud ERP. Second, more SMBs are realizing that their legacy solutions won’t give them the headroom they need to grow their businesses. Finally, many SMBs lack the resources and/or desire to manage a new system in-house.

But why should these SMBs choose to use Acumatica’s ERP solution? Buyers have many choices for cloud ERP deployment, including software-as-a-service (SaaS) public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud model, and many vendors offer ERP solutions tailored to SMB needs and budgets. Furthermore, vendors with deep pockets have snapped up SMB cloud ERP pioneers: Oracle acquired NetSuite last fall for $9.3 billion, and Sage Group purchased Intacct for $850 million in July.

Given this situation, how does Acumatica—which has about $30 million in funding, 3,000 customers and roughly 200 people—plan to bring new cloud customers into its fold? At the event, Roskill and team discussed Acumatica’s plan to get its fair share of the growing cloud ERP market.

Target SMBs with 50-1,000 employees that are fed up with legacy on-premise systems.

While Acumatica targets very small businesses—aka QuickBooks users—it’s main focus is on companies with 50-1000 employees who are frustrated with legacy systems and rising maintenance fees. The company estimates that almost 200,000 SMBs are running legacy Sage or Microsoft Dynamics solutions, providing it with a pretty large target. Competitively, Acumatica sees the Oracle acquisition as pulling NetSuite upstream into larger accounts. I also believes that it will take Sage and Intacct some time to align marketing, sales and channel resources to the market.

Push ahead with it’s open platform connected cloud play.

Acumatica’s open APIs and platform enables partners to create and integrate solutions that connect Acumatica to other clouds to help streamline customer workflows (Figure 2). Partners can embed their apps directly into the Acumatica app, or create a loosely coupled integration. Acumatica has enhanced its REST APIs, and announced the availability of Open API 2.0 specification (formerly known as Swagger Specification) for Acumatica Contract Based APIs to speed integration and data exchange with other applications. The vendor now has over 100 ISV partners, announcing two new ones at the event: Adobe Sign for eSignature, and Smartsheet for project management and visual scheduling. It tracks and manages all third-party solutions in its ISV Solution Repository, to ensure compatibility. Acumatica also shares code on GitHub, and engages with developers on its LinkedIn and other portals.

Figure 2: Acumatica Connected Cloud Platform

Deepen its industry focus.

Following on the heels of announcing new edition for Commerce and Field Service in January, Acumatica aannounced a new Manufacturing edition at the event. It’s also making a name for itself in the medical marijuana industry (it’s the top solution for Canada’s medical marijuana firms), which has in turn, opened the door for its first pharmaceutical customer.

Grow market share with partners.

All of Acumatica’s sales are through partners. VARs account for 95% of Acumatica’s North American business, and about 55% of its overall revenues. OEMs account for about 45% of total sales, predominantly overseas.

Of note on the VAR side:

  • Acumatica has added 45 new partners in the past year, bringing it’s total up to over 250 partners worldwide, with a goal of 80 more in the coming year.
  • It’s VAR program has no fees, but Acumatica is picky: it does reference checks on potential partners, and looks for VARs with a vertical focus that want to grow.
  • Inside telesales focuses on qualifying leads, with a goal to move them to a 1 in 3 chance to close before handing them over to partners.
  • Acumatica also co-deploys with partners to help them get up to speed, and conducts quarterly review sessions to ensure everyone is aligned.
  • In addition to product training, Acumatica provides VARs with financial education on annuity and subscription model, as well as sales, presales and marketing enablement programs.

Meanwhile, Acumatica’s six OEM partners (Figure 3) are broadening its geographical coverage, providing localization in 15 countries and languages. Combined, Acumatica’s six OEM partners have an installed base of two million customers on legacy or entry-level accounting solutions—providing Acumatica with plenty of headroom. Acumatica likes this model so much that it plans to add a few more strategically place OEMs to fill in coverage in other regions.

Figure 3: Acumatica OEM Partners

A unique ERP pricing model.

Acumatica’s pricing model (link to https://www.acumatica.com/cloud-erp-software/product-editions/) is unlike those of its competitors. Instead of pricing based on the number of users, Acumatica pricing is consumption-based so customers can add resources and not limit user access. In a nutshell, Acumatica’s pricing is based on the features and resources that customers use, with small, medium, large and extra large options.

Focused technology investments.

Acumatica announced Acumatica 2017 R2, featuring a redesigned, more flexible user interface to improve productivity, along with product enhancements across Acumatica’s customer relationship, finance, accounting, distribution and field services solutions.

Figure 4: Acumatica Platform and Applications

Looking ahead, Acumatica plans to:

  • Continue to simplify implementation, configuration, and provide low code/no code customization options.
  • Improve more in run time intelligence and health monitoring to ensure optimal performance for users and to help protect them from errors.
  • Strengthen its unified front-end architecture, browsers and rendering systems.
  • Invest in machine learning, AI, voice recognition, IoT and other new technologies to help customers make better use of their data to spot anomalies, identify trends and automate mundane tasks. Acumatica will take advantage of key core technologies from vendors such as Microsoft, IBM, Amazon and others, and focus its efforts on practical scenarios such as route optimization for field service, and invoice categorization and processing.

Summary and Perspective

Acumatica is in the right place, at the right time. While many SMBs have dragged their feet when it comes to modernizing financials and ERP systems, they increasingly risk having their businesses dragged down if they continue to rely on outdated, inflexible systems that simply can’t keep pace with the rising expectations of customers, partners and suppliers.

The Acumatica brand still may be flying below the radar in comparison to some of its competitors, but the vendor’s messaging is clearly articulated and ready for marketing to ramp up awareness. In addition, Acumatica’s industry editions, vertical partner focus, and success in both old (manufacturing) and new (medical marijuana) verticals should not only help it grow its footholds in these markets, but also to identify new vertical opportunities. Acumatica can probably also get a lot more mileage out of its distinctive and potentially disruptive pricing model than it has to date.

However, Acumatica is competing against players with a lot more money and muscle. In addition to raising its brand profile, the vendor also needs to apply it’s more limited resources to make the right technology investments for the future. So far, Acumatica has done a good job of keeping pace with and sometimes exceeding the capabilities of other players. But, so many emerging technologies are poised to dramatically alter the way companies run their businesses. Acumatica’s ability to place its bets wisely may be the most important variable in determining its long-term growth potential.

Know Before You Go: English Proficiency in International Markets

Are you considering expanding your business into overseas markets? Moving beyond  U.S. borders to international markets can help companies reach new customers and fuel business growth. Using digital technologies, even very small businesses can take advantage of opportunities to enter new markets, sell their products and services to new customers, and grow their top and bottom lines.

Currently, 28% of U.S. SMBs conduct business beyond U.S. borders (Figure 1), up from 26% in 2015.  As they take the time to evaluate international opportunities, more SMBs are realizing that they can create a competitive trade opportunity in other countries based on product, service or price advantages.  Once they get up and running overseas, their investments in international markets generally pay off: SMBs that export to one or more countries are 16% more likely to forecast revenue growth than SMBs that do not export.

Figure 1: Where U.S. SMBs Do Business?Slide1

But, determining whether your business has a viable international offering is just the first step to successfully expand into a new geographical market. In addition to putting solid legal, financial, regulatory and operational practices in place, SMBs have to create a great customer experience, personalized to the needs and preferences of the target market.

To do, this, you literally need to speak your customers’ language. Accurate, current and properly localized information—on your website, marketing assets and in product documentation—is critical to getting this right.

But sometimes, decision-makers wrongly assume that people in other countries speak English, or misjudge their English proficiency skills (Figure 2). They think customers will be satisfied with English language materials, or minimal localization. These miscalculations cam result in communication and quality issues that turn off prospects and customers.

Figure 2: Assessing English Competency and Other Demographics in International Markets: Perception Vs. Reality

To help you size up the situation more accurately, SDL, which provides managed translation services, has developed a free Market Reach Calculator. In addition to providing accurate information about English proficiency, the calculator also offers recommendations about the best ways to localize content in a particular country (Figure 3).

Figure 3: SDL Market Reach Calculator Results

In just a few minutes, the Market Reach Calculator will give you a clear snapshot of English capabilities in the countries you’re targeting. Armed with this knowledge, you can you take the most appropriate steps—whether human, advanced machine, or a combination of translation services—to localize your sales, marketing and service content to speak your customers’ language. This can help ensure that you won’t lose out on opportunities or risk customer dissatisfaction because your message is getting lost in translation.

Summary and Perspective

Today’s global, connected business environment gives SMBs more opportunities than ever before to grow through international trade. But you need a clear picture of the market opportunity, challenges and requirements in order to succeed. Tools such as SDL’s Market Reach Calculator and other resources can help you be better informed and prepared to deliver a positive customer experience and win in new markets.

This post is sponsored by SDL.

One Year In: Going Big Pays Off for Dell Technologies

Dell Tech logoLast week, Dell Technologies celebrated the one-year anniversary of its $67 billion acquisition of EMC, which was the largest tech deal in history.

One year ago, many doubters posited that the combined entity would be too big, too slow, and have too much debt to succeed in today’s technology industry. They argued Dell would do better to split out its client and infrastructure divisions, ala HP, instead of making this massive acquisition. No way, they said, that this mega company could gain market against leaner, more streamlined companies. They predicted culture wars, and that big-name senior executives among the acquired companies, would move on rather than work for and report to Michael Dell.

But one year in, Dell Technologies, which is now the world’s biggest tech company, has a lot to celebrate, as outlined by Dell Technologies’ CMO Jeremy Burton in last week’s analyst call to discuss how the company’s vision and organization are coming together.

Big Has Been Good

At the outset, critics argued that the Dell’s deal to acquire EMC would result in a big, lumbering giant, unable to gain market share in the fast-paced technology industry.

A year later, financial results have proved the critics wrong: Fiscal second quarter revenues were $19.3 billion, up 48% from the previous year. Putting the icing on the cake, Dell Technologies also announced that it signed a multi-year deal to provide GE with infrastructure and end-user computing solutions, including servers, storage, backup and related professional services.

These results aren’t accidental. The company designed the merged entity to foster both economies of scale and agility under the Dell Technologies corporate umbrella:

  • Dell’s client solutions business, under long-term leader Jeff Clarke, retains the Dell brand.
  • Dell EMC includes Dell and EMC infrastructure solutions, RSA and Virtustream businesses.
  • Dell EMC Services supports both Dell and Dell EMC.
  • Strategically aligned businesses Pivotal (which has substantial external investments, and SecureWorks, and VMware (both publicly traded), operate fairly independently.

Each brand has a role to play in Dell Technologies’ vision to help customers transform and their businesses for a digital future. For instance:

  • Pivotal provides a next-generation software development platform for the cloud
  • VMware, Dell EMC, Virtustream can help IT migrate applications to public, private, hybrid clouds.
  • Dell end-user solutions can help improve workforce productivity and reduce costs
  • RSA and SecureWorks provide comprehensive, instead of patchwork, security solutions to safeguard applications and data.

A Little Bit of Magic

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 1.46.35 PMDell Technologies’ brand campaign, “Magic can’t make digital transformation happen, but we can,” has also helped to catalyze growth by educating people about the capabilities the company brings to the table. According to Burton, more than 95% of people know the Dell Technologies brand, and 14%-16% of people can now delineate the difference between Dell and Dell EMC, with this trajectory rising. If you’re a golf fan, it wont’ come as surprise that more than 20% of PGA viewers can understand the distinction.

Admiration for the Dell Technologies brand and recognition of the company as a tech industry thought leader are growing as well. Perhaps most important, the company says that 91% of the customers surveyed believe Dell and EMC have delivered on their pre-merger promises.

Improving Economies of Scale

Segmented market approach.pngMeanwhile, economies of scale are also kicking in. As a combined entity, Dell Technologies has more leverage to source components at a lower cost. The company is also benefitting from an expanded, but segmented distribution channel that caters to the sales and service requirements of different customer segments. According to Burton, this segmented coverage model is roughly doubling the company’s revenue growth in under-penetrated accounts. At the same time, Dell is growing channel sales more rapidly than its competitors, and its channel partner have brought in over 10,000 new customer accounts in the past year.

Paying Down Debt

Another rap on Dell’s acquisition of EMC was that it would saddle the company with crippling debt. Asset divestitures helped the company pay down $9.5 billion of the debt; strong revenue growth gives it enough cash to continue to more than service the debt.

Innovation on the Rise

Finally, critics doubted that what would become the world’s largest tech vendor would be able to innovate. However, with $4.5 billion annual R&D investment, and 22,775 patents and patent apps, Dell Technologies ranks second in patent power in the industry. From clients to the cloud, and from infrastructure to security, Dell Technologies has racked up hundreds of awards (62 at CES alone) in the past year, and is #1 in market share in virtually every market it plays in.

In addition, Dell Technologies Capital spends more than $100 million annually, and has made more than 70 investments. All relate directly to Dell Technologies’ strategy and interest, providing the company with an inside view into new trends, and/or possible acquisition opportunities.

Summary and Perspective

Perceptions are the hardest thing to change, and changing perceptions are usually a pre-requisite to changing people’s judgments and behaviors. Just one year in, Dell Technologies has moved the needle–in a positive direction–on both.

Now, as businesses of all sizes and from all industries start ramping up digital transformation initiatives, Dell Technologies’ bet looks like it will pay even bigger dividends. With its deep technology, sales, marketing and service coverage, Dell Technologies is on track to capitalize on the market’s demands for the next wave of innovation.

 

 

How to Use Text Messaging to Promote Your Small Business

Have you already jumped on the bandwagon of text message marketing, or are you just starting out? Either way, you need to know how to do it right. Otherwise, you won’t see any conversions for your small business. The team from TextMagic have created an infographic that does a great job of  breaking down the process of writing an effective text message. From an attention grabber to call-to-action, the infographic outlines all the important elements of the message.

The DON’Ts section will help you avoid common mistakes that can make your text come across as unprofessional. And the Delivery Best Practices will give you the idea of the best timing and frequency for sending messages.

Follow the instructions from the infographic to get the most of your text messaging campaign!

What is Bullseye Marketing, and Can it Help Your Business?

bull_center-325Laurie: Today I’m speaking with Louis Gudema, President of revenue + associates, about the Bullseye Marketing Framework. Louis, can you start by giving us some background on yourself?

Louis: I broke into marketing by consulting and it’s been quite a ride since then. I owned my own marketing and website design agency for a dozen years and sold that several years ago, giving me experience working with working with dozens of SMBs, and also the experience of running a small business. I’ve also worked with dozens of non-profits, and some of the largest companies in the world — from MIT startups to The Boston Globe to IBM. These days I am primarily focused on helping SMBs successfully deal with their revenue challenges.

Laurie: You’ve developed what you call the Bullseye Marketing Framework. What is “bullseye marketing,” and why is it important?

First, when I say “marketing” I’m talking about programs designed to increase the leads, opportunities and sales of a company, not vague, awareness activities. So when I say “marketing”, think “revenue”.

Marketing used to be so simple. There were only a few channels: TV, radio, print, direct mail, billboards, and a few more. But today there are at least two dozen major marketing channels including websites, email, social media, mobile, text messages, and so forth. I actually saw a blog post a few days ago that claimed 120 channels! So it’s gotten really complex, even for people who have worked in marketing for years.

Meanwhile, over 5,000 companies are selling some kind of marketing software, what’s often called marketing technology, in dozens of categories. Many of these vendors make copycat claims about the results their software can produce.

So with dozens of channels and thousands of vendors it’s understandable that people running an SMB who aren’t familiar with the landscape just give up. Who can you believe? Where do you start? How can you really produce results that impact the top and bottom lines? That’s where the Bullseye Marketing Framework comes in.

The framework breaks marketing into three phases and suggests that if you want to increase revenue and profits you start in the center and build out to the edge:

  • Phase 1: Take full advantage of your current assets. When I work with companies I typically see that they have lots of valuable marketing assets that they’re not taking full advantage of. These include their current customers, their website, email lists, and how well sales and marketing work together. Since these are all already in-house, companies can often start to see results in just one or two months with a really modest spend by doing a better job with those.
  • Phase 2: Get in front of people who want to buy what you’re selling right now. As a company starts to build out from those current customers the most productive thing is to get in front of people who are looking to buy right now – not in six months, or a year, or sometime in the future, but now. And those people are often searching on Google and Bing. So search marketing, in the form of search ads and search engine optimization, are step two.
  • Phase 3: Build long-term awareness in your industry. Many people who are potential customers are interested in what you’re doing, but they just don’t have the need or budget to buy right now. You want to get in front of those people so that when they are ready to buy you’re top of mind. So that’s where content marketing, display ads, social media programs, sponsoring events, and so forth come into play. And in the long run those can be terrifically valuable, but they tend to take a year or two to really start to produce results.

Now if you think about that for a moment, that’s the opposite of what many companies do. People often think of marketing as advertising and promotion—which are Phase 3 activities here—and start with those. After six months they’re not getting any results and, understandably, they stop, saying “We knew that marketing wouldn’t work for us.”

But it can work. It can produce terrific results, and really give a company a leg up on the competition, when done right.

Laurie: Does this framework help companies figure out what marketing and sales technology solutions can best help them?

Louis: Yes! When considering dozens of types of marketing software it can be hard to know where to start. But by focusing on Phase 1, center circle opportunities first, it narrows the software selection to just five or six types such as a CRM, email marketing, website content management, and conversion optimization. Actually, most of the Phase 1 software can be found combined in some marketing automation programs. Then there are two major types of software that you can use for the Phase 2, middle circle for search marketing, which are the search advertising software – most SMBs can just start with what is provided by Google and Bing – and a package to help with search engine optimization. It’s a lot easier to successfully implement six or eight types of software than 40!

Laurie: How do you help companies use this framework?

Louis: I provide three primary services related to this. First, I offer the Marketing Strategy Sprint, where I help a company, or a product group, review past efforts and what the competition is doing to better focus their marketing goals and approaches. Then we work together to develop a 12-month action plan to optimize their current sales and marketing programs, roll out new programs, and understand what new people or software they might need to execute those plans. This typically only takes three or four weeks – and why I call a sprint. It culminates with a one-day workshop with the senior team of the company to focus and make decisions.

Second, for some companies I act as a fractional VP of Marketing, providing one-quarter or one-third time services to develop and implement these marketing and business development programs. These relationships are a minimum of six months and can last a year or two sometimes.

Finally, I work with other companies to provide help with customized marketing requirements.

The Bullseye Marketing Framework is always top of mind for me, and pretty quickly for my clients, in this work. Frankly I’ve been gratified by how enthusiastic people at SMBs have been about the framework. One person said, “This is great! Why hasn’t anyone else come up with this before?”

Laurie: What kinds of results do you see customers gaining with this approach?

The results for Phase 1 can be swift, significant and not very expensive. For example, for one company in their Phase 1 customer interviews I learned that they were in danger of losing their largest customer; the customer said that if things didn’t improve within six months they’d be gone. The company had no idea! But you can be sure they jumped on that. The CEO was on the phone with them the next day to start to address their issues.

I’ve also helped companies increase leads from their website by 50-100 percent in just a few weeks, and helped others improve how their marketing and sales teams work together to improve lead follow-up and sales conversion. All of these were done quickly and produced quick revenue bumps that paid for the service many times over.

Laurie: How you help companies implement, customize and learn to use these solutions? If so, how?

Louis: Typically this would be done more through the fractional VP of marketing role. After the Marketing Strategy Sprint people have a choice: to implement the plan with their internal resources, hire me to help implement it, or use another agency or consultant. Or any combination of the three.

Laurie: What do companies need to be thinking about as they reassess marketing and sales strategies? What are your top tips and “gotchas”?

Louis: Perhaps the most common source of failure is neglecting the strategy. The company develops a strategy and roadmap, but either doesn’t devote the time, people and money to implement it, or they start to but after a few months they get distracted by something else. It’s really easy to get distracted these days.

Another challenge is from agencies and consultants who try to sell a “one size fits all” approach: they’ll say that every company needs to be doing social media, or inbound marketing, or search ads, or whatever. And since that’s all that they do that’s what they sell, regardless of what the company actually needs now. When all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.

Laurie: Thanks, Louis, for your insights. How can people learn more and contact you if they want to?

Louis: They can email me at louis@revenueassociates.biz. My business site is www.revenueassociates.biz and I also blog about the Bullseye Marketing Framework at www.louisgudema.com . I’m on Twitter @louisgudema. I’d love to hear from them!

 

Modernize your Business with Predictive Insights: Paving the Way for Business Growth

Businesses have always needed the ability to track and measure critical success metrics in a quantifiable way. Yet this is often a tall order for midsize businesses (100 to 1,000 employees) to address. The problem is that when there’s too much information, people find it difficult to fully comprehend it and make informed decisions. In fact, in our 2017 SMB Routes to Market Study, midsize businesses indicated that “getting better insights from the data we already have” as one of their top technology challenges.

Figure 1: U.S. Midsize Business Top Technology Challenges

We live in an age where technology is transforming virtually every industry. As a result, midsize business decision-makers face added pressure to “read the tea leaves” to reduce uncertainty. In this shifting business environment, simply analyzing past performance is no longer enough. You also need predictive capabilities to anticipate trends so they can plan for what’s likely to happen in the future.

A new generation of powerful, yet cost-effective and easy-to-use cloud-based analytics solutions can help level the analytics playing field for midsize businesses. The solutions offer the insights you need to answer key business decisions, such as “Who are my best customers?” or “How can we better match market demand with product supply?” or “How can I recruit and retain employees with the skills the business needs?” Armed with the right insights, you can better assess how they are doing today, and plan for what they should be doing in the future to optimize business performance.

This means that now is a great time for you to rethink your approach to business intelligence and analytics. In this paper, we examine why businesses should start using modern, predictive analytics solutions, and how they can help your business stay on ahead of new trends, opportunities and market shifts.

Dealing With the Data Rush

“Big data” is a big buzzword in the IT industry—and for good reason. According to IDC, 1.7MB of new information is being created for every human on the planet, every second of every day, and 180 zettabytes of digital data will be generated worldwide by 2025.

While zettabyes may be hard to wrap your head around, just consider all of the different types of information that’s moved from physical to digital form 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.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) technology is equipping objects—from Fitbits to traffic sensors to seismographs—to record, report and receive data, and create entirely new digital data streams.
  • People are growing their digital footprints on a myriad of social networks, and via their interactions with the companies they do business with.

Figure 2: U.S. Medium Business Attitudes About Decision-Making and Use of Analytics Solutions

Although 62% say they currently use an analytics solution to support this data-driven approach, many midsize businesses rely primarily on spreadsheets or homegrown tools for data analysis: In SMB Group surveys, spreadsheets are the most frequently used analytics tool among midsize companies. Because they don’t often have data scientists on staff, many feel that moving from basic tools that analyze internal, transactional data to a more comprehensive analytics approach is out of reach.

Figure 3: U.S. Midsize Business Top Business Challenges

The Limitations of Spreadsheets

As Albert Einstein noted, “Information is not knowledge.” Midsize businesses may have plenty of data, but if they’re using spreadsheets, they will reach a tipping point where they lack the means to extract knowledge and insight from it. In fact, many midsize businesses struggle to get the information they need to meet the wide range of complex business challenges (Figure 3) on their plates.

This is because as powerful as spreadsheets are, they have limitations that can lead to inefficiencies and expose the business to potentially damaging risks, such as inaccurate calculations and security breaches. When spreadsheet analysis is the norm, it’s also likely that everyone is crunching their own data–which can results in conflicts about what’s the “right” version of the truth.

In addition, spreadsheets must accommodate the increasing volumes of digital information that are being created every day. But as spreadsheets grow, they also get slower. It takes more time to run queries, and links and formulas are more likely to break.

Finally, spreadsheet analysis is typically limited to providing information to tell you about what’s already happened–limiting most midsize businesses to using analytics for descriptive purposes only (Figure 4). This stops short of answering predictive questions that can you evaluate what could happen in the future, or providing insights about possible outcomes so you can determine the best course of action for a given situation.

Figure 4: Ways in Which U.S. Midsize Businesses Use Analytics

 Advancing Your Business with Predictive Insights

But new technology is advancing at warp speed in the analytics space. Vendors are building powerful, yet easy to use solutions that help midsize businesses gain the benefits of predictive insights so they can stay ahead of market and competitive trends.

These solutions use database technologies that can deal with both structured data, such as transactional data from orders or payments, as well as unstructured data, such as emails. They can pull in and analyze both internal data, as well as data from external sources, such as social media. They also use technologies to speed data processing, number crunching and analytics to deliver analysis more quickly to decision-makers.

Modern predictive analytics solutions are also easier to “layer” on top existing data than in the past. As important, they are often designed for business users, offering capabilities such as:

  • User-friendly interfaces, with guided discovery to make it easier to ask the questions that will lead to “aha” moments and insights.
  • Visualization tools that turn rows of data into visuals that represent what the data says in intuitive ways that makes it easier to communicate the story the data is telling.
  • Natural language capabilities so users can easily query the data.

Some vendors provide pre-packaged applications that integrate all of the components necessary for analytics solution, including connectors to business solutions; the data model; tools to extract, transform and load (ETL) data; a semantic layer; query and reporting capabilities; and predefined metrics, reports and dashboards. Many solutions offer free-trials, and are available as subscription-based services. This takes the friction out of the buying process, and makes using analytics solutions much more affordable.

For instance, IBM offers a free trial for SPSS Statistics and a Subscription payment model of $99/month, without any term commitments, from the IBM Marketplace.

The self-service offering is easy enough for business users to learn to use, while also providing advanced capabilities that data scientists expect. From one online interface, users can subscribe to and download SPSS Statistics Service, which will help you to:

  • Improve business decision-making processes and business outcomes by quickly gaining insights from data sets in any format, including spreadsheets.
  • Eliminate labor-intensive manual checks with advanced data preparation capabilities.
  • Monetize the data you own by analyzing trends, forecasting, and planning to validate assumptions and drive accurate conclusions.

Users can input and aggregate data from multiple sources–whether from spreadsheets, email, call center notes, transactional data, sensors, social media or other inputs. Once the data is aggregated, decision-makers can get a clearer view of the business and the market, and get everyone on the same page to enable more efficient and effective decision-making.

With these capabilities, you can start thinking about moving beyond descriptive analysis, which provides insight into the past to answer, “What has happened?” to predictive analytics, which use statistical models and forecasts techniques to understand the future and to answer, “What could happen?” For instance, you can use predictive analytics to anticipate customer behavior and purchasing patterns, predict sales profitability trends, or forecast inventory demand, such as:

  • Who are my best customers?
  • How can I reduce customer churn?
  • Where should I open a new store or facility?
  • How is a new competitor affecting my business?
  • How can I improve employee engagement and performance?

As a result, you’ll be able to more readily identify and act on opportunities for cost savings, efficiencies and new business opportunities. Because SPSS Statistics Service is subscription-based, businesses can adjust resources up or down as needed for peak decision-making times, such as during the holiday season for retailers.

Smoothing the Shift

Although analytics solutions have gotten easier to access, use and gain insights from, Inertia and the tendency to stick with “the devil you know” prevent many businesses from moving from spreadsheets to more capable analytics solutions. In most cases, key stakeholders must be on board to help spearhead this shift.

One of the best selling points for this transition is that many studies show that businesses that can effectively harness and use data can gain dramatic market advantages over those that don’t: SMB Group’s 2017 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that midsize businesses that use “purpose-built” analytics solutions are 80% more likely to expect revenues to rise than those that rely on spreadsheets for business analytics.

Often, a good way to get started down a successful path is to cherry pick your first use case. Determine the most obvious missing information links, and at those where having better insights would yield the most immediate value. You should also identify areas where spreadsheet use is heaviest, as this may indicate that people looking for better business decision support and may be more willing to try new tools. Choose a place where you can quickly demonstrate the value, and build from there.

The best place to start will differ for every firm, but here are some pain points questions to think about in different functional areas to get started:

  • Sales and marketing: Is the organization more reactive than pro-active in addressing critical situations such as declining pipeline, increase customer churn, lowering conversion rates. Do you lack visibility into sales and marketing activities and effectiveness? Does a lack of visibility into customers’ buying trends undermine your ability to up-sell and cross-sell?
  • Finance: Does it take too long to close the books? Is it difficult to measure actuals against targets? Is it challenging to analyze large volumes of data? Is the budgeting process complex, inefficient and lengthy? Do you spend too much time producing reports for others in the organization?
  • Operations, manufacturing and customer service: Does the team lack visibility into overall performance of the supply chain, preventing them from taking timely corrective action? Is it difficult and complex to adjust to shifting customer needs and demands? Is there information disconnect with other departments, such as sales and marketing?

Across business functions, predictive analytics provides insights to help you solve these problems by answering three critical questions:

  • How are we doing?
  • What is driving our current performance?
  • What should we do to improve results?

As a result, managers can make better, faster decisions to drive growth, reduce costs and create better business outcomes.

Summary and Perspective

While decision-makers must do their homework to determine which analytics solutions will be the best fit for their businesses, the advantages of fact-based decision-making cannot be underestimated.

At a time when the business environment is undergoing rapid transformation, and information is proliferating at an unprecedented rate, midsize businesses need an intelligence edge that spreadsheets can’t provide. Being able to easily access, understand, analyze, report and act on critical information will increasingly become a make or break factor for business success.

Predictive analytics solutions can provide midsize companies with insights needed to spot new opportunities, avoid mistakes and identify small problems before they mushroom into big ones–and stay ahead of market trends and the competition.

© SMB Group, 2017

SMB GROUP, INC.

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is composed of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group’s areas of focus include Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services, IoT and Green IT. Read our 2017 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for our views on game-changers in these and other areas of the SMB market.

Sponsored by IBM

As Machines Get Smarter, How Will the Way We Live and Work Change? Part 2: Shifting Human–Machine Dynamics

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Every day, we see new examples of how technology is reshaping the dynamics of human–machine partnerships at work and at home. Some of the changes we can already see include everything from smart watches to drones to self-driving cars.
How will the next wave of technology disrupt our lives and change the nature of human and machine partnerships, and how quickly will this disruption happen? Although no one knows the exact path this latest round of innovation will take, Dell Technologies has partnered with Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore how these trends are likely to take shape in their new report, The Next Era of Human–Machine Partnerships: Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030 . In the first post in this two-part series, I discussed the emerging technologies that will underpin these changes. In this second installment, I examine how these technologies are likely to reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

What will the brave new world of 2030 look like? The Dell/IFTF study highlights the following key shifts in human–machine relationships:

  • People become digital conductors. We already use apps for many tasks, from finding jobs to hailing rides. Personal assistants—or chatbots—help us turn off the lights, monitor home security and order products online. As technology helps us to orchestrate more activities and tasks, more of us will become “digital conductors,” using more personalized apps to predict, meet and respond to more of our needs. Expect solutions to help us monitor and care for elderly relatives, understand the role our emotions play in making a decision and help us to run errands. We’ll “conduct” these apps through connected devices. In the future, machines will become extensions of ourselves. Honor, for instance, has developed a platform to match elderly patients with doctors and care professionals as well as coordinate meals, transportation, housekeeping and companionship. OhmniLabs is working on an affordable telepresence home robot. With one click of a button, a person can be in the same room as his/her family, friends and colleagues without being physically present.
  • Work chases people. There’s little doubt that machines will replace humans in many jobs: PwC predicts that robots could take over 38% of U.S. jobs in the next 15 years. However, IFTF authors contend that new jobs will replace them. The percentage of “gig” or contract workers will grow to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. Instead of workers looking for jobs, organizations will compete for the best talent for specific jobs, using solutions such as reputation engines, data visualization and analytics to automate the process. Companies will also change the way they work, adopting more capable solutions that streamline collaboration across geographies and time zones. Glowork, the first women’s employment organization in the Middle East, has launched a platform that links female jobseekers with employers. So far, it has put more than 3,000 women in the workplace and located work-from-home jobs for 500 women. By leveraging big data, employers can search for candidates based on different search criteria.
  • In-the-moment learning becomes the norm. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that today’s learners will have 8 to 10 jobs by the time they are 38, and IFTF estimates that 85% of the jobs they’ll be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. This makes the ability to learn new skills a worker’s most valuable asset. But how will people—especially the growing population of gig workers—learn new skills? Probably not through traditional HR and training processes. Instead, they’ll need to do more learning on the fly, with “in-the-moment” learning becoming the norm by 2030. New technologies such as AR and VR will facilitate this trend, guiding, for example, a new field service technician through an HVAC repair. DAQRI, which is based in Los Angeles, is using AR devices to display digital work instructions in workers’ physical environment, helping them to complete tasks more efficiently.

Technology: The Fabric of Our Future Lives

No one knows exactly how these trends will unfold; and while some people are excited about them, others are uneasy about what may happen. Will machines steal jobs from people and lead to unemployment? Will bad guys create evil robots like the Terminator in the movie of the same name and Ava in Ex Machina?

But whether we’re ready or not, it’s safe to assume that technology will continue to play a bigger role in our business and personal lives. Think about it: the internet was a novelty 20 years ago, and “dumb” phones outsold smartphones until 2013. Now, both are ubiquitous. The next round of technological change is likely to be as inevitable and pervasive, so the best route is to start preparing for it by asking critical questions, such as the following:

  • How can we, as individuals, get smarter and keep learning?
  • What skills are most likely to be automated?
  • What human skills will have the most value?
  • How can we use new technologies as tools to accomplish goals, for our businesses and ourselves?
  • How can we build people skills and digital infrastructure for the future?

Recognize that what seems disruptive today will become part of our individual and business fabric tomorrow. By thinking proactively about the next level of human and machine interactions in the workplace now, we will be much better positioned to reap the benefits in the future.

You can read the full Dell/IFTF report  for more food for thought and take the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Survey to help assess your organization’s readiness for the future. 

This is the second post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell. The first post examines the emerging technologies that will underpin changes in human–machine dynamics.