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

Welcome to Wonderland: Dell EMC’s Virtual Ecosystem For Women Entrepreneurs

Unleashing a fire hose of announcements is the norm at vendor conferences, and Dell EMC World 2017 was no exception. This year’s announcements spanned a wide range of topics, from data center modernization to augmented and virtual reality, and from hybrid cloud to security.

However, as a woman business owner, one announcement stood out for me: Hello Alice, Dell EMC’s new data-driven platform, powered by Circular Board, which connects female entrepreneurs with mentors, resources and events that can help them start, grow and thrive.

How Alice Was Born

Women-owned businesses currently employ 7.8 million workers in the U.S. and generate $1.3 trillion in revenue overall. But only 2% of women entrepreneurs in the U.S. have reached more than $1 million in revenues. Unfortunately, many women find it difficult to access the resources they need to build and grow their businesses. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, they find that they have entered a new world with new rules—but without connections and guidance to help navigate it.

For instance, according toe CrunchBase Women in Venture report:

  • Among the top 100 venture capital firms, just 7 percent of the partners, or 54 of 755, are women.
  • Between 2010 and 2015, only 10 percent of venture dollars globally (from a total of $31.5 billion) funded startups that reported at least one female founder.
  • Only three female co-founded venture firms are in the top 100.

To turn this tide, Circular Board, the first virtual accelerator for women entrepreneurs, approached Dell in 2016 with a new idea to disrupt the startup world: What if we could   build an entirely new ecosystem, designed especially for women founders? Dell, which has a long history of supporting growing businesses and women entrepreneurs, jumped on the opportunity, and Alice was born to help women entrepreneurs build more scalable and sustainable businesses.

Pivotal, Dell Technologies’ cloud native development platform company, supplies a good part of Alice’s DNA. Pivotal developed Alice in about three months. The Circular Board incorporated Pivotal’s software development methodology and cloud technology in its accelerator, endowing Alice with machine learning capabilities so she can grow and evolve with the female entrepreneurs she engages with.

How Alice Helps Female Founders

Alice helps level the playing field by helping women founders connect with the mentors and resources they need to successfully launch and scale their businesses. According to Carolyn Rodz, founder and CEO of Circular Board, “Alice instantly filters millions of resources down to the personalized, verified content that enables founders to scale to the highest heights, no matter where they are located or who they know.”

Alice uses a conversational interface to connect women entrepreneurs with the resources needed to scale based on startup stage, location, industry, revenue and individual needs. As more users engage with Alice, she gets smarter. Alice uses her intelligence to help guide women to resources, mentors and events that are aligned with their goals and financial, legal, marketing, technology and other requirements.

Alice provides each user with a personalized data and real-time modules. Users can also search, sort and filter queries by location, industry, annual revenue, employee count, years in business and content publication source.

Go Ask Alice

At the Mad Tea Party, the there was plenty of room at the table, but when Alice came, the Mad Hatter, March Hare and the Cheshire Cat cried out to Alice, “No room, room!” Likewise, there is an abundance of money, technical resources and expertise in the startup world, but women founders often find it “curiouser and curiouser” to decode and succeed in it.

But Alice is available now at www.helloalice.com. So if you are a woman founder, go ask Alice for help to navigate the startup system, and get access to the resources you need to scale your business.

 

SAP’s Digital Transformation Story For SMBs

“Digital transformation” is one of the top trending buzzwords in technology today. But what does digital transformation mean? In broad terms, many define it as using digital technology to enable innovation and new, often disruptive, business models. However, technology vendors put different spins on digital transformation, depending on how their solutions fit in to the puzzle.

Most small and medium business (SMB) decision-makers view technology as a key to improving business processes and outcomes (Figure 1). But at the same time,SMBs rank “figuring out which technology solutions can help my business” as one of their top three technology challenges. Although SMBs have bought into the concept of using technology to improve and transform their businesses, many struggle to when it comes to putting a strategy in place to achieve these goals.

Figure 1: SMB Technology Attitudes and ChallengesSlide1

So I was interested to hear how SAP is framing the digital transformation story for its SAP Business One partners at SAP’s Business One Americas Innovation Summit in April. Although the ERP giant is best know for its large enterprise solutions, Business One, with over 50,000 customers worldwide, is SAP’s flagship business management solution for SMBs.

SAP’s 50,000 Foot View of Digital Transformation

In his opening keynote, Jonathan Becher, Chief Digital Officer at SAP, addressed the growing reality that today, companies need to disrupt or be disrupted. Unlike the industrial revolution, which allowed for a more linear approach to change, the digital era requires exponential change. Becher described digital transformation as consisting of three fundamental shifts:

  1. New customer experiences, such as in the music industry, which has evolved from vinyl records, tapes and CDs to iTunes and then Spotify and other streaming services;
  2. New business models, again using the example of the music industry, and its evolution from analog to digital buying and streaming;
  3. New value creation, as in the case of Airbnb, which has used technology to create a new way for people to list, find, and rent lodging.

While human creativity provides the spark, technology is the fuel that enables businesses to change their business processes and make the vision a reality.

Figure 2: Digital Business Requires Different ProcessesScreen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.21.49 PM

HANA: SAP’s Innovation Foundation for Business One

In 2014, Business One became SAP’s first business management solution for SMBs running on SAP’s HANA computing platform. Positioning Business One SQL Server edition as the past, Luis Murguia, SAP’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for Business One, positioned SAP Business One HANA as the “foundation for innovation.” With Business One HANA, SMBs can analyze massive amounts of structured and unstructured information within seconds instead of days, and use predictive analytics to gain new insights into data and optimize business decision-making.

SAP has also modernized Business One with new cloud deployment services from within the SAP cloud. The cloud option is key to SAP Business One HANA growth in the Microsoft-centric SMB market, as it negates the need for the SMBs to understand deploy and manage a new database.

I asked partners at the event, including ECS, Vision 33, Boyum and AchieveIT Solutions, for their views on why customers choose Business One HANA. They noted the solution’s enterprise search capability, which allows users to quickly search for key information. Instead of stepping through tedious pull down menus to find information, such as how many units of an item are in stock, what’s sold and what’s been reordered, users can do a quick search. Another favorite is the ability to create interactive, Excel-like spreadsheets that are connected to the HANA database and refresh in seconds, enabling users to quickly slice and dice data, and make decisions based on real-time information. Partners also said customers see Business One HANA’s user-customizable dashboards and predictive analytics capabilities as top benefits.

Murguia described some real-world examples of how SMBs are using Business One HANA to transform their businesses. For instance, he discussed how a Medistance, an Omron medical equipment distributor in East Europe, changed the game against larger competitors by developing a remote managed care service. Medistance, which had been selling the devices, created a remote managed care service to monitor users’ blood pressure and glucose levels. It now gives away the devices to subscribers to its $15 per month service, which provides alarm notifications and services to evaluate risks and treatment recommendations.

SAP Business One Partners: Key to Moving from Steady to Exponential Growth

Overall, SAP has been steadily growing Business One’s footprint. Sales are up 17% year-over-year, and in 2016, Business One has been adding an average of twenty new customers a day. More important, Business One HANA revenues are also rising. According to SAP, 180 of the 1,000 new Business One customers last quarter chose HANA. However, while SAP is making good progress in wooing new Business One customers to HANA, key challenges remain when it comes to catalyzing exponential growth.

As Murguia noted, Business One partners are essential to accelerating this type of growth. But although some partners have seized on the opportunity Business One HANA provides to sell the digital transformation story, others are sticking with what they know—which is the Microsoft SQL Server version of Business One.

To persuade partners to make this transition, Murguia exhorted them realign their resources and thinking from opportunistic to having a clear vertical and geographic focus. With industry expertise, partners can provide SMBs with guidance for industry-centric innovation, using HANA, cloud, analytics, and mobility as the fuel for change. He underscored the need for partners to make this shift by noting that:

  • SAP introduced a new mobile app for sales professionals, which will only run on Business One HANA.
  • Only Business One HANA supports multi-currency.
  • SAP is providing incentives to sell Business One HANA.
  • 95% of new customers use Business One with an industry add-on, and 200 top Business One ISV partners have migrated over 600 vertical apps to HANA.
  • Millennial decision-makers will demand the type of Internet-like experience that Business One HANA provides.

Upping Business One’s Go-To-Market Game

SAP is investing in industry-specific marketing programs for consumer packaged goods (CPG), industrial machinery and components, professional services, retail, wholesale and distribution. It is also recruiting non-traditional partners with industry expertise, and providing more support from SAP inside sales to help partners build their pipelines. In addition, SAP has extended its University Alliance program beyond four-year institutions to partner is with community colleges to use Business One HANA in the classroom to encourage more trained millenials into the partner fold.

The vendor is also doubling down on content by making it easier for partners to find and use relevant case studies and to personalize their own success stories. SAP will help partners create more mobile-friendly, bite-size content for its Business One Repository, which currently has over 2700 testimonials. SAP is also “humanizing communication” with local advertising with its “Business One around the world” theme which features local landmarks, and a push to expand social media engagement beyond current Business One customers to a broader swath of businesses in it’s targeted vertical markets.

Perspective

The digital transformation imperative is clear. Businesses can actively embrace new possibilities and set themselves apart in their markets, or ignore it and risk being stream rolled under.

SAP Business One has a good story and positive proof points in terms of helping SMBs navigate this transformation. In fact, partners told me that once they are in a deal, win rates are over fifty percent.

However, getting into consideration (outside of some European countries and Latin America, where SAP Business One is a recognized SMB brand) is still a struggle. In many geographies, SMBs often discount SAP as a big business brand that’s not for them.

Furthermore, SMBs have many choices when it comes to ERP. While SAP Business One HANA is much less complex than its large enterprise ERP solution, Business One is arguably more complex and takes longer to deploy than several other choices. Some businesses are willing to accept complexity in return for a high degree of customization capabilities, but many will balk at the upfront learning and implementation curve,

To meet its exponential growth goals, SAP needs not only to deliver on the marketing programs discussed above, but must also:

  • Develop more compelling “high air cover” brand awareness. SAP needs a much more compelling, omnichannel brand campaign to increase the odds that Business One gets invited to the SMB table.
  • Do a better job of “connecting the dots.” How exactly does SAP Business One HANA help SMBs transform and achieve success in the digital era? Why is It more effective than other solutions? SAP must paint a more detailed picture and provide more industry-specific metrics to drive the story home.
  • Clear up the cloud story. Business One cloud options are still difficult to sort through. My understanding is that services from the SAP cloud are available in North America, but not in other countries. Some of the European partners I spoke with have their own hosting centers, and say that because of customization requirements and data privacy laws in Europe, multi-tenant cloud isn’t a viable option. If SAP really wants to use the cloud to fuel HANA adoption, it needs to have a much more straightforward cloud story or risks having pure cloud competitors undermine it in deals where cloud is the customer’s preference.
  • Put the SAP SMB puzzle pieces together. SAP needs to pull together Business One, Business By Design, Concur, Ariba, SAP Anywhere and other SMB-related SAP solutions into a more holistic, understandable SMB strategy.

SAP has come a long way in transforming the Business One solution for the digital era. However, only time will tell if it can go the distance with additional steps necessary for solution transformation, partner development and marketing reinvention.

SAP Anywhere – Enabling SMBs to market, sell and commerce with an integrated front office solution

The retail sector has a well-earned reputation as one of the most challenging industries for participants to navigate successfully. Retailers – be they traditional brick and mortar companies, online sellers or, often, a combination of the two – must manage complex supplier relationships and inventories while also catering to the sometimes mercurial wants and needs of their end customers. For retailers, “supply and demand” is more than a trite catchphrase. Rather, it encapsulates an ever-shifting and intricate relationship that demands real-time data, accurate forecasting and efficient operations if the retailer is to generate profits in a business characterized by razor-thin margins.

SAP_Anywhere

In short, retailers truly need a 360-degree view of their business, encompassing suppliers, consumers and the many processes that connect the two. With little room for error, retailers and etailers must not only track critical operational metrics closely, they must continually strive to make their processes more efficient and effective.

Retailers sit at the nexus between wholesalers and distributors on one side, and end buyers on the other. They must deal with product availability and pricing demands from their suppliers, while keeping their store offerings competitively priced and in line with current customer demands. As friction-free online shopping options proliferate, maintaining customer loyalty as well as profitability is proving increasingly elusive. Among the operational challenges retailers face:

Retail businesses encompass supply-side and demand-side

Supplier-side Challenges:

Product availability and pricing: All but the largest of retailers are at the mercy of their suppliers, who can set prices close to retail selling prices and whose products may not always align with changing customer demands.

Incoming inventory management: Retailers need to maintain inventory levels and mixtures aligned with the current and forecasted consumer preferences, which aren’t always the same as the suppliers’ preferences and product lines.

Buyer-side Challenges:

Outgoing inventory management: Retailers must have good visibility into inventory levels and purchasing trends to ensuring that inventories are stocked to meet both current and future demands, while limiting overstocking and forced discounting.

Customer satisfaction: In addition to ensuring that they have the right product selection and price points, retailers must work to engender customer loyalty while also increasing the number and value of products each customer buys.

Commerce operations: As higher percentages of retailers enter the online selling realm, they must deal with everything from cart abandonment rates to rapid and accurate processing of orders and shipments.

In addition to the above challenges, retail and distribution business today need to think globally. Digital commerce enables them to setup web-shops and transact beyond their geographic borders and becomes players in a global economy. This is where SAP Anywhere will benefit from being part of the larger SAP company. Most global businesses need more accurate multi-currency exchanges. Does the solution calculate financials in local currencies and support local tax compliance? What languages does it support?

Having a reputable cloud provider handle these and other critical business processes – as well as providing the platform for commerce sites in some instances – frees companies from performing these tasks, which are often outside of their areas of core competency.

 Target Market:

SAP Anywhere is targeted at companies with between 10 and 500 workers. Built from the ground up for the SMB market. It leverages SAP HANA to mine the data for real-time analytics and insights.

SAP Anywhere is a cloud-based solution, it will be delivered as SaaS (software as a service) by SAP in a public cloud (Amazon cloud for the US market). While it can be accessed through either mobile devices or desktops, SAP is emphasizing that it will allow SMBs to manage their business from anywhere using their mobile devices.

Perspective and Go-to-Market Channel Implications:

SMB spending on digital commerce solutions is increasing, especially for solutions that are simple and aimed at improving customer experience across mobile, social and web. This new category of front-office solution for small businesses will open new doors for SAP and will necessitate a new channel approach. In North America SAP plans to develop new channels where SAP has not gone before for SAP Anywhere and not restrict it to their existing Business One channel partners. There is also potential for affiliate partners like PayPal, eBay, Facebook, etc. Success with SAP Anywhere will also require partnerships with other type of affiliate solution providers, as part of an expanded ecosystem, that can help specialized SMBs setup sophisticated web-presence instead of the generic out-of-box experience.

 

Discussing SMB Tech Trends: Part 4, The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight

Recently, I was a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Businesswith host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed  SMB Group’s 2014 Top Ten SMB Technology Trends and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The last of a four-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight.”

acaKalynn: You know, there are ten different SMB technology trends.  We’re not going to have time to go through all ten things, but there is one more that I do want to talk about.

 Even though we talk about small business and marketing and how to grow business on this show, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss your prediction regarding the Affordable Care Act or ACA. I know it’s at the forefront of my mind, it’s in the media constantly, and it’s a real issue for people right now. 

Laurie: Absolutely. Our prediction is really that the Affordable Care Act puts workforce management front and center for SMBs. 

Many SMBs have already automated and integrated things like sales and marketing and customer facing kinds of solutions, because they see this as key to business growth.

But many have put workforce management solutions on the back-burner.  They think of that as a cost area so they often limp along with a bunch of disconnected things and manual tracking to take care of things like payroll and time and attendance, scheduling and benefits. 

Kalynn, as you said, the Affordable Care Act has made everybody kind of sit up and pay attention.  We’ve gotten a little bit of a reprise because they’ve delayed the mandate for the companies with more than 50 full-time employees until next January to provide health insurance. It was supposed to kick in this January. 

But, now everybody is realizing because a lot of, unfortunately, very negative publicity and all these issues that this is very complicated and it’s a situation that’s in flux. 

SMBs are worried, and rightly so, about uncertainty, costs and regulatory risks. They are starting to realize that need to be able to more easily do things like calculating employee eligibility for benefits, choosing the right plans, managing compliance and keeping costs under control. 

So, for purely practical reasons, SMBs that haven’t paid much attention to automating in the workforce management are going to start to do so to gear up for 2015.

Kalynn: Yes, and it could take longer than they thought the whole thing did turn out to be more complicated than we were led to believe.  So, it’s probably a good idea to take this year and make sure you have in place whatever you need to have in place to make your life easier and so that you’re ready January 1st of 2015 to go live, you’ve got everything handled, you know what’s going on, and everything is taken care of from a legal stand point.  

telescopeLaurie:It’s really about having the visibility into what’s going on in the workforce. Now there are a lot of cloud-based workforce management services for SMBs. With many of them, you can usually just get the modules you need. So maybe you just need payroll and time and attendance, right, but you can add other modules like benefits as you need them and they all integrate automatically. 

Automating and integrating this gives you better visibility into things like hours worked, overtime, and all the things that you need to know about to make good choices, not only for ACA, but for other workforce management decisions.

Kalynn: Right, because any of those kinds of solutions you’re going to have reporting modules that will let you look at all of your data so that you can make the best choices, and so document it all.

Laurie:It’s like in your own personal life you want to kind of evaluate the risks and benefits of different healthcare options, right.  Well, think of how complicated that is to do that just for your own family. It’s not easy information to sift through.  Well, now think about if you have to make that choice for your workforce.

You want the ability to do what if scenario kind of thing. What if I use this plan?  What will it cost?  What are the downsides? What are the upsides?  In some cases –not that I’m advocating this– some businesses want to know if they should be cutting down workers to part-time. 

So, you want to be able to play with all that.  It’s very difficult to do that if you have any more than just a handful of employees without having some kind of workforce management solution to do it with.

Kalynn: It goes back to something that you had talked about at the very beginning of the interview. If you don’t have metrics that you can run reports with then you don’t really know what the health and well-being of your business is and what decisions you should be making.  That’s just the bottom line. 

Laurie:  Yes, and again you want to have flexibility. Think about it; right now the economy is in a lot better shape than it was a few years ago, so your decisions today might be a lot different from they would have been four years ago. 

And, you know what, in a couple of years hopefully the economy will continue to improve.  We may have a very tight labor market if that happens and companies may go back to providing richer benefits packages.  So, it’s all about being able to adjust and adapt to kind of get ahead. 

Kalynn: Right; you want to have all your options available so that you can look and scoot them around on the table and see what happens and make some good decisions.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here.

SMBs and Analytics: What Don’t You Know?

stock-photo-information-overload-concept-of-becoming-overtaxed-by-the-growing-flood-of-information-which-can-101476243SMB Group is planning to launch the 2013 SMB Analytics and Big Data Study this fall. We decided to develop this survey study because even though “big data” is the latest “big thing” in the IT industry, we see a scarcity of quantitative information about where small and medium businesses (SMBs) are on the analytics and big data learning curve.

At the same time, big data and analytics vendors are making enormous investments to develop and market analytics and big data solutions for SMBs. While there’s no question that analytics and big data solutions can benefit SMBs, vendors need a sharper picture of how SMBs view, think about and consume (or not!) analytics solutions in their organizations in order to successfully reach and serve these businesses.

What We Know

We learned in our 2012 SMB Routes to Market Study that SMBs are all over the map when it comes to using  analytics in their businesses. While about 41% of SMBs use analytics solutions, the kinds of solutions they use range from modules that are part of a business solution (such as CRM or ERP) to advanced analytics solutions such as SAS, IBM Cognos or Tableau. The other 59% are getting by with Excel and other homegrown analytics tools.

Slide1We also know that the cloud is on its way to becoming SMBs’ preferred deployment method for analytics and business intelligence solutions. Our survey results indicate that among SMBs that deployed analytics and BI solutions over the past two years, 31% SMBs chose to deploy a cloud-based solution. Looking ahead, 53% of SMBs planning to deploy an analytics solutions believe they will select a cloud offering.

Over the last few months, SMB Group has also been involved in different qualitative projects to understand how SMBs are using advanced analytics in their businesses. We’ve interviewed many early adopter SMBs about why they decided to step up from homegrown Excel spreadsheets to more advanced analytics solutions, and I’ve shared a their experiences in the posts noted at the end of this post.

What We Don’t Know Enough About–Yet!

The SMB Group’s 2013 SMB Analytics and Big Data Study will drill down to more comprehensively understand and gain quantitative metrics about SMB decision makers’ attitudes and practices regarding analytics and big data. It will answer questions that we have yet to see strong, quantifiable answers to, including:

  •  SMBs’ views and understanding of big data, analytics, and related terms.
  • Drivers and inhibitors for analytics solutions.
  • Whether, how and how quickly SMBs’ are transforming their businesses for a data-driven world.
  • Current use of analytics for business decision-making in different departments and across the business.
  • Who creates and who consumes analytics?
  • What are they using it for and how do they consume it?
  • What are SMBs’ appetite, readiness and budget to adopt more advanced solutions than what they are using today?
  • What internal expertise do they have available to help with solution selection, implementation, integration, business process, etc.?
  • What do they need external resources for?

What Do You Need Answers To?

all of the infoWe also know that we haven’t thought of all the questions that need answers. So we’d love for you to be one of our survey sponsors, of course, and work with us one-on-one to help further define the questions and scope of this study.

Even if you’re not able to sponsor the study, we’re still very interested in finding out what questions you think we should try to answer in this study. Please take a moment and share your ideas in the comments section. Thank you!

Recent related SMB Analytics and Big Data posts:

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

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

Getting Results: How SMBs are Using Data and Insights to Get Ahead

Is Big Data Relevant for SMBs?

Putting Big Data To Work For SMBs

Charting Your Big Data Journey

How Zoos and Museums Use Big Data to Refresh and Reset Visitor Experience

 

 

How Zoos and Museums Use Big Data to Refresh and Reset Visitor Experience

3-kids_mFor most of us, a trip to the zoo, museum or an aquarium is a fun and interesting way to learn about animals, history, art and other cultural experiences first hand. Behind the scenes, however, these organizations must work hard to create the engaging, interactive experiences that today’s visitors want, and successfully market that experience to the public.

This is especially true today, when these typically not-for-profit venues must compete with an expanding array of theme and amusement parks, live and digital entertainment events and sports attractions. To remain viable and vibrant, zoos and museums must continually fine-tune their vision and exhibits to grow visitor traffic and membership. They need to be creative with concessions, and optimize use of their meeting rooms and cafes.

In this post, I discuss how Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and History Colorado Museum are using analytics and big data to better understand what visitors want and to deliver it.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Refreshes Visitor Engagement and Conservation Initiatives

polar-bear-003_sAt the 100-year old Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) in the Pacific Northwest, Manager Donna Powell oversees all business, budget and visitor services. The 29-acre combined zoo and aquarium promotes and practices wildlife and ecosystem conservation initiatives, and attracts more than 600,000 visitors a year.

PDZA generates millions of data records daily on attendance, exhibit and event preferences and participation in conservation initiatives—but didn’t have a good way to pull information out of it. As Powell explained, “Staff generated a SQL sales report from our point-of-sale (POS) system each morning but it only gave us turnstile sales and didn’t include online and reseller sales. So staff had to pull this all together manually, which took days.”

“It also couldn’t tell us what customers do while they visit, or what they’re saying about us on social media” adds Powell. “We need to know things like, which exhibits visitors prefer, and what conservation initiatives they’re participating in, what they liked and what they didn’t like.”

Powell knew that PDZA needed to better understand visitor trends and feedback, but had concerns that an analytics solution might be too difficult and/or expensive for an 80-person organization with 2 IT staff to deploy and use. Then she attended a presentation from the Cincinnati Zoo, and learned about the analytics system that they had deployed. “They were using the same POS as we use. They introduced us to BrightStar Partners an analytics solution provider that did their implementation that really understands zoos. The light bulb went on—if they could do it, so could we.”

PDZA went live withIBM Big Data Analytics in 2012. “Everyone immediately made the connection of how they could use this to help. We can strip things out, and see how things relate. Now we can pinpoint how different weather patterns will affect attendance and exhibits, and change scheduling as required. We can also use it for marketing. For example, after analyzing sales data and open rates, we sent a promotion to members whose membership was about expire and offered them a discount if they renewed before the end of the day. We had a 6% buy in on that campaign compared to the typical mail renewal rate of 3%.”

Other benefits Powell points to include:

  • A 700% rise in online ticket sales over the past year, with an expectation that online sales will go up another 25% by the end of this year.
  • The membership team can pull the data they need in minutes instead of waiting days for IT to extract data from the POS system to create a mailing list for campaigns.
  • PDZA also uses social media and analytics to more effectively engage millennial visitors in its conservation initiatives.

Zoo employees now use iPads to access financial, attendance, membership and retail information so they can make decisions anywhere anytime. Looking ahead, PDZA plans to introduce a mobile ticketing solution. In the future, visitors will be able to “check in” at different areas within the zoo, providing zoo managers with more data to better understand which exhibits are most popular and how much time visitors spend at them.

History Colorado Center Resets To Attract a New Target Audience

HistColorado_FrankOomsHistory Colorado Center likes to think of itself as a brand new 134 year-old museum. Founded in 1879, the museum had shared the same block with Colorado’s State Justice Center for more than 40 years. “The location wasn’t ideal, and the museum wasn’t as interactive or engaging as we would have liked,” as COO Kathryn Hill explained. “Most of our visitors were senior citizens and children on obligatory school field trips.”

In 2008, History Colorado had the opportunity to build new, state-of-the art museum–and to bring Colorado’s history alive through storytelling and interpretative exhibits. According to Hill, “We wanted to understand how we could bring history alive, attract more families, and best sustain our mission over time.”

In conjunction with planning and construction of the new building, History Colorado conducted extensive audience research to test design ideas and stories. During this process, Hill “stumbled on the story of how the Cincinnati Zoo was using analytics to drill down into all aspects of visitor behavior so they could continually improve the visitor experience.”

“As a non-profit, we don’t have a lot of money for marketing, so we needed to find a strategic way to keep a close pulse on how we can best engage families. We hadn’t budgeted for analytics, but once we learned about IBM’s BIg Data Analytics, it was a no-brainer for us,” according to Hill.

In collaboration with IBM Business partner BrightStar, History Colorado deployed IBM Big Data analytics simultaneously with their new POS system. “I’m not a tech person, but I can go in and look at admissions, programs, merchandise, food, and membership data in real-time,” notes Hill. “We have a single view of the data, and can see patterns now, such as when retail sales peak and what exhibits attract the most traffic.” This helps the Center’s 125 employees fine-tune exhibit and marketing strategies.

The museum is also developing more personalized experiences for its visitors by analyzing social media commentary, and expects that this will boost engagement and repeat visits.

“We have a unique mission to help visitors understand the present in the context of the past so Coloradans are better informed in making decisions for the future,” explains Hill. “To make this happen, we need to bring people in and provide a compelling experience. Analytics helps us do this.”

Perspective

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

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

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

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

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