Smaller businesses are usually preoccupied with what it takes to grow the business and keep the lights on—getting customers in the door, generating more revenue and maintaining profitability (Figure 1). Business growth and profitability are still extremely important priorities as companies grow, but other challenges arise. Workforce-related issues, such as improving employee productivity, meeting compliance regulations, and making it easier for employees to collaborate start to become more important. However, as business gets more complicated, spreadsheets, point solutions and workarounds that got the job done when the business was smaller are no longer up to the tasks of recruiting, hiring, managing and retaining the people the business needs to grow.
Figure 1: Top Business Challenges for Small and Medium Businesses
In 2012, Kronos, a long-time leader in enterprise workforce and human capital management with its Workforce Central solution, acquired SaaShr, which it rebranded as Workforce Ready. Workforce Ready provides a cloud-based, integrated workforce management solution designed specifically for SMBs (Figure 2), enabling Kronos to broaden its market reach. At KronosWorks 2016, held in Orlando in November, Kronos provided us with an update on how Workforce Ready has evolved and where it’s headed.
Figure 2: Kronos Workforce Ready Platform
Integrated Workforce and Human Capital Management for SMBs
Kronos has continued to add new functionality to Workforce Ready since the SaaShr acquisition. In its most recent refresh, Kronos has taken a page from the consumer apps world, streamlining Workforce Ready navigation with simplicity and visual navigation to make it easier to use. The latest version includes “hot action bars,” to ensure workflow paths are consistent across Workforce Ready modules, and more intuitive for users. And, the vendor has upgraded dashboards and personalization features so users can do things more quickly through action buttons and icons instead of via pop-up menus.
Kronos has also enhanced employee self-service in areas inclduding employee on boarding, benefits management and performance management; and added the capability to mass populate Affordable Care Act (ACA) and 1095-C forms.
Supporting Workforce Ready’s commitment to help companies manage hourly wage earners, Kronos has also updated timekeeping and scheduling features, such as alerts that notify managers of employees’ scheduling preference changes.
Pricing starts at $23 per employee per month for all Workforce Ready modules, and at $5 per employee per month for Human Resources as a standalone module. Kronos also charges a fixed implementation fee, based on the number of employees and the number of modules the customer purchases.
Workforce Ready Customer Growth
At KronosWorks, Kronos reported that about 1 million users now use the Workforce Ready platform, and that it wins against the competition in more than 50% of the deals in which it is considered. In addition, Workforce Ready has:
- Grown it’s customer base 45% over the past twelve months.
- Enjoyed a 48% increase in customers selecting full-suite adoption (including recruiting and on boarding, performance and compensation management, benefits administration, time and attendance, and payroll).
- Increased international customer adoption 110% in the last year (Kronos currently sells Workforce Ready in Australia, Canada, parts of continental Europe, Mexico, the U.K., and New Zealand, in addition to the U.S.
- Achieved a 93% customer retention rate.
Drivers for Integrated Workforce Management
SMBs are turning to Workforce Ready when they reach a point where trying to consolidate and reconcile data from spreadsheets, point solutions and manual systems doesn’t work anymore. The manual effort required with this approach becomes too tedious and time-consuming, and redundant data entry results in too many errors. As important, siloed employee information makes it difficult for decision-makers to see what’s going on in the workforce, and take proactive measures to improve key performance metrics, such as reducing labor costs, improving employee productivity, increasing compliance, or reducing IT overhead.
For example, SMB Group research shows that SMBs using Workforce Ready were able to reduce the time it took to compile management reports 50%-80%; decrease time to perform HR administrative tasks 25%-35%; and improve employee engagement 30%-50% (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Improving Employee Productivity
Kronos sells Workforce Ready through two different channel models. For businesses with fewer than 100 employees, Kronos continues to sell Workforce Ready through the reseller model that SaaShr had established prior to the acquisition. These partners, typically local payroll service bureaus, buy the solution from Kronos at wholesale pricing, add their own services and branding, and then sell it to their customers. Since the acquisition, Kronos has roughly doubled the number of partners for this market.
Meanwhile, Kronos’ direct inside sales team sells to larger organizations with more than 100 employees.
Summary and Perspective
Workforce Ready is now a $100 million a year business for Kronos, and the vendor believes that it has plenty of headroom to grow. SMB Group agrees. Fast growth start-ups will opt for an integrated approach out of the gate, and established SMBs will need to take a more integrated approach to HR to attract, retain and efficiently manage the talent they will need to compete and grow.
To that end, Kronos is investing both to improve the solution and expand sales channels. The vendor recently conducted a survey, which revealed that 75% of firms with 100-2500 employee firms only look at two or fewer vendors when considering workforce management and/or payroll solutions. Kronos will, of course, need to increase market awareness for Workforce Ready to get into consideration in more deals. Once it’s in those deals, Kronos believes that it has the right value proposition—e.g. an integrated workforce management and HCM solution—to continue to win a majority of those deals and grow.
In addition, Kronos has focused heavily on the value that Workforce Ready provides for managing hourly workers. These workers comprise the majority of the U.S. labor market (Figure 4), and Kronos has been able to differentiate in the HCM space with this focus, as most companies rely on a mix of hourly, salaried and 1099 independent contractors. However, Kronos will need to broaden its positioning to highlight how it can help SMBs to more effectively manage workers of all stripes in order to compete more effectively against HCM vendors, especially for business among fast-growth, start-up companies that tend to have a higher percentage of salaried workers.
Figure 4: U.S. Hourly vs. Salaried Workers
Kronos’ pricing is competitive, and less expensive than vendors such as Ceridian and Workday, which should also help its cause. But, as Kronos readily acknowledges, building market awareness for Workforce Ready, and educating SMBs on the benefits of an integrated approach are probably the biggest hurdles it faces to achieving its goal.
And, although Kronos has done a good job in growing its private label reseller program for the sub-100 employee business market, the HR software vendor list is growing quickly. Many startups, such as Namely, Cezanne, Justworks and others have entered the fray in the last couple of years. Kronos will need to double down on usability to stay ahead of startups moving in on the low-end.
Note: Kronos is an SMB Group client, and paid my travel expenses to KronosWorks.
How can quality localization help small and medium businesses (SMBs) enter, sustain and grow their businesses internationally? I’ve been interviewing customers for this four-part blog series, sponsored by SDL, to learn more about how SMBs are using localization to improve customer experience and grow their businesses.
In each interview, we discuss the role that international markets play in these businesses’ growth strategies, and how they are using centralized language localization services help them improve engagement, sales and retention in overseas markets.
In this first interview, “Entrepreneurs’ Organization: Using Localization to Grow International Membership,” I talk with Taylor Collision, Marketing Manager at the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a global, non-profit membership organization designed exclusively to engage leading entrepreneurs helping them learn and grow. We learn why international growth is critical to their business, and discuss how EO is using localization to help expand membership in key international markets.
SMB Group research consistently shows SMBs view attracting new customers, growing revenues, maintaining profitability, improving cash flow and improving customer experience and retention as their top business goals (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals
With that in mind, I was interested in talking with Karen McCandless, market researcher at GetApp, a sales management software comparison and reviews site, on her latest study. The study shows that a majority of B2B sales professionals lack confidence in their sales strategy. Karen, can you tell me a little about the study, and what you found?
Karen: For our study, we surveyed 250 B2B sales professionals in North America. We found that 67% think that their small business selling strategy needs improvement to help them generate leads. Digging deeper, it seems that they are more concerned about the quality of leads than the quantity of them.
Laurie: Yes, we hear the same thing. For lack of a better term, SMBs often take a shotgun approach that may bring in lots of leads, but fails to bring in quality leads that are a good fit for the business.
Karen: Exactly. In fact, we spoke with Salesforce’s Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Tiffani Bova, for our study, and she explained that the biggest opportunity to improve lead performance was to, “incorporate personalization and intelligence into [the] sales process.” This missing element is backed up by our data as well: Just 10% of sales reps believe that their B2B customers are looking for any kind of personalized service when purchasing. These facts help paint a picture as to why that two-thirds of sales professionals think their sales strategy needs help.
If salespeople rarely think their customers want personalized service during the sales process, it leads to B2B customers focusing more on factors like ‘price’ when it comes to purchasing (which 64% of our customer sample cites as the most important purchase factor), forcing salespeople to fight over price.
Laurie: Sure, and the race to the bottom is one most SMBs can’t win against large companies. So, your survey also looked at how SMBs can use sales management software to help them to compete more effectively. What did you learn here?
Karen: We found that 66% of SMB sales professionals currently use sales management software, while a third still doing things manually. Not surprisingly, among those using these solutions, 86% have seen an increase in revenue, and 93% reported a boost in productivity.
Laurie: We see very similar results in our studies. Technology is increasingly part of the business fabric, and SMBs that invest in technology to automate business processes can get a great return on their investment.
Karen: It can really help automate manual, time-consuming tasks, freeing reps up to focus more time on areas such as prospecting, nurturing and closing deals. These solutions also give sales reps more information about their leads and prospects so they can make better decisions. Together, this can help improve the sales process.
Laurie: Were there any other key findings from this study?
Karen: Yes. We heard very positive things on the value of sales training: 92% of respondents said that the additional training they have received has increased their selling abilities. We also found that sales people view one-to-one coaching, delivered on an ongoing basis, as the best type of sales training.
Subject matter is also important, such as equipping sales professionals with the right software training to help them to harness the soft skills they have developed. In addition, we found only 15% of salespeople use social media to generate leads and better engage potential B2B clients (compared to 27% for both phone and in person).
Laurie: Yes, this is a critical area that sales people need help with, because online reviews, ratings and social media increasingly shape buying decisions. But even though technology solutions offer great benefits, SMBs are often confused and challenged when it comes to deploying new tech solutions. In fact, in our 2015 SMB Group Routes to Market Study, respondents ranked “implementing new technology solutions” and “figuring out which technology solutions can best help my business” among their top three technology challenges. Your thoughts on this?
Karen: Well, if you’re a small business looking to implement a sales management or CRM for the first time, you need to take several considerations into account. This includes factors such as deployment speed, cost, training needs, features, integration with other software you are already using, can it grow with your business, and mobile capabilities. Cloud-based sales management software can help here, as having the software hosted generally means quicker setup (with less downtime), predictable cost with less to pay up front, the ability to add and remove users easily, simplified IT management, and more updates more often. Plus most cloud-based systems these days are intuitive and have mobile capabilities, which makes adoption easier.
Laurie: Yes, all of the above. In fact, we find ease of use often trumps price when SMBs are making software decisions, so its no wonder that cloud based CRM is becoming the norm. And while the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices. In our 2016 SMB Collaboration, Communication & Mobility Study, 67% of SMBs said that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. Any final insights?
Karen: In addition to the increases in revenues and productivity, we found 78% of salespeople have seen an increase in customer satisfaction after adopting CRM solutions, which I think underscores the fact that these solutions free up salespeople to focus on creating a selling process that caters to the customer, thus allowing small business to have a leg up and compete with the big fish.
Laurie: Absolutely agree with that, Karen, and thanks for sharing these findings and your perspectives with me.
Everything came full circle with NetSuite today, when Oracle announced that it plans to acquire NetSuite for $9.3 billion.
In 1998, Evan Goldberg, founder of what was then NetLedger, visited our analyst team at Summit Strategies, where I started my analyst career at back in the day. At the time, traditional software companies were starting to dabble with the application-hosting model. In this model, application service providers (ASPs) hosted software designed for on-premises delivery and delivered it to clients over the Internet. But Goldberg’s NetLedger was the first (to my knowledge) to deliver software designed from the ground up to be delivered over the internet, as a service. It would take a few years for the term “cloud” to be coined, but the seed was planted.
At the time, NetSuite and a handful of other pioneers, most notably Salesforce, were the upstarts of the software industry. They rattled traditional software vendors’ comfortable development, licensing, delivery and service models with multi-tenant architectures, subscription licensing and 24/7 service designed to revolutionize the software industry. They pledged to “democratize” software, and make it easier and more affordable for small businesses to take advantage of solutions that previously had been out of reach.
However, even as NetSuite built its revolutionary persona, it relied on the old guard for money and technology. NetSuite was built on Oracle’s database, and Larry Ellison, Oracle’s founder, provided financial backing for the fledgling company from the start. In 2001, Oracle even briefly tried marketing the Oracle Small Business Suite, powered by NetLedger, as its solution for small businesses. Since Oracle didn’t have an effective small business sales or marketing organization, that offering was quickly scrapped, and in 2003, NetLedger became NetSuite.
Oracle’s acquisition of NetSuite was pre-ordained since 2008, when the “great recession” hit, and the OPEX cloud model became much more attractive to cash-strapped companies. People tried cloud computing because they had to—and surprise—they liked it. Not just because of the licensing and pricing advantages, but also because of the speed, ease, scalability, accountability and service advantages it provided. They never turned back, and today cloud computing is not only mainstream, but poised to overtake traditional on-premises computing in many solution areas: Gartner projects it will be a $204 billion market in 2016.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that Ellison notoriously derided cloud computing in the past, he continued to invest in NetSuite, and now owns about 40% of the company. Ellison has also changed his cloud rhetoric over the years. In 2015 he said that “We no longer pay any attention” to traditional competitors such as SAP and IBM, and that Oracle would be the “biggest company in the cloud.” Recently, he put a number on that, saying that he would beat Salesforce to become the first $10 billion cloud company.
In reality, however, cloud revenues are still a very small part of Oracle’s business. The company’s fiscal 2016 Q4 results state that Oracle’s total Q4 revenues were $10.6 billion, with cloud plus on-premise software revenues accounting for $8.4 billion of total revenues. While cloud software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) revenues were up by 66%, they tally up to just $690 million for the quarter. And even as Oracle purports to be growing its cloud business at a brisk pace, a former Oracle finance manager has been accused the company of “cloud washing”—inflating its financial results by re-categorizing existing solutions as to fit in the cloud bucket.
Dealing From a New Deck
Ellison has hedged his bets for a long time. He’s played his traditional hand at Oracle, while also holding a great cloud card with his NetSuite investments. He could use NetSuite to experiment with the cloud, and see how things unfolded, without unnecessarily disrupting business as usual at Oracle.
If nothing else, this deal signals that things have now unfolded. Along with buying market share, Oracle is buying Netsuite’s cloud culture and sensibility—which it needs.NetSuite has paved the way in the cloud, and will add to Oracle’s cloud credibility. Oracle gets a credible cloud offering in NetSuite—no cloud washing required—to compete against the likes of Salesforce, Workday, and a slew of other pure cloud companies. And, the Oracle sales and marketing machine should help push NetSuite into consideration in more and bigger deals.
But, while NetSuite’s growth has been strong, increasing at more than 30% for the last few quarters, the company announced that in Q2 2016, it hit Q2 revenues of $230.8 million. So, NetSuite alone is not going to get Oracle to $10 billion in cloud revenue anytime soon.
Maybe more important, we live in an age where digital disruptors often hold the best cards, customers have more choices, and digital word of mouth supersedes corporate sales and marketing tactics. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how Oracle will play its new hand out.
“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 Challenges
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:
- 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;
- New business models, again using the example of the music industry, and its evolution from analog to digital buying and streaming;
- 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 Processes
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.
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.
“Big data” is a big buzzword in the IT industry—and for good reason. Basically, we’re doubling the amount of digital data that we create every two years, according to the EMC Digital Universe Study. Think about all of the different types of information that’s moved from physical to digital form just over the last several years.
Doctors have moved from paper charts to electronic medical records; merchants have moved from paper credit card imprinters to POS terminals to virtual terminals to mobile payment devices. 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. And everyone is growing their digital footprint on myriad of social networks, and with the companies they do business with,
Organizations that can effectively harness and use this information can gain dramatic market advantages over those that don’t: SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows that SMBs that have deployed analytics solutions are 14% more likely than peers to expect revenues to rise than peers that rely on spreadsheets for business analytics.
But let’s face it—most small and medium businesses (SMBs) don’t have dedicated data scientists on staff. Without this type of in-house expertise available, SMBs feel that moving from basic tools that analyze internal, transactional data to a more comprehensive analytics approach is out of reach.
However, a new generation of powerful, yet cost-effective cloud-based analytics solutions are emerging that can help level the analytics playing field for more SMBs.
Cloud Is the New Normal for SMBs
SMB adoption of cloud solutions has grown steadily over the last few years (Figure 1) to become part of the business fabric for most SMBs. In fact, SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study reveals that SMB cloud deployments are poised to overtake on-premises deployments in the next year in areas such as collaboration, file sharing and marketing automation.
Figure 1: Trends In SMB Cloud Adoption
SMBs are moving to the cloud include because they view it as a more cost-effective, flexible and faster way to deploy IT solutions (Figure 2). Cloud computing take care of IT infrastructure, applications, and ongoing management and support, offering SMBs economies of both scale and skill.
Figure 2: Top Reasons Driving SMB Cloud Adoption
Analytics Meets the Cloud
In the analytics space, in which technology is advancing at warp speed, cloud analytics providers are building powerful, yet easy to use analytics solutions that few SMBs would have the resources or expertise to build on their own.
For instance, cloud analytics solutions often utilize database technologies that can deal with both structured and unstructured data, so that you can analyze different types data from both internal and external sources. They also use technologies to speed data processing, number crunching and analytics to deliver analysis more quickly to decision-makers.
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.
In addition, cloud analytics providers build their infrastructures and services to support thousands of companies. This means they can offer customers on-demand scalability to adjust resources up or down as needed for peak decision-making times, such as during the holiday season for retailers.
Cloud analytics also gives everyone access to the same information in real-time. Instead of trying to reconcile data from different spreadsheets and applications, everyone is automatically on the same page in terms of data so they can reach consensus and make decisions more quickly.
As important, cloud analytics solutions 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.
- Natural language capabilities so users can easily query the data.
With these capabilities baked in, SMBs can start thinking about moving beyond descriptive analysis, which provides insight into the past to answer, “What has happened?” to more sophisticated analysis, including:
- Predictive analytics, which use statistical models and forecasts techniques to understand the future and to answer, “What could happen?” For instance, you could use predictive analytics to anticipate customer behavior and purchasing patterns, predict sales profitability trends, or forecast inventory demand.
- Prescriptive analytics, which use optimization and simulation algorithms to provide advice on possible actions to answer, “What should we do?” For example, Google’s self-driving car uses prescriptive analytics to decide whether and when the car should change lanes on highway by anticipating what might be coming in terms of traffic and other drivers.
SMB Preference for Cloud Analytics Is Growing
As in other solution areas, more SMBs are opting to analytics solutions in the cloud (Figure 3). SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study shows among the SMBs that have purchased or upgraded an analytics solution in the past 24 months, 62% selected an on-premises solution, while 38% chose a cloud option. Looking ahead, however, just 40% of SMBs that are planning to purchase and/or upgrade analytics solutions are planning to buy an on-premises solution, while 42% are planning to use a cloud offering, and 18% have yet to decide.
Figure 3: SMBs’ Current and Planned Solution Deployment Methods for Business Intelligence/Analytics
Summary and Perspective
At a time when information is proliferating at an unprecedented rate, SMBs need to be able to easily access, understand, analyze, report and act on critical information. With the right tools, decision-makers can spot new opportunities, avoid mistakes and identify small problems before they mushroom into big ones.
Fortunately, more vendors are building powerful yet cost-effective cloud-based analytics solutions that are much easier to “layer” on top existing data than in the past. Designed for business users, these solutions offer user-friendly interfaces, guided discovery, visualization tools and natural language capabilities to help bring data to life.
While SMBs must still do their homework to determine which of the growing list of cloud analytics solutions will be the best fit for their businesses, the advantages of fact-based decision-making cannot be underestimated. The trend towards cloud analytics will likely strengthen in 2016, as more SMBs continue to opt for solutions that are easy to buy and use and can provide faster and better value to the business.
This post is sponsored by Dell.