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

SMB Group’s 2017 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends

2017-top-10-image2017 has the potential to bring unprecedented changes to the technology landscape for SMBs. In most years, the top tech trends tend to develop in an evolutionary way, but this year we also will see some more dramatic shifts that SMBs need to put on their radar. Areas such as cloud and mobile continue to evolve in important ways, and they are also paving the way for newer trends in areas including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, integration and the Internet of Things (IoT) to take hold among SMBs.

Although we can’t cover all of them in our Top 10 list, here are the headlines for SMB Group’s 2017 Top 10 SMB Tech Trends  that we think hold the most promise for SMBs in 2017. Click here for the full report.

  1.  The Cloud Continues to Power SMB Digital Transformation.
  2.  Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) moves from hype to reality for early adopter  SMBs.
  3.  The Rise of Smart Apps for SMBs.
  4.  Focused, Tailored CRM Solutions Take Hold With SMBs.
  5.  SMBs Get Connected With New Collaboration Tools.
  6.  SMBs Modernize On-premises IT with Hyper-converged Infrastructure.
  7.  Application Integration Gets Easier for Small Businesses.
  8.  SMB Mobile Momentum Continues, But Mobile Management Lags.
  9.  Online Financing Options for Small Businesses Multiply.
  10.  Proactive SMBs Turn to MSSPs and Cyber Insurance to Face Security  Challenges. 

Please contact Lisa Lincoln, Director of Client Services at lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com or 508-734-5658  to learn about licensing options.

The Right IoT Stuff: V5 Systems Wins Dell’s IoT Contest

The Internet of Things (IoT) has come a long way since 1982, when researchers at Carnegie Mellon University modified a Coke machine to create the first internet-connected appliance, which could report on inventory and whether drinks were cold.

Today, cloud, analytics, wireless and other technologies have advanced to the point where IoT can provide a simple, effective way to communicate with and through machines to get things done more easily, and to make better decisions. IoT, which connects physical world objects to the Internet to sense, control, interact and report on activities, is growing at an exponential pace. IDC and Intel project that the number of IoT objects will grow from 2 billion objects in 2006 to a projected 200 billion by 2020, equating to about 26 smart objects for every person in the world. And while consumer devices get the lion’s share of attention, industry represents the greatest opportunity for IoT to help companies track inventory, manage operations, improve efficiency, save money and protect people and property.

So it’s not surprising that according to CB Insights, corporate investors (e.g. corporations and their venture arms) have funneled $3.2B into the IoT space over the past six years, and that in 2015, they nearly doubled their 2014 IoT investments.

V5 Systems: From 12 Volt Batteries to State-of-the-Art Outdoor Security Systems

Amidst so many IoT startups, what makes one rise to the top? Dell has just announced the winner of its “Connect What Matters” Internet of Things Contest, in which it sought out innovative IoT solutions for businesses that incorporate Dell’s Edge Gateway. More than 970 contest registrations from 93 countries with 16 winners from 9 different countries claiming prizes worth more than $600,000.

Dell awarded the top, Platinum honor to V5 Systems for its V5 Portable IoT Security System, which fuses edge and hybrid cloud analytics capabilities into a pre-integrated, compact and solar-powered wireless outdoor security system.

Mazin Bedwan

Mazin Bedwan, V5 Systems President & COO

As with most great stories, V5 has an interesting beginning. I had a chance to interview President and COO Mazin Bedwan, about the company’s roots and solution. Mazin had previously been CEO of Pacific Stereo in the Bay Area, which was the largest 12 Volt automotive electronics retailer in North America. A few years ago, Steve Yung (then an ex-Cisco executive, now Chairman and CEO of V5 Systems) came to Pacific Stereo looking for a four-camera security system for his Volvo SUV. He wanted it to run–regardless of whether his car was running or not. Mazin tried to sell him a $200 car alarm, but then learned why Steve wanted an always-on camera system. Steve lived in a nice neighborhood that was experiencing rolling blackouts, making it easier for criminals to break into cars and homes. He wanted a car-mounted security system to watch his house from his driveway, as he was intent on catching the bad guys.

A few weeks later, Mazin and his brother Eddie delivered the camera system to Steve, who decided it was commercially marketable after it recorded video that led to the arrest of a home intruder/burglar. They named the company after V5, the region of the brain responsible for motion detection.

Bringing the Right Stuff to Dell’s IoT Contest

PSU Solution

V5 Systems V5 Portable IoT Security System

V5 Systems’ V5 Portable IoT Security system solves a big and pressing problem. Until V5 brought this solution to market, outdoor security vendors would cobble together solutions with off-the-shelf parts. Because power isn’t readily available in many outdoor locations, vendors would fill up trailers with 12-volt batteries and or diesel generators to back up solar panels, power cameras and motion sensors, and then tow the solution around.

Mazin emphasized that V5 chose innovation over integration to create an alternative to this cumbersome approach. Numerous patents and trade secrets attest to V5’s mission to deliver IoT value through innovation on many fronts.

Superbowl Deployment

V5 Portable Security Unit Deployment at Super Bowl 50

For instance, V5’s Portable IoT Security System:

  • Overcomes the power supply challenge. V5 has been granted 6 patents for its solar-powered smart power system, which enables it to run continuously outdoors. This negates the need for multiple batteries and generators, and the space they take up.V5 Systems has developed their own proprietary power and power management system. This means businesses can deploy the device to create a security zone in places without power–such as on a mountain top or in a forest–and get real-time alerts sent to their IoS or Android devices. 
  • Makes installation and transport easy. Businesses can install and start using the device, in under an hour. V5 pre-integrated computing, power, communications, storage and sensor capabilities in what amounts to a micro-data center. Because no trenching is required, users can circumvent lengthy permitting processes. And, at less than 20 inches long, it’s a snap to take the device down and redeploy in another location, such as changing security vantage points at festivals, concerts and other events.
  • Features bullet-resistant solar panels. Solar panels are a real pain point for law enforcement, because people can shoot and break them. V5’s proprietary bullet-resistant solar panel provides customers with an additional level of reliability, and gives V5 strong differentiation versus competitors.
  • Improves analytics accuracy. V5’s analytics library increases the accuracy of the data sent from the device. For instance, motion sensors at airports can be triggered by turbulence from planes, but V5’s analytics library provides more granular identification. For instance, at San Jose Airport, V5 has achieved 98% accuracy in detecting actual people or vehicles versus motion from jet turbulence.
  • Not only sees, but also hears. Unfortunately, campus violence has become all too common. Prior to deploying V5’s multi-sensory solution, San Jose State University lacked the capability to deploy a multi-sensory security solution for Spartan Stadium and one of its dorms. Now, the university has deployed V5’s Portable IoT Security System with cameras as visual sensors and microphones as acoustic sensors, to monitor dorms and Spartan Stadium from vantage points outside the facilities. The multi-sensory capabilities enable them to detect gunshots with 95% accuracy distinguishing gunshots from other loud sounds, and also to triangulate where the shots are coming from.
  • Will soon be able to detect chemicals. Methane, ammonia, chlorine and other gases are hazardous to breathe. With enough volume, these gases can also cause explosions, as on a Los Angeles city block in 2016, and in a cow barn in 2014 in Rasdorf, Germany. V5 will add chemical sensors in Q4 of this year.

Scaling With Dell

V5’s system is relevant and replicable across many industries. But V5 initially targeted law enforcement agencies. According to Mazin, they figured if they could succeed with skeptical cops, they’d succeed anywhere. Law Enforcement represents 10% of V5’s addressable market but accounts for 90% of its credibility. This strategy has worked, with endorsements from early law enforcement customers helping V5 open the door to sell to airports, universities, transportation, oil and gas, agricultural and other industries.

However, V5 needed help to effectively scale its solution, sales and service capabilities. Through its partnership with Dell, which began in 2015, Dell Services sells a unique V5 SKU. The SKU includes V5’s portable security unit, sensors, enclosure, power system, communications, storage and Dell’s Edge Gateway. Dell Services also provides 24/7 first-line tech support for the system, and access to Dell Financial Services.

Dell Unit

Dell Edge Gateway

 

V5 has also standardized on Dell servers.Dell’s Edge Gateway serves as the “industrial IoT brain” for the system, connecting to V5 devices. The Gateway Edge aggregates and analyzes the input, and sends it on to users’ Android or IoS devices. Because the Edge Gateway is designed for harsh conditions (from temperatures ranging from -30°C to 70°C), has a low-energy, fanless design, wall and DIN-rail mounts and it can sit within the V5 device. As a result, it sends only meaningful data to the cloud or control center, reducing data overload and bandwidth requirements.

Summary and Perspective

IoT is more than a technology buzzword. It is literally changing the very definition of computing. With IoT, devices and objects of all shapes and sizes can communicate directly, and as Mazin noted, “we’ve created a system that fits in your hands, has all the capabilities of a data center and can be deployed in any outdoor environment.”

IoT companies such as V5 and others highlight the enormous potential to IoT to do many things more easily, cost-effectively and intelligently than was possible in the past. IoT challenges–including privacy, security and skills–still need to be addressed, but the increasing digitization of the physical world make the sky is the limit for IoT innovation.

Mazin, Steve and Eddie seized this opportunity, creating a new business and business model based on the Industrial IoT. They serve as a great example of how IoT is redefining and reshaping how businesses get things done, and the elements needed to turn an idea into a reality.

This post was sponsored by Dell.

 

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.

Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part Two

canstockphoto24687951Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group, and today I’m continuing my conversation with Jason Shepherd, who is Director of strategy and partnerships for Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division. In this second post, we talk about top challenges IoT partners face, how Dell helps address these challenges, and get an update on Dell’s IoT contest. In the first post,  Jason provided an overview of Dell’s new Internet of Things division and how its partner programs are structured. In this one, I’m following up to hear about your meeting with Dell IoT partners recently to talk about their challenges. What did you learn?

Jason: Yes, we had our first IoT partner round table, with over 30 different ISV partners, to have an open discussion about their challenges and what they need to accelerate in the market. (see one attendee’s perspective here). We found that their number one challenge, after security–or in some cases, even before security–is data integration. They are looking for hardware solutions, such as Dell’s Edge Gateway 5000 Series to provide a foundation for normalizing all the different fragmented data standards in the field.

Another top challenge is making end users aware of the potential of IoT, helping them to understand potential ROI (return-on-investment) for a solution, and convincing them to take that first step to deploy. So in addition to helping partners on the technology side, partners also want Dell’s help with marketing use cases, case studies, solution blueprints and other assets that help demonstrate ROI and show customers IoT’s potential.

We’ve found that Dell’s perspective about starting small and building fast for IoT is really resonating. There’s a lot of big talk about IoT, and that can be overwhelming. Dell’s approach is practical, to help people first connect existing systems and solve an immediate problem, and then build from there. And then of course, being able to incorporate security and management tools that IT is familiar with helps our OT-focused partners gain credibility and overcome potential IT hurdles. Also, partners need help to connect with other partners. At the end of the day IoT is a partnership game.

Dell’s focus on edge gateways, combined with providing credibility and visibility are really critical, especially for smaller innovators in this space. The other thing that came out of it was having quality hardware. Something in the sweet spot between maker-grade and boutique product that’s purpose-built for these industrial use cases but affordable, that they can really trust and rely on. They’re looking to us to help with that.

Laurie: Can you talk more specifically about the kinds of support you give them?

Dell’s IoT lab in Singapore

Dell’s IoT lab in Singapore

Jason: Yes. We have certification and sales engineers that work with partners to go help them build on Dell technologies, and we have Dell IoT Labs around the globe (Santa Clara, Limerick and Singapore). Partners and customers can bring in their own technology to prove out their solutions on Dell technology.

As partners build solid use cases for their solutions, we can help them create blueprints, ROI proof points, and go to market plans to jointly pursue opportunities.

Laurie: Do you do that on an individual basis?

Jason: Yes, and as Dell and its partners mature together and IoT use cases become even more repeatable, we can develop focused solution bundles complete with sensors, infrastructure and software. We won’t be able to do this for highly complex scenarios but it’s certainly foreseeable that we can create bundles for things like a remote monitoring solution for a data center, a predictive maintenance solution for a machine, a quality control system for the end of a manufacturing line, or a building automation solution for a small retail space. Reducing complexity through solution bundles is where you really start to enable scale or deploying IoT solutions.

Laurie: Do you foresee Dell building sensors?

Jason: We’re do not plan to make sensors, but in time we will certify partner sensors to work with Dell Gateways, the rest of our infrastructure and enabling technologies, and offerings from our key software partners.

Laurie: Okay. So, what are some of your favorite partner stories?

arrow logoJason: One is Arrow Electronics, which we showcased at Dell World last fall. Arrow has a warehouse in Phoenix, with eight business units using the facility and power. They all just split the power bill at the end of the month, because they couldn’t determine who was using how much. Arrow, their system integration division, and OSIsoft, which is a well-recognized leader of data historian software with their PI platform, teamed up with Wireless Glue, a startup that provides gateway middleware for connecting to industrial sensor protocols. They all came together to build a solution to instrument the warehouse and create dashboards and analytics of the power consumption. which is a great example of how different partners with different capabilities can join forces to solve a problem. And now that Arrow has the IoT infrastructure in the warehouse they can look at other things they can do to add value. For example, it could be something like making their forklifts more effective, or doing indoor location tracking for pallets and other assets in the warehouse.

Laurie: So the light bulb goes on and they start to look at other use cases.

Jason: Yes, once you have that infrastructure you can start to riff off of it and do new things. It’s a classic example of starting with a focused problem—not trying to do too much at once. Fix the core problem and then grow from there, which is right in line with our message of starting small and building fast

Inex logoAnother example is INEX IoT Impact Labs, in New Bedford, MA, is focused on accelerating and improving how small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) in the community learn about and gain value from the Internet of Things (IoT). Dell,  IoT IMPACT LABS’ parent INEX Advisors, Analog Devices, BCC, Foley and Lardner LLP, and PTC Inc. have teamed up to create this IoT solutions hub with many of the end users being fisheries or farms–small businesses in small cities, which don’t have the IT expertise or resources to take advantage of IoT on their own. The Lab is working to field-test, document and commercialize the most efficient and effective approaches to IoT so that SMBs can deploy solutions to level the playing field and help them compete more effectively.

Laurie: Yes, INEX is very interesting, this video does a great job of telling their story. One last question for you: How is the Dell Internet of Things contest shaping up?

Jason: Really well. Solution designs had to be submitted by March 31 and we received more than 120 submissions worldwide from a mix of current Dell customers, ISVs, developers, systems integrators, entrepreneurs and channel partners. Across all different sizes and industries, in different verticals–from universities and schools to hospitals to financial services to food distributors. All are interested in building solutions on top of our new Edge Gateway and with other Dell technologies. We’re seeing use cases that we’ve never even thought of, which is what’s really exciting about bringing this community together in this way.

Laurie: How will you select winners?

Jason: We’ll be looking for solutions that are really innovative, and also have strong market viability, balancing technology, implementation, and go to market opportunities.

Laurie: When will the contest be judged and winners announced?

Jason: Judging is underway and it’s going to be tough to pick the winners. I anticipate in the May-June timeframe we’ll start to announce the winners. There will be 16 prizes, and the total prize value is $600,000.

Laurie: I’m sure you’ll get some really creative entries, please keep me posted! Maybe we can do a follow up about the winners. And thanks again for taking time to dive into Dell’s IoT program with me.

This is the second of a two-part blog series on Dell’s new Internet of Things (IoT) division and partnership programs, sponsored by Dell.

 

Can IBM’s Redesigned PartnerWorld Move the SMB Needle?

ibm pw logoEast coast weather and flight issues foiled my attempts to attend IBM’s annual PartnerWorld Leadership Conference last week. I was disappointed, as IBM took advantage of the event to formally launch its newly revamped PartnerWorld program, which focuses on helping partners drive business in strategic areas, most notably in cognitive and analytics. However, I was able to talk to Brig Serman, IBM’s Director of Global Commercial Business, about what these changes mean for IBM, its partners, and small and medium business customers.

Here are some of what I consider the key changes that IBM made, followed by my perspectives on them.

  • Introduced the newly named “commercial segment.” This segment includes the former midmarket segment (businesses with less than 1,000 employees) and “white space” larger enterprises in which IBM has a small or non-existent footprint. IBM has consciously moved away from identifying this segment based on company size, and calling it “SMB” or “midmarket.” Big Blue made the shift because it believes that this segment—which it sells to via the channel—is not well-defined by size, and that other characteristics such as different buying and consumption behavior, including self discovery, self-service transactions, a preference for cloud, and partner involvement.
  • Committed to a channel only model for the commercial segment. IBM has committed to serving this segment by driving higher value solutions exclusively through its global business partner network. Brig’s group includes 450 IBM sales people. Each is responsible for a territory, from understanding market requirements to driving engagement with business partners to increase penetration in that territory. IBM sellers will only be compensated if the sales transaction goes through a business partner.
  • Redesigned the PartnerWorld program to help partners provide more value to this segment. IBM is offering partners refined “roadmaps” to help partners identify and build skills in selected areas in a more simplified and integrated way. These roadmaps direct business partners to invest in software asset certifications for all software brands, with a focus on analytics, cloud, security and mobile solutions. Partners will earn incremental incentives for sales in these areas, offering margin opportunities that are two to three times higher than for hardware sales. The goal here is to help partners move away from hardware only sales towards higher value solutions that include IBM software, industry expertise, their own IP and/or integration. IBM is also providing Business Partners with the shared best practices of its most successful partners, so they can model skills investments, lead generation, presales and post sales support more effectively and make investments that will pay off.
  • Announced new digital programs to help partners build skills. IBM is expanding digital partner benefits. It has overhauled the PartnerWorld University portal, which offers web-based training for both sales and technical skills, adding new courses and certifications, and giving users more tools to track and manage their progress. IBM is also adding Digital Marketing workshops to help partners use digital and social media more effectively. Big Blue is also expanding its Business Transformation Initiative (BTI) to help more partners move up the solutions value chain. Finally, IBM is offering developerWorks.Premium at a reduced price to help developers more easily tap into the IBM ecosystem and build new applications on IBM Cloud.

Perspective

Although IBM has changed the name, the Commercial segment really has the charter as it did before the name change: to help IBM more effectively reach the millions of businesses that it doesn’t sell to today.

IBM’s new channel programs and directions will certainly help IBM increase its footprint in the large enterprise “white space,” where its worth it in terms of deal size for the business partner and IBM to make the investment. The new initiatives are also a step in the right direction in terms of making gains in the SMB market, as partners are clearly IBM’s best bet to grow, scale and make headway in this diverse and complex space. Boosting partners’ technology, sales and marketing expertise will help them make some inroads with prospective IBM customers. These tactics should also help partners more easily surface solutions that might be a good fit for SMBs who are looking to solve a problem.

But IBM also has a big perception problem in the SMB market. Many SMBs believe IBM lacks solutions that are relevant, consumable, and priced right. While IBM does have some solutions, such as SoftLayer, IBM Verse (for collaboration) and cloud-based Watson analytics that are suitable for SMBs, and has recently begun offering free trials for a handful of them. But, most SMBs are blithely unaware of them, and while IBM has the vision, it really doesn’t have mechanisms in place to stimulate the type of viral adoption that vendors such as Google, Box and Slack have enjoyed. In fact, IBM’s cloud marketplace is just in the early stages, and having IBM solutions in third-party marketplaces is also nascent.

Furthermore, all businesses (regardless of size and whether or not they are IBM customers) are doing much more research, comparisons and shopping and purchasing online. IBM is changing its high-level value proposition (e.g. easier to discover, shop for, buy and use) to accommodate this evolution, and intends to make the necessary business model and solution changes required to execute on it. But, this type of tectonic shift will take time, and in the interim, it will be difficult for IBM raise awareness about the relevancy of its solutions for the broad SMB market.

Given these realities, helping business partners to invest to accelerate skills development and marketing and sales movement will only go so far. To really move the needle, IBM needs to fully execute on significant cultural, business model, sales and marketing and product design changes. Whether or not IBM has the will to put enough time, energy, commitment into the market to make bigger gains this time remains questionable.

Using Cloud Analytics to Make Big Data Actionable For SMBs

abstract data

“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 AdoptionSlide1
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 AdoptionSlide2

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/AnalyticsSlide3

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.