IoT: Where Innovation, Pragmatism and Collaboration Meet

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic in technology. IoT, which connects objects to the Internet, will radically change how businesses, governments, and individuals interact with the physical world. Consequently, developers are seizing on the opportunity to capitalize on the almost $6 trillion that Business Intelligence estimates will be spent on IoT solutions over the next five years.

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Dell and Intel’s “Connect Wha Matters” IoT Contest awards dinner was held Searsucker in Austin, TX.

With so much development in the pipeline, what will success look like in the IoT market? Dell and Intel recently sponsored the “Connect What Matters” Internet of Things Contest, which sought out innovative industrial IoT solutions that incorporate Dell’s Edge Gateway. In my first post about the contest, I discussed V5 Systems’ Portable IoT Security System, which took top honors for its solution, which fuses edge and hybrid cloud analytics capabilities into a pre-integrated, compact and solar-powered wireless outdoor security system. This second post takes a broader look at the awards event, traits that many of the Gold and Sliver award winners share, and my perspectives on IoT and Dell’s approach in this area.

And The Winners Are…

The title of the contest, “Connect What Matters,” gets at the heart of why IoT is sparking so much interest. IoT marries technology–from the data center to endpoint sensors, from the cloud to analytics, from wireless to wired networks–to objects in the physical world to address pressing industrial challenges in unique and effective ways.

winners

Congratulations to the 16 winners of the Dell and Intel “Connect What Matters” IoT contest!

Contest winners brought IoT excitement to life with creative, pragmatic solutions. The five Gold contest winners, selected from more than 970 contest entries, included solutions that span across many industries, from farms to factory floors:

  • Eigen Innovations has built a video analytics solution for the factory floor. The solution uses thermal imaging cameras and PLC/sensor data captured through Dell Edge Gateways to help manufacturers integrate factory floor big data, machine learning, and human intelligence to improve process control and quality monitoring directly on the factory line.
  • Iamus combined IoT platform and facilities management expertise to build a unique smart street lamp solution for a smart city project. The solution enables cities to visualize, monitor, manage and optimize their environments to improve quality of life and reduce environmental impact and energy costs.
  • n.io developed a solution to transform manual, subjective farming operations into highly instrumented, automated precision agriculture systems. The solution helps agricultural companies increase crop yields and optimize delivery of resources, such as water.
  • RiptideIO created a packaged software-as-a-service (SaaS) IoT solution for small retailers to make store equipment smart. RiptideIO monitors and captures data on air conditioning, lighting, locks and other systems, stores it in the cloud, and alerts retailers if there’s a problem. The solution diagnoses the problems so service technicians know what parts to bring to fix the equipment.
  • Software AG has built a predictive maintenance solution that brings in-memory edge analytics to collected machine data for real-time predictive maintenance. Software AG’s solution enables both real-time condition monitoring and dynamic remaining useful life prediction. Key capabilities include data filtering, aggregation, threshold monitoring, Bollinger band calculation, baseline threshold calculations, gradient trend discovery and missing data notifications.

The 10 Silver winners include AZLOGICA, Blue Pillar, Calibr8 Systems Inc, Daliworks, ELM Fieldsight, Independent Automation, Onstream, PixController, Inc., PV Hardware and We Monitor Concrete. These companies further underscored just how enormous the IoT opportunity is. For example, solutions ranged from PixController, which aims to plug leaky systems in the gas industry with optical methane emissions detection, to ELM Fieldsight, which has partnered with Dynoptix to create a connected health system to monitor human body temperature and heart rate.

Where Innovation, Pragmatism and Collaboration Meet

Dell’s IoT contest winners are combining innovation and pragmatic industry expertise to solve real world problems. These companies are helping businesses and government replace manual data collection and subjective judgments with automated data collection and analysis and objective measurements, helping them to operate more efficiently and effectively. This translates into good news for both vendors and their customers.

Industrial IoT solutions must solve very complex and often specific problems, making collaboration another key success factor. No one vendor can possibly supply all of the technology, operational and industry expertise required to successfully bring an industrial IoT solution to market.

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I had the opportunity to network and meet with many of the winners as well as members of the Dell IoT team.

Partners I spoke to at the event emphasized the value of working with Dell’s IoT Partner Program, citing Dell’s Edge Gateway, deep technology expertise, strong brand and go-to-market support as critical to their initiatives. They were also excited about Dell and Intel’s partnership to build re-usable building blocks that promises to make it easier and faster for them to develop and scale IoT applications. For more info on Dell’s IoT Partner Program, see Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part One and Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part Two.

In addition, IoT winners spent a considerable amount of time at the awards ceremony learning about each other’s offerings, and exploring how to partner with each other to extend their solutions for additional industries and uses, and to enhance their solutions with additional capabilities.

Delivering Fast, Measurable Value

Unlike some technology areas where the value proposition is fuzzy and the return on investment can be difficult to measure, by their very nature, IoT solutions offer a built-in value proposition for customers. Dell’s IoT contest Gold winners easily paint the picture of how their solutions provide clear, measurable value, as described above.

And so do the Silver winners. For example, Blue Pillar Systems’ has more than 7,000,000 Energy “behind the meter” that control electricity in hospitals, data centers and other facilities, providing real-time control and visibility to make critical infrastructure safer and more efficient. Meanwhile, We Monitor Concrete can help concrete companies, builders and contractors monitor and manage concrete mixers to ensure that concrete is the right temperature and strength when delivered to a construction site.

Perspective

canstockphoto23533086The IoT revolution has only just begun, and Dell’s Connect What Matters contest also marked the one-year anniversary of Dell’s IoT Division. Dell’s IoT award winners are living proof that even at this early stage, IoT is quickly moving from hype to reality.

The diverse applications demonstrated provided abundant proof of how industrial IoT (IIoT) can deliver strong, evident value across industries and use cases. As important, although winners’ IoT solutions required a lot of technology and industry expertise to build, their customers don’t need to be technology experts to quickly deploy and get benefit from their solutions.

In addition, winners also validated Dell’s IoT approach and Edge Gateway Series, which takes care of some of the heavy technology lifting, and frees partners up to focus more of their energy on building unique and valuable solutions tailored to the needs to different industries and uses. Based on the innovation and value showcased in the first “Connect What Matters” contest, I expect that Dell’s IoT strategy and partner programs will yield an even more abundant crop of strong IoT solutions in its second year.

This post was sponsored by Dell.

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.

 

Security Doesn’t Have to Be The Elephant in the SMB Room

The Internet, cloud computing and mobile solutions have empowered people with the freedom and flexibility to do their jobs more easily and quickly than ever before. At the same time, new technologies continue to expand the volume and variety of data at our fingertips, enabling us to create and share information in new ways.

Technology is rapidly reshaping how people work in all businesses, regardless of size. In fact, the old stereotype of SMBs as technology laggards no longer fits: SMB Group’s 2016 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends reveal that today, the vast majority of SMBs have more favorable views about technology’s role in their business (Figure 1). Furthermore, Dell’s Global Technology Adoption Index (GTAI 2015) finds that enterprises using new technologies including big data, cloud computing and mobile solutions have up to 53% higher revenue growth rates than enterprises that don’t.

Figure 1: SMBs View Technology as Key to Success

Figure 1-SMBs View Technology as Key to Succes
Source: SMB Group 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study

As Reliance on Technology Grows, Security Requirements Become More Complex

Most SMBs understand that data security and management challenges grow as technology becomes a bigger part of the business fabric. Our study shows that both small and medium businesses rank security as their second-most-pressing technology challenge (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top Technology Challenges for SMBsFigure 2-Top TEchnology Challenges for SMBsSource: SMB Group 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study

However, as noted in SMB Group’s 2016 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends, “Security Remains the Elephant in the SMB Room.” SMBs often feel overwhelmed, confused or inadequate to deal with the magnitude of the seemingly endless potential for digital security breaches. The growth of data, mobile solutions, cloud computing and other technologies give users more flexibility and freedom. But with data living in more places, the risk of data loss and leakage rises. Unfortunately, as we put more information into the right hands, we also increase the likelihood of putting it into the wrong ones.

As the sheer magnitude of potential cyber-security risks grows, SMBs that continue to take an outdated, ineffective, 1990s-era “whack-a-mole” approach to security–deploying point solutions to ward off the security threat du jour–are at increasing risk for both accidental and malicious data breaches.

But, SMB Group research indicates that on average, only 22% of businesses with fewer than 100 employees have full-time, dedicated IT staff, and 31% have no IT support at all. Meanwhile, although 85% of medium businesses have dedicated IT staff, these employees are likely to be IT generalists. Given the fact that there are no chief security officers in SMBs, what’s an SMB to do?

Finding Balance: A New Security Approach for SMBs

SMBs need a more comprehensive approach—one that makes security a manageable challenge instead of a bewildering, unsolvable nightmare. They need a solution that enables them to continue taking advantage of the latest mobile, cloud and other technology advancements, and also offers peace of mind that their biggest risks are being managed.

Endpoint security management solutions help close off the biggest vulnerabilities to the most critical corporate data, wherever it resides—whether endpoint devices, mobile apps, on-premises infrastructure and applications or the cloud (Figure 3). Endpoints can include any end-user device, such as smartphones, PCs and tablets, as well as specialized devices such as point-of-sale terminals and bar code readers.

Figure 3: Endpoint Security ManagementFigure 3-Endpoint Security ManagemtnSource: SMB Group 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study

These solutions provide policy-based approach that requires endpoint devices to comply with specific criteria before they are granted access to network resources. For instance endpoint security management solutions:

  • Check the status of a user’s device when it connects to the network to ensure that the operating system, browser and other applications are in compliance
  • Determine whether security components are up to date.
  • Enable policies to be created to set up individual rules for different levels of access to files or applications.
  • Are deployed on both the client and server-side, enabling centralized monitoring and management on the server.
  • Are often data-centric, meaning that they encrypt and protect the data itself so that it remains protected as it travels across different devices or cloud platforms.

Sponsored by Dell, SMB Group’s free research brief, Finding Balance: A New Security Approach for SMBs, is designed to improve SMB understanding in this area. The brief discusses how endpoint security solutions work; internal considerations to keep in mind when developing an endpoint security strategy; and key capabilities to look for in an endpoint security solution.

Although you can’t eliminate every risk, endpoint security management can offer a more holistic, rules-based approach to face and address the security elephant in your business a more effective way.

This post is sponsored by Dell.

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

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In the first post in this series, Seeing the Light: How SMBs are Using Data and Insights to Get Ahead, I shared the motivations that prompted three SMBs (BGF Industries, Oberweis Dairy and Twiddy & Company) to replace spreadsheets and intuition with a more sophisticated, analytics-driven approach.

But what factors do you need to assess in order to select an analytics solution that will work best for your business? In this post, I examine the factors that these decision-makers view as make or break considerations to guide the analytics selection process and ultimately, drive successful outcomes.

What Information Do You Need to Understand and Measure?

As Albert Einstein, said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” After you’ve determined the business requirements you need to solve for, the next step is to identify the specific questions you need to answer to solve for these requirements. For instance:

  • Oberweis Dairy initially wanted to determine why customers were discontinuing home delivery service so it could get that business growing again. But the scope quickly broadened. According to Bruce Bedford, VP of Marketing, “We have three channels of business–home delivery, ice cream and dairy stores, and distribution partners. We realized we had to understand customer buying behaviors across these channels to answer questions such as, how do we increase revenue per transaction, improve customer retention, and increase market penetration.”
  • Twiddy & Co. needed to maximize occupancy and revenues for vacation homeowners while still providing an optimal vacation experience for its guests. As Clark Twiddy, Director of Operations explained, “We asked what do we want this solution to show us, and what would we do with it once we had it?” For instance, Twiddy wanted to be able to scan for safety related items so it could immediately dispatch resources to correct them. “We also wanted to track costs and performance in different vendor categories. “I wanted to know what the median cost is, for example, for carpet cleaning, what each vendor charges, and who does the best job–sort of like a private Angie’s list.”
  • BGF Industries had millions of lab testing records that it could use to improve quality control, but lacked an effective way to extract insights from them. Notes Bobby Hull, Corporate QA Manager,” We needed a system to quickly comb through all these records, generate control charts, and flag anything that might be an issue–before it becomes an issue for our customers. We also wanted to build a knowledge repository to make key findings readily available if an issue comes up again.’’

Where Will the Data Come From?

Most SMBs start with wanting to analyze internal company data. But odds are that corporate data is in different “silos,” such as an internal financials application and a cloud-based HR or CRM solution. Data silos are usually inconsistent, expensive to support and a source of contention in companies. Bringing siloed data together into an integrated data store is the foundation to build a “single version of the truth” to run reports, build dashboards, and create visual or mobile user interfaces.

BGF was fortunate. It had already built a data warehouse for its lab testing data when it decided it needed a more powerful analytics solution. But Twiddy and Oberweis faced a dilemma more common to SMBs. For example, “Our Ice Cream and Dairy Stores operate in a completely different IT environment than our Home Delivery and Wholesale businesses,” explained Bedford. “For timely, accurate reporting and analysis of cross-channel purchase behavior, we needed to start by bringing all of our consumer and inventory data together into a single data warehouse.”

Look for solution providers who can help consolidate and standardize data from different sources and formats to build an integrated, rationalized data store. This foundation will enable you to derive deeper insights, better metrics and the confidence you want from your data.

How Much Data Do You Need to Analyze?

Big data isn’t only applicable to large businesses. In fact, the “big” in big data is relative–relative to the amount of information that your organization needs to sift through to find the insights you need, when you need them.

BGF was storing over 5 million lab testing data points in a data warehouse. “Many of the solutions we looked at couldn’t handle the data volume, they would choke after a couple of million data points. We needed a solution to power through this with the speed we needed,” according to Hull.

Consider both current data volumes and what’s coming down the pike. Oberweis’ Bedford notes, “We wanted to start with market analysis, but knew that down the road that we would want also improve inventory management and gain more predictive inventory control, which would bring more data into the picture.”

It’s a safe bet that the volume and variety of digitized data relevant to your business will continue to rise exponentially. You may need to bring in new, unstructured data from company emails, from external sources such as social media, or machine generated data from processes that you automate.

Select a solution that will be ready when you need it to crunch through more data, from more places, more quickly. Analytics solutions that take advantage of new technologies, such as Hadoop and MapReduce make it possible to run analyses that used to take days or weeks in minutes, and to weave new, external data sources into your analysis as required.

How Do You Make Data Actionable?

To have value, data needs to be accessible, consumable and actionable. People must be able to interact with it, and get the information they need, when and how they need it, to perform their jobs most efficiently.

Consumability was top of mind for Twiddy & Co. “We wanted something that would not only help our executive team to make decisions, but also shape information that we could disseminate to front line managers and the field,” notes Twiddy. Executives needed planning and forecasting capabilities to help maximize occupancy for almost 1000 properties, and manage service costs among 1100 providers. “But we also needed to bring together information from different sources into one simple document for our cleaning crews who clean and inspect the homes. Our data challenges were often to make our complicated data systems clear, understandable, and most importantly actionable.”

BGF’s Hull required “a daily report of issues, divided by market segment, that segment managers could pull up and start taking actions on immediately.” BGF also wanted to augment control charts with commentary field to capture knowledge about how to resolve issues. “One of my mentors recently retired with 52 years of service. When someone like that logs something, you want to keep it and pass that knowledge on in case the issue comes up again.”

Get clarity around who needs to use the data and how. Is it executives, front line managers, people in the field–or all of the above? Business users may need visualization capabilities to make it easier to explore large amounts of data. Executives might want mobile solutions so that they have information at their fingertips at the airport. Get broad input from stakeholders upfront to deliver information in the most actionable format.

What Internal Capabilities Do You Have and What Help Will You Need?

Like most SMBs, these companies had small IT staffs, ranging from 2 to 4 full-time people. They had varying degrees of analytics expertise. Oberweis’ Bruce Bedford is a PhD and an analytics background. BGF’s Hull had experience with desktop analytics, but had to juggle his day job as Corporate Quality Assurance Manager while implementing a server-based solution. And Clark Twiddy had to help move the company off spreadsheets while fulfilling his duties as Director of Operations.

If you lack IT staff and/or in-house analytics expertise, select an experienced solution provider who can fill in the gaps with consulting, implementation, training and support services. Since analytics is major investment for most companies, and your requirements will evolve over time, look for a provider that will really listen to what you are trying to do, work with you to overcome internal challenges and constraints, and provide a solution that will grow with your business. “Don’t be over-confident about simply buying a solution…in hindsight, we should have purchased a training plan and initial setup consultant upfront. It would have saved a lot of time.”

Perspective

With all the hype surrounding analytics today, it’s easy to get derailed from your objectives by buzzwords and the next new feature. But you can stay on track if you remember that the end goal of all metrics, reports, dashboards, alerts or any other features that an analytics solution provides is to answer your business-critical questions.

Evaluating key questions at the front of the solution assessment cycle proved critical to enabling these SMBs to choose the analytics solutions and providers that would be the best fit for their companies.

If you take time upfront to lay the groundwork with a thorough internal assessment, you will dramatically increase the odds of selecting an analytics solution and solutions provider that will help you get the insights you need to grow the business and stay ahead of the competition.

In the third and final post of this series, I’ll look at how careful planning paid off for these three SMBs, and how they are using analytics to help their companies grow.

This is the second of a three-part blog series by SMB Group sponsored by SAS that examines why and how SMBs are moving from spreadsheets and intuition to a data-driven approach to grow their businesses.

We Liked it So Much, We Made it Into a Slideshow: 2011 Top SMB Tech Trends

Presented by Laurie McCabe on January 18, 2011 WITI (Women in Information Technology) webinar.

Four Top Technology Solution Trends and How They Can Help Your Small Business

A couple of weeks ago, I was a presenter at Ramon Ray’s Small Business Technology Tour in Cambridge, MA. My presentation focused on top technology trends, and how small businesses can take advantage of them. A few people have asked me to post the presentation, so I’m providing it here.

At the event, I prefaced the presentation by telling the audience why I picked these four trends from among the myriad of bright and shiny technology innovations bubbling up out there. It’s really pretty simple: in our 2010 SMB Group Routes to Market survey, small business owners and decision-makers told us that their top three business goals are, in this order: 1) growing revenues; 2) attracting new customers; and 3) improving cash flow.

Meanwhile, they said that their top four technology challenges are to: 1) get better business insights from existing data; 2) figure out how different solutions can help the business; 3) implementing new solutions and upgrades; and 4) integrate social media with Web site, marketing tools, etc.

The four trends I selected center on areas where vendors are providing accessible, affordable technology solutions that can help small businesses meet their top business goals and at the same time, wrestle down their top technology challenges. They are (in no particular order):

  • Social Media Management
  • Mobile Commerce
  • SMB Application Marketplaces
  • On Demand Business Intelligence and Analytics

In the presentation, I look at each of these trends individually, and what each means for small businesses. I also discuss solutions that are geared to small business needs and budgets, and key considerations to evaluate when you’re looking for a solution in each area.

Let me know what you think about these, what your experiences have been, and what other new technology and trends you’re thinking about taking advantage of to move your business ahead.