Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Tag: SMB

Trends in the SMB Technology Space

132493-tech-trends-240I just finished reading a report from SMB Group titled “Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs”. The report is a pay-per-access report but I received a copy from IBM to review and I’m happy I got to see it.

The report describes research performed by SMB Group into how small and medium businesses (SMB) are viewing and using technology in their business. A few of the interesting tidbits from the report are:

  • SMBs that view technology as a business enabler and invest more in technology are much more likely to anticipate revenue growth than other SMBs
  • The majority of SMBs indicate that mobile solutions are now critical for their business,
  • SMBs need to proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience
  • SMBs are willing and even eager to benefit from IT, but they are under-resourced and under pressure.

There are many more good pieces of information in the report, but the above were the ones that I wanted to point out. I don’t think any of these are a surprise to anyone.

The small and midsize market has always looked to technology to help level the playing field but there’s always been a challenge to the SMB. The challenges come into play around budget and people, which the last bullet point above points out. SMB’s are understaffed and under-funded but with the many tools, vendors and capabilities around today, SMB’s have more opportunity to bring in the right technology and the right vendors.

While the technology playing field is being leveled, the challenge still exists with being able to hire the right people. That said, even with the people challenge existing today, SMB’s are in a much better place than they were a few years ago.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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The People Challenge for the Midsize Organization

Smiling Group of ProfessionalsThere are many challenges facing the IT function within the midsize organization. Actually, there are many challenges facing the IT function within all organizations but there’s a particular challenge facing the smaller organizations.

The ultimate challenge for small and midsize organizations is finding the right mix of people and technologies for the things the organization needs to do. For example, for an organization to start exploring big data, they first need to find people and technologies that allow them to do the data collection,data storage and analysis that needs to be done. This particular challenge isn’t all about money, it’s about finding the right people with the right skills to do the work as well as finding the right technologies and systems to deliver the required functionality.

The challenge of finding the right people and technologies isn’t just an SMB challenge. It is faced by every organization, but small and midsized organization can have more of challenge on their hands because they can’t offer the same long career path to new employees.

Over on the Midsize Insider, S. Anthony Iannarino wrote an article titled “You are Hiring for Runway” where he talks about the need to hire for the right skills but also the right “attitude” and growth potential. He writes that organizations should hire those people who can bring a long-term advantage to the business.

That’s the difficulty for many SMB’s – it is often hard to keep people interested for a long career due to limited opportunities. The challenge for the small and midsize organization is, first, to find good people. Then, they need to find ways to keep those people interested and challenged.

WIth the right approach and mindset, small and midsize organizations can provide more opportunities to employees than their larger competitors.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Big Data, People and the SMB

Ebusiness ConceptAccording to the  2014 IDG Enterprise Big Data survey, most large organizations today (almost 49% of survey respondents) claim to be well along the implementation path for big data initiatives and projects. Additionally, those large organizations are well ahead of their small and medium business (SMB) counterparts.

There are a number of reasons for the lag between large organizations and SMB. The larger organizations have the money to address most of the big data requirements while small and midsized organizations haven’t found any budget to kick off big data initiatives.

In addition to budgetary differences, the larger organizations have access to more people. Whether via consulting companies or outsourcing big data work, large companies can find the people they need to ‘do’ big data. In the world of the SMB, the ability to bring in new people just isn’t there. Even though large organizations have money to pay for more people, the IDG survey points at the difficulty of finding skilled people as one of the most difficult challenges facing organizations today.

For me, the ‘people’ aspect of big data is the largest problem facing any organization. We can throw money at the technology issues and we’ll eventually find the right solution for our problem, but we can’t always throw money at the people problem, mainly because it isn’t necessarily a ‘money’ issue today.

Sure, it will take money to hire and train people but before that hiring and training occurs, organizations need to find the ‘right’ person or people for their big data initiatives. To me, this levels the playing field a bit for the SMB. The SMB may not have the budget to hire consultants, buy the newest and fanciest big data solutions or use the ‘best’ hardware and systems on the market, but those things aren’t what big data is about. Big data is about finding insights and value in data, and what better way to do that then to find people who are interested in analytics and giving them access to the organization’s data and saying ‘go’.

Rather than pigeon-holing people into being ‘developers’ or ‘analysts’ or ‘solution specialists’, SMB’s can give their people the ability see all aspects of the big data lifecycle as well as all aspects of the business. The ‘people’ problem of big data is an area that SMB’s can win if they are a bit creative in their approach. They may not have the million dollar big data budgets, but SMB’s can bring more value to the people equation by giving more opportunities to people interested in big data.

Two examples of data helping SMB’s

ku-xlargeWe often read anecdotal evidence of how companies and consultants are using big data to solve ‘big’ problems but it is rare that we see real world examples of the use of analytics and data to solve real-world business problems for small and midsized businesses.

IBM recently reported on two examples of SMB’s using big data to better manage their business in a piece titled “Here’s What Salame and Sequined Dresses Have in Common”. In this article, two SMB’s – Adrianna Papell and Columbus Foods – are described as is their use of analytics and data in understanding their clients and their business.

Adriana Papell, a fashion company founded in 1979, was having trouble trying to understand the enormous amount of data that they had been collecting and then find a way to use that data to better manage their business. The report states the following:

Using point-of-sale data, retail partner location, and time, they were able to get a sense of what their customers were buying and when they bought it. Armed with that insight, they were able to predict what would sell well, reduce production of what wouldn’t, and increase sales by fifteen percent.

Columbus Foods has been around since 1917 making salami and other deli meats. While they’ve been quite successful over their lifetime, the company is still trying to identify methods to improve their business. In this instance, they turned to data to:

to predict purchases and prevent inventory shortfall. By tracking historical sales data for their meats, they could more accurately predict buying patterns and make better-informed decisions about how much meat to make. So no matter how long it takes to make a batch of pepperoni, they don’t have to worry about spoilage.

Both companies are clear examples of using data to understand their business and make decisions based on the data within the business. There’s nothing “special” or “magical” about what these companies have done with data. They simply used the data they had and began to look at that data differently.

Big data isn’t always about new technologies, new data or even the size of data. It is about taking the data that you have, collecting new data if needed, and then analyzing that data in a way that makes sense for your business.

Don’t let the hype about big data scare you off. Your organization doesn’t need to be a huge company to incorporate data analytics into your business. The two companies described here and in the IBM report are perfect examples of how SMB’s are using big data methods to manage their business.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Data Discovery, BI and the SMB

1159615_30768144A CIO I spoke with last week mentioned that she and her team are struggling with their BI solution today. The solution works perfectly for analyzing their ‘standard’ data and does its job as a basic analysis and reporting tool but it doesn’t do much for their needs in the ‘big data’ realm. Their current BI tool doesn’t handle unstructured data or large datasets.

The particular BI tool owned by this organization isn’t a top tier solution in the BI space, but it was the right platform for the organization at the time they selected it. This CIO is now in the market for a new solution to solve their ‘big data’ visualization and analytics problem. In her search, she’s started looking at her current BI vendor to see if they can provide any assistance but she’s also looking at new vendors who might be able to provide a complete BI and Big Data solutions.

When I spoke to the CIO, I asked her the following question: Are you more interested in Reports or Analysis? Her answer came quick – she wanted to be able to analyze data not just report on data. She continued with a nice little diatribe on the power of analyzing data and how, by asking the right questions, an analyst can find real gems of knowledge in large data sets.

In order to ask the right questions, the CIO and her team needs to be able to dig into the data to understand what they have. Their BI platform doesn’t really allow them to do that because it doesn’t allow them to interact with the data in the necessary manner.

Data Discovery vs Business Intelligence

There’s a difference between BI and Data Discovery (DD), at least from the ‘standard’ BI platforms and vendors. Think of the difference as the same as the difference between reporting and analysis. BI seeks to use structured data in repositories to report and monitor. You can analyze data with BI tools in many different ways but the structured nature of the data and the fact that the data has been ‘scrubbed’ makes its analysis very straightforward.

Compare the above with the idea of unstructured data. There are gigabytes and terabytes of data within organizations that has been sitting around without any real means of analyzing or using it. This is where the ‘big data’ approach comes in. This is where Data Discovery comes into play. Using data discovery methods, this unstructured data can be collected, sifted and analyzed to determine if there’s any useful information sitting in it. Traditional BI tools aren’t great at this type of approach.

The answer to the question of ‘report or analyze’ is the answer for any business looking at analytics / reporting tools. If you want to just report on the data you have and have no interest in sifting through large data sets, a traditional BI tool might be perfect. If you want to dig into your data, you might want to make sure whatever platform you choose has analytics tools as well as visualization tools.

So where does that leave the SMB that has invested money into BI tools? Do they need to replace their BI tool with something else that has a more modern approach to BI and Analysis (including the ability to work with large data sets)? Or does the SMB leave their BI tool alone and bring in another platform specifically for Big Data work?

The CIO that I spoke with took the second option. She left her BI platform in place and kicked off a project to understand her organization’s needs for data analysis tools and identify a platform that would allow them to truly analyze unstructured data and start ‘doing’ big data.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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