Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

April 9, 2015

Infusionsoft ICON15: Inspiration and Automation for Small Business Marketing

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe and I’m here today for SMB’s Spotlight with Greg Head, who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Infusionsoft. We’re at the ICON 2015 event, which is Infusionsoft’s annual user conference. It’s been a blast so far and I’d like to learn more about it, but Greg, could you start just by telling us a little bit about what Infusionsoft, and about the company in general?
Greg: Well, Infusionsoft is the leading sales and marketing software for small businesses and the company has been around for just over 12 years. It started as a small business that turned into a startup that turned into a growth company. And now it’s one of the largest software companies, with 30,000 small business customers. We serve exclusively small businesses and we have over 600 employees and thousands of partners.
Laurie: And located here in the Phoenix area?
Greg: Yes, located here in Phoenix where we started.
Laurie: Okay, and just to clarify when you say small business–because we know as analysts when people say small business they could mean a thousand different things–what’s small business for Infusionsoft?
Greg: Well, we serve small businesses that have up and running businesses. That are full time and have employees and are still owner operated, which means most of our customers have 25 employees and of that most have fewer than 10. That’s where most small businesses reside, but there’s the mid-market of hundreds employees and on up that we are not involved with at all.
Laurie: Okay, that’s good clarification. So tell us about ICON. This is the third year I’ve been here so I’m very familiar, that it’s a great event, but who is it for? What are the goals for the event?
Greg: ICON is our annual conference for users and partners, and now other small businesses that want to join in on all the learning and keynote speakers and so forth. So it’s here at the Phoenix Convention Center, we outgrew the conference room and then hotel rooms and the largest hotel in Phoenix. It’s kind of a movement that’s been happening and now there are over 3500 people here this week. Here exclusively to talk about small business growth, small business sales and marketing, some on how to use Infusionsoft better, that’s definitely part of it. You can be here for three days and attend very valuable sessions and keynotes on these topics.
Laurie: Yes, we will post a link to where people can get more information about the sessions.
Greg: Excellent.
Laurie: So, can you tell me a little bit more about the Infusionsoft solution, what does it do for small businesses? Why do they use it? What benefits do they get out of it?
Greg: Yeah, the main thing, is that our solution is the small business CRM, the contact management, the customer database, and the marketing capabilities from web forms, to emails, and all the automation needed make things go–because small business owners need to make things go.
Laurie: Right.
Greg: And ecommerce to transact online, it’s all in one system. So we help small businesses that are growing and have customers, leads in their funnel coming off the website and Facebook, the new digital funnel has exploded.
Laurie: Right. Exactly.
Greg: Most small businesses have a dozen different tools to capture leads over here and to sell something online over here. So Infusionsoft is the one system that can organize all of that.
Laurie: And to automate it.
Greg: Yeah, once you are organized you can actually automate. You can set it up to start doing things for you that we used to have to do manually.
Laurie: Right.
Greg: And that’s driving a lot of small businesses crazy.
Laurie: Yes, because you can’t keep up with the follow up and the other things that you need to do on that one off basis in a small company. Well, even in a large company it just doesn’t scale. So if you don’t automate it…
Greg: Yeah, but big companies, for instance, at Infusionsoft, we have IT resources, technology, and money to throw at it. Small businesses need one system that’s going to run and help to do that.
Laurie: Yes, absolutely, and I think that as a small business, that you got to have the inspiration, the perspiration, but then you need automation because if you don’t have that you know that perspiration factor just shoots right up.
Greg: Yeah, that’s right.
Laurie: And you’re killing yourself before long with that. And that gets on to my next question, which is for many small businesses, unless they are sales and marketing coaches, or something like that, sales and marketing is an intimidating thing. Putting yourself out there, fear of rejection and everything else. So when you counsel people about some of the basics, things they should look at when you’re thinking, “Okay how do I take sales and marketing in my company to the next level? Or I realize that my revenues are flat, or my revenues are declining, so I’ve got to do something. Where is the right place to start?” How should they think about tactics, strategy, that kind of thing?
Greg: Well, most small business owners don’t think about it separately, it’s part of what they do, and they’re in the firefight. So the first thing is when we help them, it’s a function of where they are in the stage of their business. Maybe they’ve just quit their job, and now they have the business up and running, and getting sales going for the first time. Or maybe they have some revenues and they’re trying to grow figure out tactics to make it work, and 10 or 20 employees, you’ve got different types of issues there. But primarily small businesses jump right into the tactics to go get people to talk to, to sell or convert online. So they run right into the tactical mode, and that’s where all the beginning is. They have a hard time taking a step back and looking how to optimize all that.
Laurie: Their real objectives are how they are going to measure the improvement?
Greg: Yeah, again they get a little stuck because they are peddling so fast, and they don’t look at the biggest thing underneath of all of that is distinguishing the right market for their products and services. At first everybody goes out and tries to sell to everybody but after a while, you have to start narrowing it down, to the ones who are your best customers and prospects.
Laurie: So I know you have a lot of tools to help people use the Infusionsoft solution, do you also have services to help them figure out those bigger picture things?
Greg: Yeah, well small businesses need help and between our partners and us we help them get Infusionsoft set up and get the system running and helping in their business, and we’re also advising them tactically where they should be spending time to plug the hole. Our partners do consulting as well to help small businesses figure out their marketing strategy. At ICON, over half of the speaking sessions are not about the tactical, day-to-day tactics. We are also trying to help them with ways to think about the business, and how to get through the next hurdle in the business. While businesses get to a once place, then it’s a struggle to get to the next level.
Laurie: Yeah, getting stuck and then unstuck.
Greg: So getting unstuck is a major part of what people get from coming to Infusionsoft, for a few days seeing some other possibilities and getting some tactical help to help bridge some of those gaps.
Laurie: Yeah, I like because we all get stuck in our own ruts. S one last question for you really. For you, what are the most exciting highlights here at ICON?
Greg: Well it’s a big deal for us when we get to be with all of the people that we serve. That’s why we’re here, and we get to hear all the small business stories about the stuck and unstuck. We appreciate that and all the challenges small businesses face. Some of our customers get on stage and tell their stories, and that’s a big part of what we do here. We’re continuing to grow, this is a major movement. And we’re announcing new capabilities in our product and the Infusionsoft payments to make getting paid easier and simpler, and more.
Laurie: Right, so once customers are ready to buy, you can easily process the payment.
Greg: Well, big companies, other departments handle the function of getting paid.
Laurie: We all want to get paid, right? I think that should be a good program, and you also introduced some new things to help them get started more quickly?
Greg: Yeah, there are new resources, we keep improving the resources we have for small business owners, starting with Infusionsoft get started and learn more about the concept that they may or may not know. So that’s part of our help center, and our kick-start services that we offer. And we are always making the software easier because we know small businesses have a passion, and they don’t want to spend all day reading manuals and learning to use something. You know most small business owners are focused on something else. So we try to make it easier to focus on the things that they do, and to get back the time and passion and growth in their lives. Families all that stuff that they thought they’re going to get more of, but didn’t really work out that way, so that’s why we’re here.
Laurie: This has been a great synopsis of Infusionsoft and ICON. Thanks Greg, so much.
Greg: Thank you very much.

See ICON15 event highlights here

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December 16, 2013

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends For 2014!

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2014! A more detailed description of each follows below.

  1. Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer
  2. Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds
  3. Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars
  4. Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices
  5. SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light
  6. SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy
  7. SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value
  8. The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight
  9. It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green
  10. Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up

2014 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends in Detail

  1. Progressive SMBs Use Technology as a Game Changer. Technology continues to fuel changes in what, where, and how SMB (small and medium businesses, with 1 to 999 employees) work gets done. Back in 2011, SMB Group identified the “Progressive” SMB segment. Progressive SMBs invest more in technology-based solutions, view technology as a business enabler, and are much more likely to expect revenue growth than other SMBs. This gap continues to widen as we enter 2014, and is further fueled by generational shifts–including the rise of millennials in the workforce and older exiles from the corporate world. Progressive SMBs are blending technology and business savvy to reshape business models, carve out new market niches and invent entirely new businesses. Their adoption of cloud, mobile, social and analytics will soar as they strive for both growth and agility. They will also increasingly turn to technology-fueled services—from Elance and oDesk for staffing, to shared office space and IT infrastructure services—in pursuit of these goals. As they forge ahead, they will not only continue to outpace peers, but reshape what it means to be an SMB.
  2. Cloud Adoption Accelerates, But SMBs Steer Clear of Dark Clouds. SMBs have bought into the cloud promise: a faster, easier, cheaper and less risky route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. SMB Group research shows SMB use of cloud business and infrastructure applications poised to grow to from 33% to 44% over the coming year. However, some cloud vendors—threatened by Wall Street and high churn rates—have backtracked on their original faster, easier, cheaper cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on added fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing models that are almost as confusing as those of the traditional software behemoths they once berated. As SMBs push further into the cloud, they will favor vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise, and steer clear of dark clouds.
  3. Mobile Management Becomes a Priority as SMB Mobile App Use Soars. SMBs have been adopting mobile solutions at a fast and furious pace. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs now view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. 83% have already deployed mobile apps to help improve employee productivity; 55% are using mobile apps for specific business functions, such as CRM or order entry. 49% of SMBs are building mobile-friendly websites, and/or deploying mobile apps to engage and transact with customers. However, mobile management has failed to keep pace with this explosion, and with SMBs’ increasing business reliance on mobile solutions. Concerns about security, manageability, provisioning and cost will make mobile management a top priority for more SMBs. They will be looking for easy-to-deploy, cost-effective mobile device and application management platforms and solutions to reduce management headaches and get more value from their mobile investments.
  4. Social Media Marketing Stalls as SMBs Re-focus Marketing Practices.  Many SMBs now “get” that they need a social media presence. SMB Group research reveals that more than half of small businesses and more than two-thirds of medium businesses use social media for marketing purposes. Some have invested tremendous amounts of energy to create content to feed the voracious social media beast. But the ever-increasing pressure to create fresh content, keep up with changes in users’ social network preferences, and uncertainty about the return on social investments is taking its toll. In 2014, SMBs will focus more on what networks and content really click for their target audiences, and put more time into figuring out how to convert social connections into customers. Some will integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications, and use analytics to develop more actionable social metrics. Marketing innovators will explore new opportunities, such as online mobile advertising powered by geolocation. Others will redirect some of their efforts back to marketing basics–including surveys, competitive analysis, email marketing and attending more conferences and events. 
  5. SMBs View Payment Systems in a New Light. SMB Group research shows that although checks and credit cards are still the top forms of payment SMBs accept, there’s no question that new payment methods are growing in use and importance. 27% of small businesses and 43% of medium businesses already equip employees with mobile payment processing solutions, and about one-quarter of SMBs intend to add this capability over the coming year. Meanwhile, mobile wallets and gift cards, PayPal and even Dwolla—a payment network that allows any business or person to send, request and accept money for very low fees—will continue to provide additional payment options for consumers. More SMBs will recognize that having the capability to accept and process a broader range of payment methods can help them attract more customers, gain new business, and even enter new markets. SMBs will also seek ways to cut time and errors out of payment processing with payment solutions that integrate with accounting and ERP, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage. 
  6. SMBs Prepare for the Insight Economy.  It’s been hard for many SMBs to relate to the “big data” story that most vendors have been pitching. SMB Group research reveals that only about 18% of small, and about 57% of medium businesses utilize business intelligence and analytics solutions. However, SMBs understand the value of getting the information they need, when they need it—especially as they try to compete with new, nimble born-on-the-Web startups that view data as the new business capital. In 2014, SMB-focused vendors will retool the big data story for the little guy, focusing less on zettabytes, speeds and feeds, and more on how their solutions enable and empower better insights and decision-making. Business solutions vendors will embed better and more accessible analytics and reporting tools within their solutions. Cloud-based, visualization and scenario-driven business intelligence and analytics solutions will also help SMBs take a more data-driven approach to running their businesses. 
  7. SMBs Integrate to Gain Higher Solution Value. While the cloud has made it easy for businesses to add a lot of new applications, integration has often been an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs are struggling to make sense of disconnected information silos, and IT is under pressure to integrate cloud-to-on-premises solutions, as well as cloud-to-cloud solutions. In 2013, integration moved up from the #4 to the #1 technology challenge for medium businesses. In 2014, we expect that integration will be a higher priority even among small businesses. After all, it doesn’t take too many disconnected applications to feel the pain of productivity drains, errors, and a lack of solid data to support decision-making. Fortunately, technology vendors of all stripes are emphasizing the importance of a unified, reliable data store as the foundation for solid analytics and reporting. Business solution vendors are increasingly offering SMBs pre-integrated suites, opening up their application programming interfaces (APIs), and creating marketplaces to make it easy to find integrated partner apps. This makes it easier for SMBs to start small, with just one or two applications, and then snap in added functionality as needed. Finally, vendors that specialize in integration solutions, such as Informatica, Scribe and Dell Boomi (just to name a few), are making their solutions more accessible to SMBs. Integration still isn’t sexy, but the improved productivity, time savings, error reduction and decision-making benefits that it enables are. 
  8. The Affordable Care Act Puts Workforce Management in the SMB Spotlight. Revenue growth, attracting new customers and increasing profitability are perennial goals for SMBs.  To help achieve these goals, they have been steadily moving ahead to automate and integrate sales, marketing and other customer-facing solutions. Although improving employee productivity has also been a top goal, SMB adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions has lagged behind other areas. Many SMBs continue to limp along with a patchwork of disconnected solutions and manual tracking to manage components such as time and attendance, payroll, scheduling, HR and benefits.  But with the Affordable Care Act set to take effect on January 1, 2015 for organizations with more than 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, that situation is about to change. Worried about uncertainty, costs and regulatory risks, SMBs will look for better solutions to calculate employee eligibility and benefits, and to develop proactive strategies to manage ACA compliance and costs. This will drive a significant uptick of interest in, and adoption of automated, integrated workforce management solutions. 
  9. It’s Easy for SMBs to Go Green and Save Green. The push for greener IT solutions isn’t new, but in 2014, we’re moving into a perfect green storm. Due to a rash of hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme weather, the sustainability of Mother Earth is taking center stage. According to a recent Harris Poll, over 74% of American adults believe in the global warming theory, and over 73% of U.S. citizens approve of the Kyoto agreement requiring countries to limit carbon monoxide and greenhouse gas emissions. IT vendors are prepared to capitalize on this opportunity with new, energy saving products. From Dell’s Dell PowerEdge VRTX applications and storage server, which runs on standard 100V-240V AC power and doesn’t require any specialized cooling, to IBM’s patent for a “green” button that helps cloud providers “greenify” their businesses and lets customers choose whether or not to tap clean energy to run offsite servers, it’s easier than ever for SMBs to be green and save green. 
  10. Make Way for an SMB Influencer Shake-Up. SMB Group research shows that in-house IT still plays a key role in all phases of the technology solution decision-making process. But now, enabled by the cloud and the swipe of a credit card, business decision-makers are much more involved: in small businesses, 69% of owners/presidents help evaluate potential solutions, and 81% help make the final decision. In medium businesses, departmental and line-of-business executives are the most likely personnel to identify the need for new solutions. This is changing the influencer landscape. Business decision-makers aren’t as likely to turn to traditional technology guidance sources as IT decision-makers. And many of us—especially millennials—are growing skeptical of traditional media sources that increasingly push paid “native content” in the guise of news. So who will the new influencers be? Accountants and other professional advisors (for line-of-business or industry) that the SMBs have an established relationship with will become more powerful influencers. Digital word-of-mouth, references, trade associations and non-technical groups and organizations will play an increasingly important role in shaping technology purchase decisions among both business and IT professionals. Finally, technology vendors that provide unbiased education—and can clearly demonstrate how business benefits from their solutions—will have a decided advantage over those that don’t.

About SMB GROUP

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is comprised of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group areas of focus include: Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services and Green IT.

October 31, 2012

SAP TechEd 2012: Implications for SMEs and the Partner Ecosystem

Filed under: Blogs - Sanjeev Aggarwal, Cloud Computing, ISV, Mobility, SaaS, Sanjeev Aggarwal Blog, SAP — Tags: , , , , — sanjeevaggarwal @ 12:10 pm

Sanjeev Aggarwal, Partner, SMB Group

During the week of October 15, I attended SAP TechEd 2012 in Las Vegas, along with about 6,500 SAP technology specialists and partners, and a small group of influencers. Although SAP is more widely renowned for its success in the large enterprise market, the small and medium enterprise or SME market (which SMB Group labels the small and medium business or SMB market) is a core part of SAP’s installed base and essential to SAP’s growth strategy. Roughly 80% of SAP’s more than 128,000 current customers are SMEs with less than 1,000 employees. In addition, SAP has more than 12,000 partners worldwide who provide SAP solutions and services to SME customers.

During this year’s TechEd, SAP discussed three areas that underscore SAP’s commitment to the SME market and its fundamental belief that strong growth opportunities lie ahead in this segment.

Taking HANA to the Cloud and to SMEs

  • HANA Cloud was by far the lead theme overall at 2012 TechEd. As Bill McDermott, co-CEO remarked, “HANA lies at the heart of the intellectual renewal going on at SAP.” HANA began life as an in-memory analytics engine, and quickly evolved into a database. Now, as SAP announced at the event, SAP is building the HANA Cloud as a next-generation platform for developers.

    SAP HANA AppServices and SAP HANA DatabaseServices are services that allow developers to create next-generation applications using native SAP HANA, Java and other rapid-development services. The good news is that SAP will now offer for free, developer licenses for SAP NetWeaver Cloud to get more support from the developer community. These shared services will build on SAP’s cloud platform vision by providing building blocks for portals, integration, mobile, analytics, collaboration and commercial services required to expedite building and life-cycle management of applications.

    SAP HANA One, a deployment of SAP HANA on the Amazon Web Services Cloud. HANA One currently supports a relatively small 64GB HANA instance on Amazon’s AWS cloud for $0.99 per hour. This will make it faster and easier and cheaper for developers to build affordable, HANA-enabled apps for SMEs.Although HANA Cloud is still a work in progress, HANA Cloud services and SAP HANA One are first steps to SAP realizing the HANA Cloud development platform vision. Significant work is required to move this from a development/testing proof-of-concept to a production platform where commercial applications can be deployed. SAP needs to develop a strategy to help developers move rapidly to commercial deployment and promotion, as Salesforce.com has done successfully with its Force.com platform and ecosystem.

  • SAP also announced that SAP Business One, version for SAP HANA, has been in limited release mode as of September 18, 2012, with general availability slated for some time next year.

    SAP Business One is SAP’s flagship ERP solution for SMEs with fewer than 100 employees. This HANA-powered version uses the HANA database and allows both the transactional (ERP) and analytical application to be run on the same server, and promises significant performance advantages. Running both ERP transactions and analytics on a single platform speeds access to information for analytics, reporting and search, without slowing down transactional processing.

    While not every SME will need to turbo-charge these functions, some SMEs are challenged with exponential data growth, and managing and extracting the insights they need from it. For instance in the health care industry, companies can integrate patient transactions with insurance company patient utilization records and hospital electronic medical records, to providing a complete real-time view to better manage patient care and costs. By crunching through more data more quickly, these businesses can more readily gain the insights they need to succeed in an increasingly complex and competitive world.
    Meanwhile, SMEs that don’t require the increased speed and power and analytics capabilities that HANA supplies can continue to buy SAP Business One based on Microsoft SQL database, which SAP offers as both an on-premises and cloud based solution.

Enabling Mobility for SMEs

With the acquisition of Sybase and Syclo (which SAP acquired in April’12), SAP is moving to help SMEs develop a mobile application and mobile management strategies. Sybase’s robust, market-proven Sybase Unwired Platform, is now augmented by the Syclo mobile application development platform to enable partners to rapidly develop, configure and deploy mobile apps for SME customers. SAP partners can also help SMEs to add mobile capabilities to their existing business applications, and/or help them develop custom mobile applications to address business requirements. SMB Group research studies indicate that many SMEs are planning to deploy internal mobile solutions in areas such as field service and CRM. In addition, they are planning to provide external mobile apps in areas such as payments, marketing and appointment and reservation scheduling to boost customer engagement and create new revenue opportunities.

Empowering the SME Partner Ecosystem

The partner ecosystem heavily influences SMEs’ business solution purchase decisions. Many of the partners I spoke with at the event provide consulting, implementation services and development for SAP’s SME-focused applications, including Business One, Business by Design, Business All-in-One, Business Objects Edge. Now SAP is helping these partners build skills in HANA and mobility to support new SME requirements.

Partners will play a vital role in helping SMEs customize application, analytics and reporting on the HANA platform or help startups develop new next generation application on SAP HANA Cloud. Likewise, on the mobility front, partners are essential to help SMEs develop a comprehensive mobility strategy that includes mobile access to business application and address the mobile management issues–including devices, access, security and mobile applications –in a unified way.

SAP is sparking renewed interest from and incremental opportunities for the SAP partner ecosystem. HANA Cloud, SAP Business One with analytics powered by HANA, and new mobility solutions will help SAP attract new partners and grow its partner ecosystem. Meanwhile, SAP’s laser focus on the mobility front will help it forge new partnerships with mobile solution developers that want to capitalize on the opportunity to provide mobile solutions via SAP’s Sybase Afaria platform. SAP is also opening up the SAP PartnerEdge program to help attract these new partners with educational tools, resources and training–as well as credentials to validate and certify partner skills for mobility and HANA.

In addition, the current SAP Mentors and partners that I met at TechEd were excited about the new opportunities that this will open up for them. For existing SAP partners, SAP’s new HANA and mobile solutions provides a pathway to incremental opportunities in their existing account, and an entrée to develop business in new ones.

Perspective

SAP is betting that these new technologies and solutions will give it an edge in the SME market. But for many SMEs, this is uncharted territory. SAP will need to make a hefty investment—particularly around HANA—to build awareness and understanding of the value that it brings to the table. Likewise, it must build on TechEd to ensure that it rolls out a steady, effective training program to help partners position, design, build, implement and support SAP solutions in these areas.

That said, as discussed in The Progressive SMB: Customer Stories are Worth 1,000 Analyst Words, SMB Group research indicates a distinct and growing segment of SMEs that we call “Progressive SMBs.” Despite economic uncertainties, Progressive SMBs plan to increase IT investments. They see IT as a tool for business transformation, and a way to create market advantage and level the playing field against bigger companies. Furthermore, Progressive SMBs have higher revenues expectations than their peers.

For instance, 50% of the small and 73% of the medium Progressive businesses (who are increasing technology spending) anticipate revenue gains in 2012, compared to just 15% of the small and 8% of medium businesses that plan to decrease IT spending.

The opportunity for SAP lies in growing the Progressive SME segment. After all, its unlikely that SME technology stragglers are going to become SAP customers. To accomplish this, SAP will need to make a significant investment outside of its installed base (as well as within) to educate SMEs about the increasingly dire consequences that technology laggards are likely to face, and the tremendous upside that they can gain by using IT solutions more strategically. Then, SAP must clearly connect the dots to demonstrate how SMEs can apply its new solutions to leapfrog competitors and grow their businesses.

If SAP can alert and educate a broader SME audience, then it can not only help narrow this gap, but also increase the market opportunity for its new solutions.

March 19, 2012

Dell Extends its End-to-End Storage Story for SMBs

Filed under: Blogs - Sanjeev Aggarwal, ISV, Small Business, SMB, Storage — Tags: , , , — sanjeevaggarwal @ 11:35 am

Storage is a key requirement for today’s small-to-medium business (SMB) and mid-market enterprises. As the amount of data multiplies, and the need to protect critical data grows, SMBs now require many of the same data storage capabilities as larger enterprises.

With these requirements in mind, Dell recently announced the acquisition of AppAssure–the company’s first acquisition since launching its new Software Group. AppAssure will be part of Dell’s enterprise storage and software line-up, and underscores Dell intent to extend its footprint in the storage solutions market. The acquisition helps Dell take another big step in its enterprise solutions strategy and deliver a Fluid Data architecture that automatically and intelligently optimizes and protects data everywhere.

AppAssure’s software solution, billed as next generation data protection, provides continuous backup protection across physical, virtual, and cloud-based storage environments and includes the following capabilities:

  • Snapshot and replication
  • Data de-duplication and compression
  • Backup and restore
  • Archiving

Market demand for this type of solution is reflected in AppAssure’s success to date. Since its launch in 2006, AppAssure has expanded to 230 employees and more than 6,000 customers worldwide, with 194% revenue growth year-over-year for 2011.

PERSPECTIVE

The top four technology challenges for the SMB and mid-market companies are (Figure 1):

  • Containing technology related costs
  • Implementing new solutions and upgrades
  • Keeping my systems up and running
  • Integrating different applications

Figure 1 SMB and Mid-market Top Technology Challenges


Source: SMB Group 2011 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study, November 2011

As the complexity of storage requirements rises, these challenges have become more pronounced in the storage space as SMBs have tried to piece together disparate solutions from multiple vendors to ensure data protection and business continuity/disaster recovery.

With AppAssure, Dell can provide SMBs with storage capabilities not only for their physical servers but across to virtual and cloud computing environments–which are increasingly the environment of choice for SMBs. Regardless of the data environment, AppAssure Backup and Replication provides backup/restore, archiving, and disaster recovery, simplifying administration with near instant, reliable data recovery. AppAssure also protects application software in both virtual and physical environments.

AppAssure is part of Dell’s broader “fluid data” architecture (Figure 2), which is designed to put the right data in the right place at the right time, at the right cost. It provides a unified storage architecture to manage data more cost-effectively and efficiently–thereby addressing the key technology challenges that SMBs face. At a high level, the Dell Fluid Data architecture can help SMBs manage the growing data avalanche in a more intelligent and streamlined way. In addition to the capabilities enabled by AppAssure, Dell’s storage architecture and solutions (Figure 2) address a broad range of storage management needs including:

  • Ability of handle file, block and object-level data to support a variety of applications, from Microsoft Exchange to virtualization solutions to databases to social media applications.
  • Automated support for multi-tier storage (primary, backup and archive data) to control rapidly escalating storage costs and compliance requirements.
  • Automated data protection and replication, eliminating the need for daily manual intervention.
  • Support for business continuity and disaster recovery.

Figure 2 Dell Unifying Storage Architecture


Source: Dell


Rapid data growth driven by new applications such as rich-media, social media, 64-bit architectures and compliance solutions requiring availability of data for very long time-periods is causing increases in storage system costs, storage infrastructure complexity, and power and cooling costs. Dell’s end-to-end storage management solutions help SMBs get some of these storage costs under control, for instance:

  • Data reduction technologies such as data de-duplication and compression allow SMBs to control data growth rates by eliminating redundant data. This enables more efficient use of existing storage assets and helps users defer capital expenditures for new storage systems as they reduce disk capacity requirements. They also help decrease bandwidth requirements for data transfer.
  • Tiered storage architectures allow users to control storage hardware costs based on business value and frequency of access. Higher performance, higher cost storage resources can be dedicated to mission critical initiatives, and lower performance and cost solutions can be allocated for back up and archiving.
  • Storage virtualization helps address storage costs by improving resource utilization, data mobility, information availability and related IT resources required to manage storage environments.
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery solutions reduce the impact of unexpected outages. By helping to keep the business up and running, they protect against potential revenue loss and brand damage due to outages.

QUICK TAKE

Dell’s acquisition of AppAssure and its continued focus on end-to-end storage management solutions provides several benefits to SMBs in addition to cost savings:

  • Ability to manage a mixed environment of physical, virtual, and cloud-based storage in a unified storage management solution.
  • Reduced IT resources needed for data storage management.
  • Ease of doing business with a single vendor for an integrated storage management solution.
  • Significant storage capacity savings afforded by storage consolidations and sophisticated deduplication/compression technologies.
  • Support for the most widely adopted virtual solutions – Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware, vSphere and Citrix XenServer.

And, with SMB market adoption of virtualization and cloud solutions rising, Dell’s timing couldn’t be better. The interest among SMBs to acquire/upgrade IT infrastructure management and virtualization solutions is very high (Figure 3), driven by the need to address IT environment complexity and increasing costs.

Figure 3 Solutions Purchased/Upgraded and Future Plans


Source: SMB Group 2011 Small and Medium Business Routes to Market Study, November 2011

That said, SMBs need better guidance in this area. Dell can significantly strengthen its story–and sales–by making it easier for the SMBs to easily understand the scope of it storage systems and end-to-end storage management offerings and pinpoint the “best-fit” solution(s) for their needs through the following:

  • Compararative information and visuals on Dell’s web site-replacing pages of detailed information and specs that illustrate Dell solutions and provide guidance on when and why different systems are relevant
  • Web-based tools for needs assesssment and recommendations.
  • Proof points in the form of customer references, return-on-investement and total-cost-of-ownership calculations that illustrate the financial and efficiency benefits of Dell’s integrated approach.

By providing education to SMBs and clarifying its storage story, Dell can make the most out of its push to extend beyond the hardware business to provide business computing solutions that are innovative, yet practical–and geared to both SMBs as well as large enterprises.

February 1, 2012

What Can We Learn From This Year’s Holiday Season?

—by Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the fourth post in the series.

Christmas 2011 is a great example of Smarter Commerce in action. It’s a lesson in why businesses need to transform the way they market and sell their products and services. According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for the 2011 holiday season increased 4.1 percent year-over-year to $471.5 billion, beating its expectation of 3.8 percent growth. And while the overall numbers probably made for a pleasant holiday for the industry as a whole, what was happening online was astounding:

  • US online holiday shopping season reaches a record $37.2 billion, up 15 Percent vs. 2010 – a rate of increase almost 4X higher than the overall rate for retail.
  • A post-holiday 2011 retail study from Kabbage, Inc. focusing on small-to-medium online merchants found 69% of respondents reporting increased sales. On average, study participants experienced a 32% hike in sales compared to the 2010 season.
  • As late as one week before Christmas 2011, one-quarter of consumers hadn’t even started holiday shopping. (Consumer Reports)
  • 93% of retailers have offered free shipping at some point during the season vs. 85% last year. (USA Today)
  • The 2011 US Holiday Season edition of the ForeSee Results E-Retail Satisfaction Index of the top forty Internet retailers increased by a point from 78 to 79 (on a scale of 1-100)
  • Almost one in four retail searches online on Christmas Day were made using mobile phones or tablet devices, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
  • The number of adults in the United States who own tablets and e-readers nearly doubled from mid-December to early January, according to a new Pew Research study. (New York Times)

Technology’s Impact on Behavior Is Accelerating

The world is changing. While still a fraction of the overall sales figures, ecommerce is growing at a much faster rate than traditional retail. And not just for the big retailers. As the Kabbage study illustrates, small and midsize online retailers enjoyed tremendous growth as well. This in part stems from the effect technology is having on the customer buying process, and the ability of companies to adapt their business processes to support online shopping.

When you think about twenty-five percent of shoppers not starting their Christmas shopping until after December 18th, it really hits home how the process of shopping has changed. Five to ten years ago most people still were going to multiple stores in search of ideas for things to buy, to find recommendations, compare items, and to look for deals, so they had to start their shopping efforts earlier. Now they can do most of that online – with a lot less time involved. And from the online retailer’s perspective, they leverage the latest technology not only to provide this information to online shoppers, but also to deliver the goods on time as well. Jewelry specialist Blue Nile offered free FedEx shipping guaranteed to arrive by Saturday, December 24, for all orders placed as late as 7 p.m. the day before (Friday, December 23). And other online retailers offered similar shipping capabilities.

This all adds up to shoppers more efficiently finding what they want, knowing the price they want to pay and having the confidence of getting it in time – with the added benefit of not having to wrestle with issues like parking, crowded malls, weather etc.. And as both companies and consumers accelerate their technology adoption, look for ecommerce to steadily increase its portion of the retail pie while customers leverage social and mobile to decrease the time and effort it takes to buy things.

Technology’s Impact on Behavior is Dramatically Affecting Expectations

One of the more interesting developments is how technology is impacting customer expectations as well as their behavior. Now that companies like Amazon can get items to us in two days for free, we expect this kind of service all the time. And while 93% of them did offer free shipping at some point during the holiday season, a study also showed 73% of consumers recently surveyed by MarketLive named “free returns” as a top promotion in determining their online purchasing behavior.

This is a great example of customers understanding what technology can do, and expecting vendors to find ways to leverage it to continuously improve their shopping experience. And improving the experience is crucial to keeping customers satisfied. According to the ForeSee study, satisfaction scores are important because a one-point change in website satisfaction can predict a 14% change in revenues generated on the web. And when they were highly satisfied with a purchase:

  • 64% of survey responders said they were more likely to buy from the same company the next time they needed a similar product;
  • 67% were more inclined to recommend the company to others; and
  • 65% felt a sense of ‘brand commitment’.

This illustrates that investing in improving customers’ web experience is a terrific way to build brand loyalty and capture the benefits of viral marketing (or something like this).

A Christmas Carol…

You really don’t have to look much further than Christmas Day 2011 to see how technology has changed customer behaviors and expectations. Digital content & subscriptions (digital downloads of music, TV, movies, e-books and apps) accounted for more than 20 percent of sales on Christmas Day. On any other day of the holiday season, that number was only 2.8%. And these numbers were driven by the rise of mobile devices, with the iPad leading the way on Christmas Day with a staggering 7% of all online sales coming through just that one device – accounting for 50% of sales that day, according to the IBM Coremetrics Benchmark.

While the numbers tell the story, it really hits home personally when I saw my parents (both octogenarians) sitting at the kitchen table Christmas Day – my father with his iPad, and my mother with her Kindle Fire. And my mother, having received the Fire as a gift, was reading an ebook she purchased Christmas morning… with an Amazon gift card.

This is a totally different story of Christmas than Charles Dickens told in the 19th century, but it’s a tale of what to expect in the 21st century when it comes to customer engagement. Because of technology and its empowering effect on customers, they are developing “great expectations” their vendors must live up to. Which means vendors must be smarter in their approach to smarter, more informed customers.

This is the fourth of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll look at key points to consider when planning a smarter commerce strategy. In our next post, we’ll look at IBM’s Smarter Commerce offerings to help illustrate how midsize companies can reshape the way they do business to meet the expectations and needs of smarter customers.

March 2, 2010

Relevance of Marketing Tools/Media in Customer Acquisition

The topic of lead generation and the role of various media solutions in the lead generation process draw significant conversation. From a survey of small businesses done in the summer of 2009 and detailed in my blog, GoToMeeting‘ from CitrixOnline or ‘Intuit Website’ from Intuit. This form of media effectively cultivates and nurtures demand. ‘Small Businesses interest in Social Media Increasing ‘ and with regards to tools used by small businesses to promote their business (not generate sales leads), 77% of small businesses are using or plan to use social media tools. Why has the use of social media seen such a dramatic increase? This is primarily driven by several factors:   

  • Change in the personal communication environment and habits of consumers and business workers  
  • Low barriers to entry: the cost of participating in the social media communications are very low and some—tools like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and LinkedIn—are even free 
  • Social media solutions are a one-to-many form of real-time communications
  • Social media is much more than a digital form of viral marketing – it is an effective and inexpensive way to convert contacts into a referral network  

   

Traditional Media tools. On one end of the spectrum, marketing is responsible for Demand Generation by driving awareness. Traditional media tools such as radio, television, newspapers and business journals (in their print form), provide broadcast opportunities and are good for creating broad awareness to develop interest among consumers and businesses – otherwise known as Outbound Marketing. Successful examples include the TV commercials like ‘GoToMeeting’ from CitrixOnline or ‘Intuit Website’ from Intuit. This form of media effectively cultivates and nurtures demand.

New Media/Digital Media include Social Networking tools (Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), Webinars and Podcasts, and Search Engines. Such ‘inbound marketing’ tools enable businesses with product/service increase awareness already developed to a certain level through traditional tools to further draw in consumers and encourage their further investigation of the company’s product or service.  

An SMB survey from Citibank found that some small businesses saw little reason to hop onto the social-network bandwagon. The majority of them found sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to be of little help in finding new business leads. While social media can certainly provide channels to network and help a growing business flourish, many SMBs do not have the manpower or the time required to take advantage of them—that is, use them to look for business advice or information. It is up to the business to bring in the relevant social media conversations related to crowd-sourced recommendations for their company and solutions into their company website or other discussion forums. Techniques that do this are illustrated very well in the “Inbound Marketing” book by founders of HubSpot

Personal-touch Media tools like company website, e-mail marketing, live webinars, and professional advisors provide the information to convert exploring consumers and business buyers into potential leads. The new media-based inbound marketing solutions drive the explorers to the company website and/or additional personal touch based media and channels. However, SMBs must work to channel their company relevant social media discussions into their website. These social media conversations are similar to word-of-mouth and personal communication methods. Ultimately, these personal-touch media solutions are directly involved with actual lead generation, ongoing lead nurturing and finally conversion to customers as well as cross-selling and up-selling to existing customers continually deepening prospect relationships    

Some of the new marketing automation and lead nurturing solution companies like Marketo, HubSpot and Demandbase are combining some of the key aspects of New Media/communications and Personal-touch Media/communications solutions that provide great value to the SMB and mid-market companies for both outbound and inbound marketing – and most of these solutions can be implemented for a fraction of the cost of a marketing person.    

February 7, 2010

Mid-Market CPM Requirements and Vendor Selection Criteria

In today’s fast-paced and volatile business climate, midsize businesses need a clear vision, financial agility, and strong collaborative capabilities to drive better-informed and more strategic business decisions. Mergers, acquisitions, new business models, and increasing regulatory requirements heighten the importance of having accurate, flexible tools to support corporate forecasting, budgeting, reporting, scorecard and compliance functions.

Many midsize companies currently use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, email, shared folders, and other ad hoc tools for these tasks, but they are finding significant shortcomings with this approach. As a result, more businesses are evaluating CPM solutions as a way to get these jobs done faster, more efficiently, and more accurately.

However, while their financial and planning operations may be very complex, midsize companies are often constrained in terms of their budget, IT resources, and support. In addition to evaluating the features of different CPM solutions and how these solutions stack up in terms of meeting their functional requirements, decision makers need to consider several additional factors. Based on our recent in-depth discussions with several mid-market CFOs and CIOs that have evaluated, selected, and implemented CPM solutions in the last couple of years, here are our suggestions as to the key questions that midsize firms need to answer when evaluating CPM solutions:

  • How quickly and easily can business users learn to use the solution? Easy to use solutions lead to faster, more widespread user adoption. Ideally, CPM solutions should have an interface with a familiar spreadsheet look and feel. You should be able to easily configure the interface and dashboards without help from IT or external consultants, and building models should be intuitive. In a midsize firm, you don’t want to have to rely on or wait for an IT department that’s probably stretched to thin to create and run reports. When users can easily create and run reports themselves, they get the key performance indicators (KPIs) and other information they need more quickly, speeding up and enhancing the decision-making process.
  • What is the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the CPM solution? CPM solutions need to be affordable. They must take into account not only software costs but also any resources that you will need to design, implement, configure and manage these solutions (including annual maintenance fees), as well as the hardware you’ll need to run them on. You must also consider if you’d be better off with a subscription-based service that you can pay for monthly or annually without incurring any upfront capital costs. Many midmarket buyers are considering software-as-a-service (SaaS) or cloud-based CPM solutions that offer subscription-based pricing and eliminate the need for upfront capital investments. SaaS CPM makes it easy for companies to start small and expand use as their needs grow. Since SaaS CPM solutions are delivered over the Web, they don’t require on-premise infrastructure, or internal IT support or maintenance. As a result, you can deploy them more quickly and dramatically reduce TCO.
  • Is the vendor’s pricing transparent? No one wants to start evaluating solutions and then get sticker shock because of hidden costs. Look for vendors that provide transparent pricing on their Websites, or at least, vendors that will give you a good ballpark estimate early on it the evaluation process.
  • Do you want a focused, purpose-built CPM solution, or CPM as part of a broader business intelligence solution? Solutions designed specifically for corporate performance management (such as Adaptive Planning, Clarity, Prophix. Longview and others) are typically more cost-effective and fast to deploy than broader business intelligence suites, which often include a CPM component. However, broad based BI solutions, such as IBM Cognos and SAP Business Objects, are beginning to carve out CPM specific modules and offerings that integrate with the broader suite. Consider what your short and long term requirements in deciding which route will best serve your firm’s needs.
  • Can you try before you buy? Solutions that are easy to evaluate lower your risk—both from a time and monetary perspective. Can you get a true feel for the solution, with a functional trial version? If the finance department can try the solution with real data and see the results, it can speed the vendor selection and decision-making timeframe significantly.
  • How long will it take to implement the solution? Most mid-market enterprises do not have months to spend deploying and getting productive with CPM. Talk to customers already using the solutions you are considering to get an accurate, realistic picture of how long it will take.
  • How well does the solution meet your data security requirements? Security is a top concern for all companies, and in some industries, regulatory requirements also come into play when considering a CPM solution. In some cases, specific compliance constraints require companies to deploy on-premise solutions. However, in many cases, a quality SaaS provider can provide better, more secure and more reliable operations than an internal IT department. Ideally, look for a vendor that is SAS-70 compliant and can readily document the physical and virtual security measures that they use to safeguard your data.

The good news is that today, more CPM solutions are available that are specifically designed to meet mid-market requirements than in the recent past (from companies like Clarity Systems, Prophix, Adaptive Planning, Host Analytics, Longview and from BI companies like SAP BusinessObjects, IBM Cognos, etc.). By carefully assessing the questions above and focusing on the criteria and features most important to your business, you will almost certainly find a CPM solution that can give you a much more connected, productive planning process than could be achieved with Excel spreadsheets.

January 28, 2010

Mid-Market companies benefit from the significantly better ROI offered by the synergistic relationship between ERP and BI

Strong value in considering/purchasing ERP plus BI simultaneously/at the beginning of the implementation cycle

ERP solutions come with a reporting toolset consisting of a predefined set of reports and with general purpose query tools to generate reports from data within ERP database. Most often, these tools are difficult and confusing to use and rely on an IT team to deliver the requested report, which can take time. ERP systems provide acceptable reports on day-to-day operations but if business requirements change, these static ERP reports need to be customized. Business users need on-demand reports, which are cumbersome and expensive to deliver in a timely manner. By using BI reporting solutions, these systems empower the business user to define and generate the needed reports, freeing valuable IT (or consultant) resources in the process, such that data and time can be better exploited to make meaningful business decisions.

I have been talking to several mid-market companies that have implemented ERP solutions followed by a business intelligence solution (initially deployed for reporting from the data in the ERP solution). Their recommendation, based on their experience of deploying both solutions, is that mid-market enterprises should consider utilizing ERP and BI together (possibly through a planned phased implementation approach), a strategy that would realize significantly higher ROI versus the alternative of considering each independently of the other.

The crux of this recommendation comes from closely looking at the customizations required to make the ERP solution useful for these companies. A significant number of customizations needed in ERP systems are related to generating reports to provide detailed information (in part, similar to that previously obtained through their formerly implemented legacy systems) for decision-making and presenting it in a useful and easy-to-understand manner—a daunting and expensive proposition. Complementing a BI solution with an ERP solution makes the generation of reports required by corporate management and various lines-of-business very easy and eliminates the need for any extensive customizations (as was required to generate these in an exclusively ERP system). The right business intelligence solutions can help extract significant value from the extensive data repositories in an ERP solution. The combination of ERP and BI should also bode well for mid-market companies in the current difficult economic environment, as companies strive for maximum efficiency by looking to cut costs and realize projects that provide them with short-term returns. The companies that have already implemented ERP could benefit by focusing on BI solutions for reporting, corporate performance management and consolidation (CPM) and strategy planning.

Mid-market customers using SAP Business-All-in-One as their key ERP solution have said that the extra time, effort, and money spent to customize their initial ERP could have gone towards paying for a BI solution (in several of the cases they were using SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI). Additionally, the reports they now get from their SAP BusinessObjects solutions (after integration) are more detailed and accurate than before. Other added benefits of this integrated solution—including savings on maintenance, IT administration time, integration and consulting support for upgrades, etc—largely result from the fact that SAP has already spent the time and effort to tightly integrate these two solutions providing better workflow and departmental self-service capabilities to develop and customize reports for their needs. With this solution, individual users can also more easily drill down from these reports to get deeper context to explain the factors influencing what is shown in reports beyond the visually attractive graphs and tables.

As a result, this combined SAP Business-All-in-One and SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI solution could provide significantly better Return on Investment (ROI) than each solution considered independently, and if the SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI can be paid for by reducing the customizations required in SAP Business-All-in-One, the combined solution also has a much lower total cost of ownership (TCO). With the mid-market focused Business All-in-One fast-start program from SAP coupled with the SAP best practices for the SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI for reporting and CPM solution, mid-market enterprises will be able to benefit from fast deployment, more productive and streamlined solution.

January 20, 2010

Intuit and Microsoft – two SMB market leaders partnering on cloud platform strategies to deliver web applications

This agreement provides an end-to-end applications development environment and marketing/sales channels for application developers to develop and market application solutions to small businesses. Key elements of the agreement include:

  • Broadening the applications developer community to develop SMB focused applicationsIntuit to provide a SDK to help developers build applications on Microsoft Windows Azure Platform (and Visual Studio) and federate these web applications into Intuit Partner Platform (IPP) and launch these applications through the Intuit App Center (IAC).
  • Expand channel for application developers to promote and market their applications – Business Productivity Online Suite into Intuit Partner Platform (IPP) by year-end – Salesforce.com’s Force.com PaaS platform. Microsoft and Intuit will join forces to expand channels for application developers by introducing them to IAC. With capabilities to buy and access these cloud-based applications from the IAC and support for single sign-on will make it easier for SMBs to use these applications.
  • Microsoft to integrate Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) is a set of messaging and collaboration solutions hosted by Microsoft, and consists of Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online. SMBs that use BPOS will have access to Intuit’s SMB focused business applications like QuickBooks and additional applications available through the IAC.

This relationship is focused on the U.S., the region where Intuit has majority of its presence. Microsoft and Intuit will support joint marketing programs targeted at the applications developers, channels and SMB companies.

In today’s fast-paced and volatile business climate, SMB need cloud-based application as they provide much better total cost of ownership (TCO) compared to on-premise installed applications. This relationship will provide significant benefits to SMBs that have shown increasing appetite to adopt cloud based solutions. The key benefits to the SMB community from this relationship are:

  • For Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform service (PaaS), the Intuit relationship is a key endorsement of Microsoft as a key player in the SMB segment and of a company that has a good understanding of how to work with application developers. This combination will provide good competition to the
  • With Microsoft withdrawing from the small business accounting application area, creates a much more favorable partnership environment between the two companies to collaborate on the applications and channels front. A cooperative relationship between these two SMB focused companies will yield tremendous benefits to the SMB community.
  • With more than four million Intuit’s QuickBooks customers, the Inuit App Center will present a very attractive opportunity for applications developers to showcase their applications to the QuickBooks user community.

November 8, 2009

Increasing interest for Corporate Performance Management (CPM) in Mid-Market Enterprises

In today’s world overloaded with buzzwords, terms such as “Business Intelligence (BI)”, “predictive analytics” and “Corporate Performance Management (CPM)” are confusing to mid-market enterprises.

BI technologies provide historical views of a company’s business operation. Some of the enterprise –class BI solutions now include predictive analytical capabilities also. BI is a term used to describe the technology used to access, analyze and report on data relevant to an enterprise. It includes ad-hoc query, reporting, on-line analytical processing (OLAP), dashboards, scorecards, search, visualization, etc. Initially, most BI vendors lacked the ability to build models that can project in the future. However, in the past 3-4 years, the enterprise-class BI vendors have added some of these capabilities to replicate functionality offered by CPM vendors. BI and CPM are complementary solutions, and the BI platform provides a natural-basis to build a CPM solution. BI solutions are usually very complex and expensive for most mid-market companies. However, some of the more focused and template/wizards driven “Express” or “Fast-start” solutions, which are more affordable (especially if they are available in a online or appliance) and can be implemented in a reasonable amount of time – are becoming interesting for the mid-market if the vendors can show measurable benefits and short-term ROI.

In the CPM world, “predictive analytics” is generally used to refer to software solutions that automate and manage process related to corporate performance – financial forecasts, budgets, financial strategies, financial consolidation, scorecarding, and reporting. Another term used to identify CMP is BPM (Business Performance Management but this is sometimes confused with Business Process Management – two very different areas). Some CPM solutions regularly monitor some key performance indicators (KPI) in terms of actual vs. budget and, whenever a significant discrepancy is identified, help perform root causes to identify sources that could be causing this.

The BI and CPM solutions do not need to come from the same solution provider, as the two technologies are complementary and could co-exist. However, there may be economies and synergies related to getting them from the same vendor (if offered). In some instances, mid-market ERP solution vendors are now developing deeper integration to some CPM solutions (like NetSuite with Adaptive Planning).

In the current tough economic conditions, this segment is under tremendous pressures to improve financial processes, measurements and management of the mid-market enterprises. To adress the above, mid-market businesses are increasingly deploying CPM solutions to improve planning (forecasts and budgets), manage costs/optimize profits and more importantly risk and compliance.

The following companies provide enterprise and mid-market CPM solutions:

Increasing interest and deployment of these solutions by mid-market enterprises is demonstrated by the double-digit growth rates most of these mid-market solution companies are experiencing. The CPM applications are targeted at the mid-market company CFOs, C-level executives, finance team and corporate strategy teams.

How were majority of these mid-market companies addressing the financial planning issues until now? Majority of these companies are using Excel spreadsheets. Using Excel, has significant accuracy limitations and  the amount of time spend on the planning process. It also denies the organization a collaborative, connected and productive planning process. Mid-market organizations need to take a more objective view to replace Excel based planning and replace them with CMP solutions. Some basic analysis on time (and accuracy achieved) spent on Excel planning and the results achieved will quickly show the benefits and ROI that can be achieved by CPM solutions – these can be split into the “hard” benefits quantifiable by replacing Excel and the many potential “soft” benefits derived from using a CPM solution.

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