This morning I attended a TDWI webinar with Lyndsay Wise, Wise Analytics, and Chris Banks, Information Builders, presenting the subject line topic. It was a nice change from the webinar earlier in the week.
Lyndsey Wise began by speaking about the differences between Small-to-Medium sized businesses (SMBs) and enterprises. While SMBs are smaller and have fewer resources than enterprises, they are also more adaptive and can more quickly make decisions that impact corporate infrastructure.
I’ll disagree with what she said in that description on only one point. Ms. Wise mentioned the lack of internal IT resources makes SMBs more comfortable with consultants, the Cloud and information appliances. Two out of three ‘aint bad. Appliances tend to be a capital expense made by enterprises wanting to retain control inside the firewall. They give enterprises more comfort. SMBs don’t typically want that kind of investment and overhead. She’s absolutely right that’s why many external IT consultants and web software vendors have successfully focused on the market.
She then turned to a discussion of the following five ways SMBs are better utilizing information:
- Embedded BI within operations
- Web portal expansion and information sharing
- Mobilization of the workforce
- Better flexibility in dashboard and analytics design – self-service and data discovery
- Monetizing of data collected
The first point was that SMBs have had to deal far longer than did enterprises with separate operational and BI software that barely overlapped if you were lucky. Operational software companies have begun to add BI to their packages while BI vendors are better linking to operational systems, both at the data end and up front through single-signon and other interfaces enhancements that aid integration.
The growth of web portals is not new and not really in the pure BI space, but it is a key part of the solution, as Ms. Wise points out for the reason that it helps businesses share with customers, suppliers and other people and organizations in their ecosystems. I’m glad she had the point there because many people in tech sectors get focused just on their niche and don’t look at the full information picture.
Workforce mobilization issues are the same for any size business. The only difference I see is that SMBs have fewer resources for training. People wanting to focus on SMBs need to ensure that mobile apps go through user interface design cycles to present clear and easy understanding of critical information.
The fourth point is critical. It ties into what I mentioned in the previous paragraph. As Lyndsey Wise pointed out, SMBs don’t tend to have programmers, especially not ones with the inflated title of data scientist (full disclosure, “inflated” is my opinion not hers), That means UI, UI, UI. True self-service is a must for SMBs.
The final issue is another on which I’m on the fence as to the importance. Not that monetization is unimportant, just that monetization of information has been important to business for millennia before computers. All BI is ultimately about making better business decisions and that usually means a predominate roll in lower costs or increasing revenue. That’s information monetization. It’s not that the point is unimportant, it just seems redundant to me.
The presentation was then turned over to Chris Banks. Information Builders, one of the big first generation BI firms, seems to be making a big push to remind people it’s there. Given the short time frame, Chris intelligently shortened and breezed through his presentation. He gave a good overview of the breadth and depth of his company’s offerings.
The issue I have with Mr. Banks’ presentation is, no surprise to anyone who knows I focus on marketing, is how he presented the company. Information Builders, Cognos, Business Objects, et al, grew up in a time when enterprises were trying to understand the large amounts of data in multiple operational systems. They spent decades on an enterprise sell. Chris is working to position them to fit Wise’s SMB message, but he’s not there yet.
Showing a crowded diagram of the breadth of products is scary to SMBs, even with Chris’ caveat that he’d never expect anyone to buy all the products. He should have focused on a simpler slide showing how SMBs can quickly begin using his products.
Then he transitioned to a slide showing a portal, backing Ms. Wyse’s second point. Sadly, it was the Hertz portal. Not exactly an SMB play.
That continued with a NASCAR slide of global enterprise customers and a case study from a large US bank. It wasn’t until the very end that there was a case study on an SMB, a roofing contractor that achieved insight and business benefit from Information Builder’s tools.
Lyndsey Wise had a good overview of issues facing small-to-medium sized businesses when trying to better gather, manage and understand business information.
Information Builders is working to communicate with the SMB community and made an ok first stab. From the presentation, I’m not really sure how they can help, but I’m not convinced they can’t. There’s much more work to be done to better address and important market.