Mobility gives small businesses an edge

Small businesses have an advantage over their larger counterparts for one reason — it is far easier to adopt innovative technologies in the former's environment, which gives it much greater operational flexibility.

Consider a large corporation with hundreds, if not thousands of workers. They show up to the office and all follow a fairly standard pattern. Investing in new technologies or implementing new strategies requires countless meetings between executives. One employee could mention a new idea to his or her boss, who in turn mentions it to their superior, who then goes up the ladder to the person in charge of them, and so on and so forth. 

At small companies, there is much more flexibility. Lower level employees have more of a say. The smaller the company, the more this is true. Self proprietors can essentially do what they want as long as their practices stay within the confines of their industry's regulatory measures. Meaning, they can work on the go and use their own personal devices — whether that's a smartphone, tablet, laptop or any other portable machine — to get the job done. They may lack the resources of traditional large companies, but if they utilize their resources to the best of their ability, they will put themselves in position to succeed in their industry. 

According to a study conducted by BIA/Kelsey, mobile payments and social media are two areas in which small businesses can excel. Owners can create personal interactions with customers via social channels on their devices. They can use their smartphones and tablets to process payments in a number of different ways, which will likely be a conducted much faster than at a larger company. 

"Mobile continues to make impressive inroads into the SMB market, as both a marketing vehicle and as an element of the business infrastructure," Steve Marshall, director of research at BIA/Kelsey, said in a statement. "A closer look at the data shows adoption of mobile and social varies across SMB industry sectors. The LCM data reveals professional and home and trade services are embracing mobile in a big way, with service providers essentially becoming walking POS terminals."

While the flexibility to use mobile devices for a number of operations is certainly a benefit for small businesses, they must be able to properly manage all the data they obtain via their mobile activity. Building a custom database software system can help small businesses maintain their flexibility without compromising the integrity of their information.

Technological innovation is just getting started—is your company ready?

Given the abundance of new technologies that have proliferated corporate environments in recent years, one would think we have reached  the peak of IT innovation. Think again.

While advancements have been made in cloud computing, mobility, data management and many other key areas of business in the last five years or so, we have not reached the end of technological evolution. In fact, we could just be getting started.

An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests we have just hit the beginning of the next digital wave, meaning new innovative technologies are right around the corner and more areas of our life will be digitized. This makes sense when you consider arguably the biggest change in technology coming down the pipeline: the internet of things.

This essentially suggests everything we use in our daily lives will be connected to an online network. We’ll be able to use our coffee makers to share with Facebook every time we make a fresh pot and our vacuum cleaners will tell us the last time we used them, giving us an idea of when we should vacuum again. These examples are obviously somewhat extreme and will be used in the home, but the concept is very real and will have a major impact on businesses and the data they process.

Intel CIO Kim Stevenson spoke with the news source about the overall trend of new technologies. She indicated that recent innovations have really only laid the groundwork for this tsunami of digital devices, and warned businesses to prepare for the onslaught.

“[IT functions have] gone through ERP, they’ve gone through BYOD and they’ve gone through cloud, and they think they’ve done it all,” Stevenson said. “But the reality is, we’re only at the very, very beginning of this next generation of computing, and I think that…industry leaders will be the ones that transform first. I don’t care what industry you’re talking about.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge companies will face due to digital innovation is a major spike in data. Not only will information be more prevalent, companies will have to be more efficient when managing it if they want to maintain long-term viability in their industry. Capitalizing on innovation is what will allow businesses to succeed during this time. Building a custom database software system can provide organizations with the resources they need to effectively manage their information.

Data grows, information management professionals shrinking

The rise of big data has greatly outpaced professional training, meaning there aren’t enough individuals in the world who can successfully manage an organization’s big data efforts. That’s according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

The news source detailed a number of companies struggling to keep up with new data management needs because they lack proper personnel. In fact, an even more disconcerting idea is the data analysis profession is trending the wrong way.

Projections made by the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company indicate that the U.S. could face a shortfall of roughly 35 percent of people with advanced training in statistics and other fields that would ultimately be used to help businesses with data management needs. So, not only is data growing at a tremendous rate and new needs are being developed every day, the number of people actually interested in managing information is dwindling.

There are a number of educational efforts being made to reverse this trend and fix this problem, which has both immediate and long-term ramifications. As a result, there may be a day when professionals do catch up with big data and companies are able to successfully fill positions with skilled, educated and qualified individuals who understand all important details pertaining to information management. However, for this to happen, the growth of information volumes and, more importantly, changes in the way data is processed, have to slow down. Neither appear to be happening any time soon.

Linda Burtch is the founder of Burtch Works, an Evanston, Illinois-based executive recruitment firm. She has spent a significant amount of time researching the skills and knowledge of professionals and has determined there simply isn’t enough help out there.

“There aren’t enough of them. Period. End of story,” she told the Tribune. “The demand for quantitative professionals has grown so across industries that there aren’t enough kids coming out of school studying math and statistics.”

That’s why businesses have to innovate and come up with ways to get the most of their information management procedures. If they can’t find the right professionals to operate big data initiatives, their staffs will undoubtedly become limited. The problem here is information growth isn’t slowing down. Meaning, as time goes on, companies will be less equipped to handle any challenges related to big data unless they implement new strategies.

Data processing efficiency is key, particularly if companies lack adequate personnel to manage it. If companies can’t manually collect, store and analyze data, they have to rely on machines to share the load. Building a custom database software system will allow companies to efficiently manage information with limited staff because these systems can streamline a number of processes that may have traditionally required human workers.

Building this solution with FileMaker development offers a number of advantages, but perhaps the most important is that FileMaker-based systems can scale up and down and have the flexibility to adapt with a changing environment. Therefore, once companies are able to hire new workers to manage their data, their systems can be adjusted accordingly.

Why decision makers need to review data before they act

The purpose of collecting and managing data is to provide decision makers with the resources they need to make the right call for their organization. If executives are using data to confirm or support their decisions, they are thinking backwards and their organizations won't be as successful.

It's a competitive business market out there and decision makers have to think quickly, but they also have to be smart about their decisions. Let's say a marketing executive wanted to roll out a new strategy and it wasn't entirely successful. At this point he or she checks the data to confirm if it should have worked in the first place, only to discover insights that would have been able to prevent them from making a marketing mistake.

This scenario sounds improbable. Why would someone wait until after they made a decision to check if their data supported it? Unfortunately, it's more common than you might think.

An article in Investment News recently asked if data management needs more oversight. This question is supported by Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business and Professor of Information Technology, who listed several problems companies have when it comes to managing information. One of the issues is that too many decisions are made before analyzing data.

"A serious pitfall is when a manager comes to a decision using gut instinct, and then they go and tell the IT department to gather some data to support that decision," Brynjolfsson said. "It ought to be integrated right from the start."

Even though decisions have to be made quickly, instead of making them before checking information, data management systems should be designed to support quick decision making. Building a custom database software system will provide companies with the tools needed to effectively process and analyze data in real time. This will improve decision making speed while alleviating the risk of poor choices. 

Why banks need to better manage their data

If there's one things banks have going for them, their access to information is unparalleled. Financial organizations process an almost infinite amount of data on a daily basis, which provides them with useful insights that they can later use to improve customer service, boost operational efficiency and identify risk, among many other applications. The problem is many banks are struggling to actually use their information correctly.

Lawrence Buettner of Wausau Financial Systems wrote a recent article for Bank Tech detailing his travels around the country. He visited a number of banks and other financial companies to talk about innovation and other tech-related topics with some of the nation's most prominent financial professionals. Typically, these conversations turned to data. More accurately, they spoke of their respective bank's mismanagement of its own information.

"We lost a major house account that was with the bank for decades because we could not meet their data needs to better manage their receivables," one banker told Buettner.

While this is clearly an unfortunate scenario, the worst part is that it's entirely avoidable. By implementing the right solutions, banks—or any company for that matter—can harness the power of their information and get the most out of it. Data should help an organization grow, not prevent it from succeeding.

Building a custom database software system will allow companies to effectively collect, process and monitor their information. Companies like banks that handle an enormous volume of data will be able to scale their systems and eliminate the risk of mismanaging their information.

Why data management makes the impossible possible

The magic wand question has fueled numerous conversations about business products and services and has served as an effective strategy for sales professionals for a number of years. Essentially, when a business is considering the procurement of a new tool or service to help the company, the individual tasked with selling that product asks "If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your organization?" 

This question is effective in the sales process because there is always an answer. Procurement specialists wouldn't be evaluating new products or services if there wasn't some area of the company they thought needed improvement. The key is finding out exactly what that area is. Often, buyers have needs they feel are unattainable, but if they allow their imaginations to run wild while answering the magic wand question, their providers can get a better idea of what exactly they want to do and this knowledge will help them get closer to providing that solution.

Today, the magic wand question is proving to be even more successful because big data is helping companies do things that were initially impossible prior to the advent of powerful information management systems. An article in Business 2 Community recently addressed this when discussing the popularity of real time data management. Emma Capron, the article's author, set out to ask why real-time big data management has been successful at so many organizations and making the impossible achievable was one of the chief examples.

"Real time data is being applied in a variety of scenarios to allow organizations to be proactive rather than reactive," Capron wrote. "Use cases already include fraud detection, customer sentiment analysis, real-time stock inventory control, scale-out transactions, and real-time bus and train tracking. Many of these would be impossible without a real-time data management (RTDM) framework in place."

Before developing a custom database software system to manage information management, ask yourself the magic wand question. If you could do whatever you wanted at your company, what would it be? What's the one area you wish could be improved, no matter how unrealistic it may seem? Chances are, data will help you get where you want to be. Let FileMaker Pro serve as your magic wand.

What data should startups collect?

Most startups understand the importance of data, particularly in the digital age where everything can be processed and stored in a virtual environment, but understanding exactly what data to collect is a different matter. When companies are first starting out, they have to ensure that whatever information they collect can be leveraged to help the business grow. 

Figuring this out can be difficult, so an article in Mashable set out to answer the question. Dani Fankhauser, the article's author, gave examples of various startups and examined how they were able to use data collection strategies to fuel their early growth. One case study was Fligoo, a gift recommendation app, and its co-founder Juan Cruz. The entrepreneur shared what worked for his company and ultimately came up with one universal principle every new company should follow. 

"All startups should be collecting data generated by their own product," he said. "Knowing what actions users do frequently, or not at all, allows a startup to improve the experience every day."

In the case of gift recommendation application, this would include the number of times users log on each day, what links they click in the app and any other action they take once it's open. This principle can be applied at virtually any company and those that understand how to collect and use data will be able to both improve that specific item and create more refined products going forward.

Of course, the only way this information can really help is if it is processed in a way that creates compelling, real-time reports. A custom database software system will fulfill this need at any startup.

Craft brewery succeeds in competitive space with custom database software system

Succeeding in a competitive market isn’t easy, particularly for small startups that have to go against larger and more established organizations. However, that didn’t stop Golden Road Brewing. The Los Angeles-based craft brewery has thrived because of its custom database software system.

Co-founder Meg Gill spoke with Inc. Magazine about her vision, her challenges and what helped her succeed in a tough industry. While hard work and resolve played a substantial role in her success, it was her understanding of how to manage information that really fueled her ability to compete in her market. She soon realized that data could improve virtually every aspect of her business, including the freshness of her beer, something she explained was crucial to her company.

“You can’t get to volume, and then to profitability, without fresh beer,” she said. “That’s something we live by. Even though our first year was incredibly successful, we learned that without comprehensive tracking and reporting systems for distribution and retail, we couldn’t control whether our beer was fresh.”

An article featured in Forbes picked up Gill’s story and suggested many small organizations don’t understand the power of quality data, which is why success in this space is never easy.

“Small and medium businesses (SMBs) face many challenges when it comes to basic infrastructure. Many times, spreadsheets are the only answer for running the business (inventory management, production schedules or sales process). As a result, manual reports proliferate and they are tough to manage and consolidate,” the article said.

Understanding the importance of not only digital information, but the ability to process it efficiently will go a long way toward helping any small company compete in its industry, regardless of what it is. Gill figured out early on that her database system, which she manages in the cloud, will help ensure the freshness of her beer, which keeps her product at the level of quality it needs to help her business grow. If her information was inaccurate and the freshness of her beer was compromised, it could have damaged her entire operation.

FileMaker development can allow companies to build a system that tracks data that’s important to them and store it in a similar cloud environment. This will allow businesses to grow as their solution scales up with their success.

Why the right custom database software system can help fight analysis paralysis

All the data in the world may not amount to much of companies fail to make the most of their information.

When users collect and process data, they have to be able to think about it and do so quickly. Any hesitation to act based on the contents of an organization’s data could cause an organization to fall behind in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

This act is called analysis-paralysis, and was recently listed in a Bloomberg article as a bad habit data managers must break. Thomas Redman, the article’s author, explained the ramifications of this indecisiveness.

“Analysis-paralysis plagues people and companies that don’t deal well with uncertainty,” he wrote. “They can fall into the trap of seeking ‘just one more bit of confirmation’ before deciding. They delay, delay, delay, seeking to make the perfect decision. They don’t realize that not making a decision is a decision in itself and can have consequences. Delay too long and the competitor may introduce that new product line first, a great candidate may go elsewhere and an investor may withdraw its offer.”

While quick decision-making certainly requires effort from the individual tasked with analyzing the data, the process can be improved with the help of custom database software. Having the ability to collect, process, store and report on information in real time will alleviate the risk of waiting too long to make data-based decisions. This can improve the overall state of an organization by allowing it to stay ahead of its competition, rather than falling behind.

Why the right database can turn a negative to a positive

In a perfect world, customer retention would never be an issue. We would acquire new business, the relationship between ourselves and our customers would be perfect and they would stay with us forever. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and, sometimes, people leave us. While it’s a difficult topic to think about, it’s not necessarily devastating. An incident in this vein can actually be a positive. It all depends on what we make of it.

The most successful organizations don’t go about business assuming they will never lose a customer under any circumstances. Instead, they have systems and strategies in place to capitalize on a particular situation by obtaining all relevant information pertaining to the event and using it to improve the overall company. Ultimately, by keeping an eye on the churn rate, companies can make efforts to keep it down.

A recent article in Inc. Magazine listed five metrics every marketer should pay attention to. Churn was included because of all the important bits of information that can be processed whenever a customer leaves.

“Nobody likes to talk about churn because we all want to believe that no one would leave us and move on, but it happens and it’s an incredibly powerful metric,” wrote Janine Popick, the article’s author. “If you measure it consistently and over time, you will see any unusual spikes or valleys. And you can track those back to things that may have happened.”

Suppose your customers leave primarily during the summer, or what if churn occurs consistently after prices go up, or whenever your communication systems fail (like your website going down.) This information can be collected, processed and used to adjust certain aspects of operations accordingly. For example, if it’s determined that the majority of customers who leave do so during the summer months, the next time the season rolls around it might be a good opportunity to run a promotion to entice customers to stay. While fixing price hikes or technical issues is a bit harder, having that information will at least let companies know the magnitude of those situations, which will only help in the long run.

For this data strategy to be successful, you need a system designed to process information quickly and display it in an easy-to-understand format. Building a custom database software system will give businesses the tools they need to make the most out of customer losses and turn churn from a negative to a positive.