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Conquering Data Overload – it is possible!

We all know data is important, but what do you do when you have too much data and not enough insights? Here's a company that addresses this issue.

Most of the company’s I’ve worked with are suffering from data overload.  There is too much data and not enough time to figure out what it means.  This is particularly true in the retail industry segment.  With all the point of sale data available it takes a huge amount of time and computing power to make any sense of the data.

Businesses have talked about turning data into information for years.  I think I’ve found the software tool that can do just that – easily!  (A small disclaimer…I didn’t do a thorough search for tools in this market.  I was introduced to Emcien, met with them, and think their products have promise, so I’m sharing what I know.)

Emcien has two products that I’ve learned about.  The first is their proven core platform for pattern analysis.  Their “secret sauce” is the pattern analysis logic built into the product.  Here’s my understanding of how it works:

  1. Upload your data to Emcien – This is accomplished by sending them a .csv file of your data.  They can process many different data fields and only have a few mandatory data elements; data elements that everyone wishing to find patterns in data would already have.
  2. Let them work magic – ok, it isn’t really magic!  They have very sophisticated pattern-based software analysis tools that find the patterns and represent them back to you as: basket analysis; buying pattern trends; automatic merchandizing information.
  3. Integrate the answers – Emcien also provides a multitude of APIs to facilitate integration of their analysis output into your applications, reports, and business processes.  This flexibility let’s you take your information to the next level.

The other tool from Emcien is gabbacus.com.  Gabbacus utilizes the Emcien pattern analysis tool to analyze social media information.  The value of this analysis is that you can find out what people are talking about right now instead of days or weeks later after the traditional analysis is done.  Integrating this immediate data flow into your marketing decisions is a great way to not only target your marketing campaigns, but also track and measure the effectiveness of various messages.

So if you are suffering from information overload there are now options.  Check out www.emcien.com to learn more about their products.  I’m sure you will be impressed.


Innovation “on the cheap”

Innovation is critical for business success. This blog explains a simple innovation framework that any company can use.

For years now we’ve all heard that we need to be more innovative.  Large companies have invested millions or more in their version of an “innovation lab”.  Some of these labs have produced terrific ideas.  The question is how those of us running companies without millions to invest can be innovative.

In response to this need, GreatRidge put together an innovation framework.  We’ve used it informally at a couple of companies, and it has worked well.  The concept is pretty simple and doesn’t have to cost a ton of money to implement.  It is scalable and will grow with your company as needed.

The framework components are:

  • Create an “Innovation Council”. This is a small group of people who are good at motivating others to think outside the box.  The council should have members who are employees, contractors, and outsiders to the company.  This will foster creativity.  The council meets no more than monthly for a few hours.
  • Focus the Council. One of the common missteps in innovation is that people are given free reign to innovate in whatever area they want.  While this may work great for a global conglomerate, it can be the death of a medium size business.  Just like entrepreneurs with too many ideas (I wrote about this in a previous blog post), an innovation council without boundaries often wanders the desert with no clear focus.  Establish a strategy for the council and target the innovation activities.  If other ideas come up, save them for another more appropriate time.
  • Structure the Ideas. Like any set of unstructured data, the value of the information can only be realized once the unstructured data is structured.  There are tools available for purchase to manage the idea generation lifecycle (check out www.spigit.com for a really cool tool), but medium size businesses don’t need something this expansive.  A simple, well-structured, sharepoint site will do the trick.  A simple set of “toll gates” for each idea with some basic criteria for each gate would suffice (sample gates: idea definition; idea design (how would it work?); implementation considerations/plans).
  • Track and Evaluate Ideas. No matter how large or small a company is, the need a way to track ideas as they develop and a methodology to evaluate the ideas.  The tracking is easy (see the sharepoint comment above), and the evaluation doesn’t have to be complex.  A good evaluation methodology takes into account the idiosyncrasies of each individual business, industry, and leader preferences.  You can still make “gut decisions” if you like, but tracking the ideas and having a consistent way to present ideas for evaluation adds enough structure to the process to ensure good ideas don’t get overlooked.
  • Reward the winners! Always a good idea, but particularly valuable where innovation is desired.  These rewards can be in whatever form is consistent with your corporate culture (e.g. money; paid time off; an idea statue; chocolate bars emblazoned with the winning innovator’s face; water bottles heralding the idea on the label; etc.).  The more creative and original the reward, the more linkage to the concept of innovation!
  • Post Innovation Review. This is the part where innovation ends and the cold reality of company profitability begins.  At some point companies must decide whether the innovation worked or not.  This is necessary since unbridled innovation usually masks corporate waste and none of us can afford to waste time, resources, or money.  The innovation review is as simple as seeing whether the expected metrics were achieved or not and then deciding whether to invest more in this innovation, stop investing, or make a few changes and continue on the current path.  It doesn’t have to be painful (have the review at the local pub if you want to), but it must be done.

GreatRidge believes that not only any company can innovate, but that every company must innovate.  Hopefully this simple innovation framework will enable your company to innovate without stress and strain.  Let us know your thoughts and any ideas you have to increase innovation in your business.


Lessons from Inc’s GROWCO conference – really!

I attended the Inc GROWCO conference and learned a lot. This blog contains the highlights of the conference.

If you read my previous blog (The Value of Conferences – is there any?) you know I’m not a big fan of conferences as a rule.  I followed my advice about how to make a conference valuable, and got a lot of useful information at the GROWCO conference.  The conference is for the owners of small to medium businesses and is focused on ideas for growth.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Data is still king! No matter how much you know in your heart that you have a great idea, without some sort of data to back it up your idea will never get funded.  Forrester has research on just about any idea you have that needs data to back it up.
  • Who cares about you? Figure out the 50 most important people to the growth of your company (external folks, not employees) and measure the strength of your relationships with them.  Figure out how to improve the relationships for any that are not where they need to be.  Keith Ferrazi has some great information on this idea.
  • It’s all about the people. Every company should have a relationship plan.  Most companies have a financial plan, product or services plan, customer management plan, etcetera, but very few have relationship plans.  A relationship plan is a specific, measureable, prioritized list of ways to improve your important relationships.  I’ve always had relationship maps in my strategic planning, but I’ve now expanded that to be a true relationship plan.
  • I am stunting my company’s growth. We were asked to think a moment about our “career crippling habits” (or “company growth crippling habits”).  This was a terrific question.  It made me think about what I’m not doing that could help grow the company.  I figured out that I spend so much time working on things and checking off my “to do list” that I hadn’t really leveraged people who have offered to help me.  That’s crazy!  If you are one of the folks who have offered to help, watch your email ‘cause requests are coming your way!
  • Analyze your revenue streams. OK, so we all knew to do this already.  What I learned at the conference was that I was being pretty narrow in my analysis and interpretation of the revenue streams.  I came up with a different way to look at the revenue streams and it shed a lot of light on my profitability.  It really reinforced where my growth will come from and what I need to be focused on building.  OK…so the presentation I went to didn’t have this in it, but since I thought of it while in the meeting, I’m giving the conference credit for the idea!

I’ll wrap this up with my favorite quote of the meeting (paraphrased of course).  Move boldly with “reckless abandon wrapped in common sense”.  I have no idea who said this and whether it was original or not, but I thought it really summarized my approach to building businesses.  We have to get off the dime and move to grow a business and as long as we do so with common sense, we’ll be fine!


The Value of Conferences – is there any?

Business conferences can be a big waste of time unless you leverage them for your purpose. This blog explains how to get value from conferences.

I know most of the executives and managers out there think business and technical conferences are a waste of money and time.  The golfing may be good, but the value of the content provided is usually questionable.  I tend to agree with this assessment.  I totally disagree however that conferences are a waste of time.  Seems contradictory doesn’t it?  Unfortunately a lot of things in life are contradictory, so I’ll take a moment to address this contradiction.

Why are conferences a waste of time?

  1. Many are so large that you can’t even find the right meeting room
  2. The presenters are more interested in what they have to say than they are in imparting something of value to the attendees
  3. The conference organizers use the event as a very thinly veiled advertisement for their research or magazine or new book or something that brings them revenue
  4. The vendors outnumber the attendees at such a huge scale that attendees spend the majority of their time avoiding the conference locations so they are not harassed by vendors
  5. Attendees spend so much time competing for “freebies” at the vendor exhibits that we have to purchase additional luggage to get our stuff home (maybe that’s just me!!)

So if this is a typical conference, why in the world would I say they are not a waste of time.  The primary reasons actually have nothing to do with the conference content.

  1. You have the opportunity to interact with your peers in a “low risk” environment
  2. You get away from the day-to-day office work and can think strategically about your business
  3. You might actually learn about a new product that you can afford to implement (this happened to be last year much to my surprise!)
  4. If you look for smaller conferences they usually cost less and you can have real conversations with the presenters to get past the presentation and discuss the applicability of their topic to your business
  5. Conferences are an ideal environment for team building with your business associates

So how do you make a conference valuable to you and your organization?

  1. If you are attending a conference while you read this, stop just sitting there trying to take in the presentation and talk with someone.  You will learn a lot more by talking with peers than listening to presentations.
  2. Pick your conferences based on who is likely to attend rather than the presenters or sponsors.
  3. Attend all the cocktail hours and meals with the intent of learning something from another attendee.  You’ll be surprised what asking the right questions will reveal.

By using the tips described above, I attended a very useful conference lately.  For more information on what I learned, see my next blog entry.