Tag » Emerging Technologies

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.


The “Cloud” – Hype vs. Reality

Deciding if and when to leverage "the cloud" is a critical decision for most businesses. This post examines the pros and cons of "the cloud" and when it might be a good solution for your business.

Everywhere you look people are talking about “the cloud”.  The term is used so generally that whenever someone mentions the cloud, the first question to be asked is: “How do you define “the cloud”?”.  The term “cloud” is used to mean anything from application hosting services provided by companies like RackSpace, Amazon, and Google, to software-as-a-service offerings such as SalesForce.Com.  We won’t even get into the entire discussion of public and private clouds!

The difficult part of the entire cloud discussion is figuring out whether or not is it a good solution for your company.  Although the cloud has some advantages for consumers, there are quite a few more complexities to determining whether the cloud is ready for use by an enterprise/company.

Pros of the cloud

  • Most cloud offerings use the latest technology – if your company cannot afford to upgrade technology, then under the right circumstances, the cloud could provide an alternative.
  • Rapid scalability – since cloud offerings are architected to be a standard, shared environment, it is easy to add and remove capacity when needed.
  • Shared or restricted option – most providers allow their customers to choose between shared services (where multiple customers share the same physical devices) and restricted services (where a customer has dedicated devices for their use only).

Cons of the cloud

  • Privacy and Security – very careful consideration must be given to any usage of the cloud for data or processes that interact with private or company sensitive information.  Any organization covered by regulations such as PCI, HIPPA, or SOX should utilize the cloud with caution.
  • Monitoring/transparency – many organizations today are striving for increased monitoring and transparency in their operations.  By using the cloud the IT organization is one step removed from the actual operations of their systems.
  • Performance – many cloud service providers will site statistics of their availability, but performance is just as important.  If a service is available but running slow it will not support your business requirements.

Leveraging the potential benefit of the cloud can be a strategic investment for your company.  There are a few things an enterprise could easily host in the cloud:

1)   Publicly available information – most information that is for use by the general public would be a good choice.  An example is a customer support site containing a searchable knowledgebase or list of frequently asked questions.

2)   Properly secured development and testing environments – by hosting these environments in the cloud a company can avoid having to invest in infrastructure for new projects.  If appropriately cleaned test data can be utilized, then the cloud could be a way to develop new systems without disrupting the current production environment or support processes.

3)  Peak processing power – companies can use the cloud to provide additional processing power during peak loads.  This could be a nightly process or a seasonal processing need.  By acquiring the additional processing power with the “as needed” capability the cloud allows, companies can avoid a capital investment.

If you decide to proceed with using the cloud for your company remember to manage them as you would any third party service provider or outsourcer.  There is no magic to the cloud and it must be managed and controlled to benefit your company.


Emerging Technology – Friend or Foe?

Deciding when to adopt an emerging technology within your business is a critical decision. This post poses a few key questions to consider.

Emerging TechnologiesDeciding when to adopt an emerging technology within your business is a critical decision.  Not every business is the same when it comes to emerging technologies. You may be working for an innovative, growth-oriented company that’s always on the lookout for new solutions, or you could have responsibility for an established, structured organization that’s wary of jumping into the latest IT invention.  Either way, if you’re going to stay competitive in today’s marketplace, you’ve got to keep your eye on emerging technologies and know how best to benefit from them.

The question is: how do I know when to embrace an emerging technology? The bad news is that there is no “silver bullet” that provides the answer to this question.  The good news is that there are a few critical questions that can help you decide.

  • Is technology a competitive differentiator for your company? if so, emerging technology is your friend.  You should budget and resource to investigate emerging technologies when they are on the “bleeding edge”.
  • How aggressive is your business strategy? If your company has aggressive growth plans that involve innovations, then emerging technology is your friend.  Many emerging technologies can help your organization grow with less initial investment.  Even if the technologies don’t work for the long-term, they may let you be first to market with a new product or service.
  • Does your company have a highly structured culture and approach to initiatives? if so, then emerging technology may be your foe.  By their nature emerging technologies are often fraught with starts and stops with projects rarely going as planned.
  • Do your company processes include R&D activities? If not, then emerging technology may be your foe.  Companies without a tolerance for R&D activities will lose patience with emerging technologies.
  • Is 100% quality at all times a priority for your company? If so, then emerging technologies may be your foe.  You will be better served to wait until a technology is mature before adoption.
  • Do your clients demand innovative solutions? If so, emerging technology is your friend.  By embracing new technologies earlier in their lifecycle you can meet your client demands sooner than the competition.

Assessing your company’s culture and processes will allow you to determine whether emerging technologies are right for your enterprise.  Be sure to readdress the tolerance for emerging technologies frequently since company strategies change frequently.  Whether a friend or foe, emerging technologies will play a big part in your IT success.