We’ve been focusing a number of our recent conversations on analytics, relationship intelligence and other topics related to finding insights that can help drive your business forward. Mainly because it’s one of the hottest topics in business, and promises to remain hot for the foreseeable future. But sometimes it feels like the conversation about analytics is focused on larger enterprises with big budgets.
Rick Jackson, CMO of a visual analytics platform Qlik, shares why analytics is quickly becoming a “need to have” tool for SMBs sooner rather than later because of the potential impact it can have on various parts of the business.
Below is an edited transcript of the conversation. To hear the full conversation, click on the embedded player below.
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Small Business Trends: Before we jump into that conversation maybe you can give us a little bit of your personal background.
Rick Jackson: I’ve been in the high tech industry now for about 30 years which I hate to admit. I have been in engineering; was how I started my career. I was in sales for a few years and then I’d been in marketing positions for over the last 20 years probably; been a chief marketing officer for about the last 15.
And so as a chief marketing officer I will say that I’m a very dependent person on business intelligence and visual analytics and have incorporated that in many of the jobs and companies that I’ve been at and couldn’t even imagine doing marketing without it.
Small Business Trends: Very good. So tell us a little bit more about the company.
Rick Jackson: Qlik had this vision that this intelligence shouldn’t be locked up in the back room and managed by PhDs in lab coats where you send in a request to try and figure something out using data, you wait for weeks to get an answer which of course only stimulates five more questions you’ve got.
You turn them back and you wait for an answer. So Qlik really set out to democratize this whole notion of analytics and helping more people across the business have hands on access to a visually appealing environment to be able to probe the data, ask questions of it, look at it graphically from different angles to really start getting true understanding of it. And leverage it every single day in their operational role to make better decisions to test new ideas and to look for new opportunities.
Small Business Trends: So we have been kind of bombarded with a lot of different terms lately. We’re hearing about analytics of course hearing about artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, business intelligence.
Is there some differences that separate something like BI from analytics?
Rick Jackson: Well a lot of it I’m embarrassed to say is just marketing jargon. As marketers we like to try and create new terms to represent something new and fresh. But I think there’s something to learn and just that.
The overall marketplace is often still referred to as BI, or business intelligence. And that’s how a market segment was originally introduced some 20 years ago. Lot of big companies started their market. They created these big technical stack implementations that were very expensive, difficult to use; really questionable how much value they brought to the line of business.
With this more modern era in BI which we often refer to as self service visual analytics, the notion that an everyday business user can leverage the software, pull in their own data and very quickly start to visualize that data and look at it from a different perspective to try and find meaning and insights in that data. That we typically try and refer to as something more like visual analytics or self-service business analytics. Those are the terms that companies are using today to separate what is possible today from what we know from the past from the big BI expensive implementations that just didn’t produce a whole lot of value.
Small Business Trends: What about relationship intelligence. Is that kind of an aspect of business intelligence?
Rick Jackson: When you think about business intelligence, or often I’ll just refer to it as business analytics, that encompasses looking at all parts of the business through data. And the way you want to look at data is through visuals, because just as humans we perceive patterns when we look at things visually versus when we look at raw data. And so that encompasses every aspect of the business.
And so even what people are doing with CRM and understanding the dynamics with their customer base, their sales channels, their profitability (by channel by segment by customer type) where investments work or don’t work. That’s just one area that you can apply business analytics to. But really the concept of business analytics can be applied to almost every single aspect of the business.
If there’s a there’s data related to a part of the business then something like a visual analytics platform can be applied to it and absolutely improve that part of the business.
Small Business Trends: So we know these platforms really do better with the more information and data they have which makes sense for enterprises and larger organizations to be looking at it. But what about the the SMB space? What should they be doing right now when it comes to the leveraging these tools?
Rick Jackson: Well that’s the beauty of today’s market and the solutions that are available out there today. I’ll use Qlik for example because I do represent Qlik. But the very same software that we sells to a Fortune 50 company; That same capability for being able to look at multiple data sources, pulled together, and then visually represented. And the ability to go in there and look at it from different angles, to look at different ways of visualizing the data, to keep digging and asking questions of the data, to go find that hidden story that lives in that data. That same capability is actually available for free in our cloud.
We do that as an opportunity to educate more people about what’s possible. How easy it is and how easy it is to use our solutions, and how powerful they can be so we don’t de-tune the product. It’s not set up to scale to thousands of employees or some of our customers have tens of thousands of employees using our software. So if you want to get to that level then of course you know we’ve got paid for offerings, but anybody can get started by just going to the cloud offering and literally sign up for an account. No charge, no installation just sign up. Boom; you’re in the cloud. Bring your data. Take it if you’ve got it in the spreadsheet. Drag that spreadsheet and drop it in and start the player with the solution and get value within that first five minutes.
Small Business Trends: Let’s say we’re talking about a B2C based small business that’s in retail. What kind of things could they start to look at and get some quick wins and understand how these numbers coming from some sort of a BI system like yours can impact the way they do business?
Rick Jackson: There’s all kinds of ways a sample business like that could take advantage of this. It could be as simple as better understanding inventory and sales patterns in order to either shore up the supply chain or order just in time or on demand. So improve their overall gross margins based on how much inventory they manage or don’t manage. It could be looking at things like investing in local territories with different marketing tactics and then actually tracking what are sales are like, and do a geo mapping to see based on how I’ve invested in different territories or myself going up and getting a good ROI on that. What’s resonating, what’s not.
It could be tracking sales performance by personnel and time of year. Better understanding what characteristics make a good salesperson. And a lot of these things are these small companies do but they do it manually, and they take a lot of time to do that. What they could do is take the data they’ve already got in systems that they’re already using and just pull that into one of these visual analytics solutions and very quickly start to see things in the data, including relationships and the data that might have on that. Hey one thing I thought about this marketing channel Actually it isn’t true. I’m seeing that same pattern over here and I’m not investing in that marketing channel, or vice versa.
What you’re really trying to get to with visual analytics is what else is there behind the data that’s not obviously apparent at first look. And how do I dig into it. And that’s when businesses start to really optimize both the cost side as well as the revenue side.
Small Business Trends: And I realize I’m talking to a BI analytics guy but how long will it be before using systems like yours is going to be a ‘need to have’ as opposed to a ‘nice to have’ in order to be able to pick up and find these important insights and be able to do something with quickly?
Rick Jackson: What you find with most customers is that they have a certain expectation and once they start playing in the environment and see how easy it is to work with, then they get more comfortable by throwing more types of data. And adding data to existing analysis to look at something with more perspective; they consistently find new insights, new patterns in the data, that gives them better ideas for what to do in their business.
And so the value continues to grow over time. And I can say that consistently when we talk to customers, what’s interesting to me is how they keep applying the technology to different areas of the business in a new ways-; some ways of which we’ve never even thought about. That’s because it is so easy in this era of modern BI it is so easy to use these tools. They’re all intuitive with drag and drop interfaces. They help you and guide you to do the right things. They take care of a lot of the details behind the scenes so that you don’t have to be an expert in data and data management. You don’t have to be an expert in analytics. It’s intuitively guides you through the process of doing more with data, visualizing more, adding more data, really looking, finding questions and then go driving into the answers. And so the value keeps building over time.
And I would say that most people think of it as a nice to have initially. Once they start using it then it becomes a must have to help run their business.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.