Wake Up or Die: A Book Report pt. 2

This is a continuation from my last blog, reviewing Wake Up or Die by Corrine Sandler

We continue describing the various battlefields that Sun Tzu described in The Art of War and comparing them to business battlefields:

5. On ground of intersecting highways, when companies merge they can become better competitors, Amazon bought Zappos in order to keep them from being bought by another company and in turn strengthened their own company.

6. On serious ground, in other words in the heart of enemy territory.  This is when the war may be won or lost.  Gola, the UK based shoe company is on its last legs and facing stiff competition from Nike, Adidas, and others.  This is a crucial moment for Gola, and although they’ve been around since 1905 they may not last much longer.

7. On difficult ground, you are not safe here, don’t stop to rest, unite with your allies if you can.  However while some alliances are successful (i.e. Disney-Pixar) others are not.  The New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads merged in 1968 to combat competition from airlines and the general change in consumer travel, but due to different company cultures and a long standing rivalry they ended up declaring bankruptcy two years later.

8. Hemmed-in ground, deceiving your enemy to lure them in, if you are weak play that you are strong, and if you are strong trick the enemy into thinking you are weak.  The author gives the example of a friend of hers who is busy creating a hybrid tree business combining the genes from tropical trees with beautiful flowers with those of their more resilient cousins so that tropical trees can thrive in a more difficult environment and provide beautiful landscaping.  However, because it takes so long for these trees to mature he is putting on the front that he is just an enthusiast so that his competition doesn’t know that he one day is hoping to put them out of business when they time is right.

9. Desperate ground, when escape is not possible and you must fight.  Sears Department stores are currently in this position, yearly losing revenue and customers.  If they don’t fight they will be put out to pasture.

I highly recommend this book and think that you’ll agree with me that it provides valuable insights into the world of competitive business.

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Wake Up or Die: A Book Review pt. 1

ImageRecently I picked up the book “Wake Up or Die” by Corrine Sandler.  The premise of this book is to take the 2,000 years old philosophies of Sun Tzu as found in the “Art of War” and apply them to business, specifically the use of Business Intelligence to gain competitive advantage.  I found this book to be a fascinating and easy read.  Sandler always provides plenty of “real world” examples from her experiences as a Business Analyst.  One of the most important chapters in the book lays out the Nine Situations where the battle can take place

1. On dispersive ground, in other words, in your own territory, this is dangerous because it is an area that is too familiar, you are too complacent.  Sandler gives the example of Kodak who failed to see that digital photography would be the innovation that it was and as a result declared bankruptcy in 2012.  It’s important to break away from the familiar so that you can innovate.

2. On facile ground, when you have just crossed into enemy territory, burn your bridges and boats so that you have no choice but to move forward.  Sandler talks about Southwest Airlines who set a goal that every year they would achieve a profit, even in the midst of economic downturns.  While the majority of other airlines were unable to do so, Southwest turned a profit for 15 years without laying off a single employee.

3. On contentious ground, this is ground that is potentially advantageous for both sides.  Sandler points to the medical and drug industry, and in particular, Type 2 diabetes and the insulin drugs that have been created to treat the disease.  Because occurrences of diabetes are on the rise many drug companies are trying to get their products to be the number one recommendation of doctors.  In order to reach these goals companies need to work harder and smarter to stay ahead of the competition.

4. On open ground, ground open to both sides.  General Mills, while abundantly successful in the domestic market are not as successful in the export market.  Although open ground presents opportunities for growth, the success rate may not be the same.

Check back for Part 2 tomorrow and if you enjoy my blog please subscribe and follow me on Twitter

Some Thoughts On Planning and Taking Action

medium_4643421882For this blog I am again turning to “No Bullshit Social Media.” Social Media Marketing, like Business Intelligence is a fairly new marketing strategy and so there are many ideas that can crossover and are applicable to both.  I’m going to discuss a strategy that the authors had for using Social Media Marketing and apply it to BI.

Step 1: Write down the top five problems you’re facing in your business.  Remember Business Intelligence covers not only sales but can help determine factors related to internal factors such as personnel problems, so no problem is off limits for this step.

Step 2: Take each problem and determine if there is a way that BI can solve this problem.  These are the things you’re going to develop your KPIs on.  Unfortunately there may be some things that  BI can’t solve but you’d be surprised at the number of things it can, from slow customer turnout to overstocked items to issues of customer theft.

As you roll out your program here are some things to keep in mind:

Done Is Better Than Perfect-Don’t wait until your BI system is 100% complete (hint: it will never happen).  It’s important to begin measuring and analyzing data as soon as possible, you can always go back and tweak the system later as more information is learned, but it’s important just to get the program up and running.

Turn Your Plan Into Action-It’s easy to come up with a plan but many times that’s as far as a project goes, you must act on your plans.  The best way to do this is by making sure that everyone understands the end goals of the project and what you are all working towards.  Then assign tasks with deadlines attached so that work begins on the projects.

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7 Stages of BI

As I stated in my last blog I believe that any company interested in BI needs to have a roadmap for success otherwise it’s like getting in the car with no destination in site, sure you’ll see some great sights along the way but will you end up in a place you really want to be?  In her excellent book Wake Up or Die author, Corinne Sandler, sets forth 7 Stages of Building a BI Plan:


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Stage 1: Current State Analysis-During this stage you are looking at your current processes, what works, what doesn’t?  This stage should encompass all aspects of your current processes from people to technology.

Stage 2: Future State Analysis-Look into the future, what you hope BI will do for your company?  What does your company look like 1 year, 5 years, 10 years in the future?  What challenges do you foresee will BI really be the best solution to your problems or should you look towards a different method for solving your problems?

Stage 3: Transformation Roadmap-In short how do you get from Stage 1 to Stage 2, what goals and objectives will you set in order to reach the visions that Stage 2 has set forth?

Stage 4: Framework-How do all the pieces of your BI project fit together?  How will the different groups that are using the BI system work together, will anything that one group does negatively affect another group?  Is there cohesion between the goals of the diverse groups or do they actually chafe against each other?

Stage 5: Implementation-This is one of the most important steps because it will have the most visibility from everyone in the company.  Implement your system successfully and you’ll be the “toast of the town” or royally screw it up and you and your system will be “swept under the rug.”  During this period it’s important that you are getting constant feedback from the departments that will soon be using the system, considering their suggestions and throwing out those comments that are beyond the scope of the project.

Stage 6: Adoption-This is the point when your system is being utilized by the company on a regular basis and it’s become a regular process that everyone has become used to.  This is the point where Champions are important to evangelize the benefits of your system to those that work around/for them.  The quicker a BI system can move into the adoption stage the more likely it will last in the long run.

Stage 7: Tracking-In the previous blog I mentioned the need to set KPIs, well, this is the stage that you will monitor KPIs, these KPIs will determine if your company is on track to achieve the vision you had back in Stage 2.

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Setting Your BI Objectives

When implementing BI, just as when you’re implementing any new project at your company there’s one important task that cannot be ignored, and that is setting objectives.  In their excellent book “No Bullshit Social Media” Jason Falls and Erik Deckers discuss the need to set goals and objectives when using social media to reach your customers and I believe that their advice applies to BI as well.  If you don’t set goals for yourself and your company how will you know when you’ve succeeded?  You can implement your BI system (which in of itself should be one of your goals) and turn it on but how do you know that it’s working.  Without goals you have no way of measuring whether the system has helped your company or were a complete waste of time and money.  So:

Step 1 is setting a goal, and step 1.5 is setting smaller objectives that lead to that goal.  A goal can be anything you want it to be as long as it is measurable in some way.  Increased sales, increased customer tracking, and these goals become your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) those signs that the company is moving forward.

Step 2 once your goals have been set it’s important to create a plan to achieve the goals.  Just as you would never head out on a cross-country road trip without a map and some idea of where you were headed neither should you implement a BI system without a plan.  This plan should consist of the small steps that will be needed to achieve your goals.  When will you roll out the plan, will you perform a test period to ensure that the system is accurate, how will you train your employees on its use, what changes if any to company policy need to be made in order to implement the system.

Step 3 is to measure the results after you’ve been running the system for a good amount of time, which will vary depending on what questions you’re trying to answer.  This is the time to go back and measure your KPIs and determine whether or not you are reaching the objectives and goals that you set for yourself in step 1.

Step 4 is commiting to the process-remember BI is new to your company, your employees are unfamiliar with it and many will be resistant at first.  Don’t just give it a few months before declaring it a success or failure, you have invested in this system so now’s the time to make sure it really works by giving it a fair shake before abandoning it.

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Identifying your Champions


ImageIn an earlier blog I talked about getting employee buy-in for BI.  One of the most important aspects of implementing BI at your business is finding a champion.  A champion is someone that believes in the power of the system you are implementing.  Finding a champion is important because they can work as evangelists spreading the “good word” about the new BI system and how it is going to change your business for the better.  The best strategy would be to find multiple champions at least one in every department that the BI system will be implemented in.

Those with enthusiasm-When targeting who should be a champion it’s best to seek out those with enthusiasm for the project.  As you implement the new system you may be approached by employees who are interested in the project, remember these people because they are your champions.  If they’ve taken the time to seek you out that shows that they have a level of excitement towards your project and that excitement will be desperately needed when other employees are grumbling about the changes that have been implemented.

The higher the better-The best sorts of champions hold high level positions in the company; ideally you should have at least one champion in the C-level.  Why is this important?  Well in order to get buy-in to the new system you need those who have influence within the company.  If the management isn’t on board with the program and don’t see how the changes will help the company reach its goals then your BI project will just slowly fade off into oblivion never to be heard from again.  However if you have high level champions that have made your BI project a priority and have even set company goals based on your project then your project becomes a company priority and will see the longevity that a BI project needs in order to show the proper level of ROI.  But, don’t ignore the lower level Champions either, remember influence comes not just from those in charge but from those that people admire on the lower levels.  If you can convert the charismatic front-line workers to your cause then they will influence those around them to buy in.

Trust your champion-Once you have identified who the champion(s) of your project is going to be trust them to build your project up.  Give them the tools and training they will need and set them free.  By showing them this level of trust they will be even more encouraged to spread the word.  Remember everyone enjoys the feeling of autonomy.

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The Pitfalls of Not Using BI as a Small Business

So far my blogs have concentrated on the positive aspects of using data mining and business intelligence and I hope I’ve done a good job of convincing you that it really is the future of business.  Today I’d like to focus on the negative aspects of not using business intelligence, basically a way to look at the same thing just a bit differently.  If you are not using business intelligence it’s difficult to know where your biggest problems are.  How do you decide what systems need to be fixed, or what products to phase out?  You are purely going off of instinct without any proof.  What if you make the wrong decisions?  You have no way of knowing if the changes you make have any impact on your business except anecdotal evidence.  Another problem if you don’t have a BI system set up is the inability to quickly retrieve information.  You could ask your store managers how sweaters are selling this season and you’d probably get a somewhat accurate educated guess but you wouldn’t get the actual number, plus it would take some time to gather that information, and really if the store manager didn’t know that was something you were going to ask them in the future would they have really been paying attention?  With a BI system in place any question that enters your mind can easily and quickly be retrieved.



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What’s the great part about being a small company using BI?  Changes can be quickly and easily implemented.  If you work for a large corporation change can take months even years, so by the time new strategies based on data are ready to be implemented new data is already making those changes obsolete.  Small businesses are much better at rolling with trends, use this fact to your advantage and make sure you add BI as a tool in your arsenal to compete against your bigger competitors. Again if you enjoy reading my blogs please subscribe and follow me on Twitter.