Mar 10 2020

Not Just Big Data: SMBs Get Results With Advanced Analytics

Today’s scalable analytics tools are helping companies of all sizes get ahead.

The quacking of ducks: That’s the sound one hears while on hold with Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit group based in Memphis, Tenn., that raises money to restore and conserve wetlands and associated habitats to support ducks and other waterfowl.

To date, Ducks Unlimited has conserved 15 million acres of wetlands, and it’s looking forward to saving much more, thanks to data analytics.

Once considered beyond the reach of many businesses, data analytics solutions are now not only much more accessible, they’re becoming a necessity. Beatriz Sanz Saiz, global advisory data and analytics leader at EY, says that one key to effective implementation is for IT and operational groups to collaborate.

“To build a strong analytics program, it’s essential to understand which areas you want to impact and the goals you want to achieve,” says Sanz Saiz. “Business leaders are in the best position to set those objectives, in collaboration with organizations across the business that will be impacted. IT’s goal should be to deploy and democratize IT, making it more accessible to a wider range of business and business users.”

Until recently, Ducks Unlimited, like many other nonprofits and small and medium-sized businesses, stored and processed data in a c­ustom-built legacy system. The time it took to generate a report, usually in Microsoft Excel, sometimes made the data obsolete or inaccurate by the time it was ready to present.

Today, off-the-shelf data storage, analytics and reporting tools are much easier to implement and customize, and they’re making a big difference at Ducks Unlimited.

Keeping Up With Growing Business

Ducks Unlimited’s data needs include tracking fundraising programs as well as detailed project and financial information for land purchases and restoration efforts all over North America.

“We have more than 50,000 volunteers and run 4,000 fundraising events each year,” says Amy Batson, the organization’s chief fundraising officer. “There are 700,000 active members and 6 million donor records in our database.”

Govan Hornor, who joined Ducks Unlimited as its CIO six years ago, describes the technology at that time as “a couple of ­millennia” in the past. Recognizing the need to modernize the data management and analytics systems, Hornor and his team chose Microsoft Dynamics 365 to better gather and analyze data for the internal functions of finance and operations.

They soon found that they could use Dynamics 365 to handle the organization’s growing number of land projects — just one aspect of its complex portfolio of programs.

“Initially, we thought our land portfolio module, which includes both public and private land projects, was going to be small, but we got a large grant, and it expanded quickly,” says Hornor. “We did a deep dive on what Microsoft Dynamics 365 could do and we felt confident it could take care of the details.”

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Use Data to Drive Up Donations

Hornor and the team at Ducks Unlimited now use Dynamics 365 to track and analyze real estate transactions, land prices and nesting and wintering grounds — all to help the organization plan for the next big project. The data is always in real time, providing the conservation team with the tools to do its own analytics at any time without asking IT for a report.

On the fundraising side, Batson worked in lockstep with Hornor to develop a customer relationship management system within Dynamics 365 to track and maximize donations and events.

“We’ve always been very science-based, starting with our conservation efforts, so it makes sense to rely on technology systems as much as possible to manage the business,” says Batson.

Together, they employed additional Microsoft tools, including Power BI, to create budgets, modeling, direct response campaigns and even staff evaluations. It’s helped them build valuable reports for internal executives as well as donors.

“The reports help us communicate back to donors how their money was used,” says Batson. “We wouldn’t be able to do that without connectivity between revenue and delivery systems. And that’s a hugely important part of stewardship and earning and holding our donors’ trust.”

Amy Batson
The reports help us ­communicate back to donors how their money was used. We wouldn’t be able to do that without connectivity between ­revenue and delivery systems.”

Amy Batson Chief Fundraising Officer, Ducks Unlimited

Data Is More Accessible Than It Used To Be

Kelly Services, a global workforce solutions company headquartered in Troy, Mich., with more than 7,000 employees worldwide, still needs to move as nimbly as a small business. Serving customers since 1946, Kelly provides employment to about half a million individuals annually.

Just like Ducks Unlimited, Kelly is on an analytics journey. The wide range of services Kelly offers generates a lot of data.

“Every client, every program, every person is capturing data in different ways,” says Rich Fisher, the company’s vice president of analytics and insights. “What we’ve done is bring it all into a central repository so we can look easily across the entire Kelly practice."

Fisher runs the data analytics p­latform Tableau on Microsoft Azure. He first implemented the solution in the managed services division of the business, and then expanded it companywide, including HR, finance, marketing and sales.

According to Fisher, the advanced data analysis capabilities have allowed his teams to improve operations by reducing cost and increasing quality. For example, it used to take a lot more work and research to find job candidates with the right experience at the right salary level.

Now, Kelly employees can draw on data from the company network to counsel clients on expectations for the skills and pay scale needed for different positions.

“One of the things I like most about Tableau is that it does everything we need it to do, but it’s not an IT developer type of software,” Fisher says. “It helps everyone make better, more informed decisions. You don’t need to be a coder to use it or sit there crunching data — you can use it to tell a story.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Five small business tech trends to watch in 2020.

Bringing New-School Tools to Old-School Business

Trust is paramount for Northrop & Johnson, an international company based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that sells superyachts and yacht charters.

“The luxury yacht business is a little old-school,” says Keith Perfect, the company’s director of technology and intelligence. “We’ve been around since 1949. In a lot of ways, our business is like real estate, except that we help our clients buy and sell yachts, and our clients are the ultrawealthy.”

Yet Northrop & Johnson’s largest revenue source is not sales but charters, he says: “Even the very wealthy are into the whole sharing economy trend.”

Perfect implemented a variety of solutions for sharing data and CRM, but everything came together when the team moved to Microsoft Dynamics 365.

One of Microsoft Dynamics’ most powerful tools is its ability to embed Power BI inside of reports. Both executive and sales professionals can open a PDF report and get live data, even the exact data sets they need, without needing to contact IT.

“Typically, it takes one to two years to sell a superyacht, and we get our leads from a variety of sources, including charter clients. An important part of our business is showing the progress we’ve made,” says Perfect. “Having a clear data picture helps our sales directors work more effectively with their teams and coach them on next steps.”

Using Big Data to Power Big Expansion

Northrop & Johnson continues to expand the number of employees with Power BI licenses. Since everything is on Azure, associates have access to the data at all times.

“The flow between the products saves us a ton of time,” says Perfect. “The end user knows what they need to see. Our brokers can come to us to design a report, or many times they can do it themselves. It gives our users more control over how they want to slice and dice the data.”

Overall, Perfect and the brokers, managers and staff at Northrop & Johnson are able to understand their business in a much more meaningful way.

“We can track the entire client journey,” says Perfect. “We can better calculate the ROI on our marketing. If we’re at a boat show, we can make changes on the fly based on what the data is telling us. These are numbers we’ve never been able to see before, and now we can see them in a graphic, easy-to-understand way.” 

Photography By William DeShazer/BizTech Magazine