Tag Archives: data

Small Business + Technology = Real Solutions

Growing up in a small town has given me a unique view of small business. The convenience store in the center of town (which is still there!), the neighborhood pharmacy, and the floral shop are a few examples that pop into my mind. If you had a good idea and a strong work ethic – the dream of owning your own business was yours!

I remember my best friend’s dad owning his own construction company. He had a pickup truck, some tools, and his wife typed invoices on homemade letterhead – on a typewriter. I picture a bunch of guys from my high school working a summer roofing job and sporting the best tans around thanks to baby oil and iodine. No one cared about the risks of sun exposure and no one had any clue what a huge part technology would eventually play in the construction industry.

Fast forward 20+ years and you’ll find SPF 80, smart phones, and at least a handful of tablets on most job sites. Gone are the days of hand-typed invoices, paper time cards, and magnet boards for scheduling… or are they? Would you believe there are still companies who “have a gal” who types invoices, enters time cards manually, and posts schedules on a dry erase board? No, it’s true! And while what she (or he) does is critical to the success of the company – there is a better, faster, and less expensive way to complete day-to-day operations – with technology!

messy desk
Enter: software and mobile applications for the construction industry. There are lots of companies who have out-of-the-box solutions – licenses for multiple users, programs that either provide too little or too many features. A package that cost a fee to purchase, and requires a monthly or yearly subscription. What about customizing that software so instead of doing about 60% of what you need – it does nearly 100%? How about owning the software and not paying yearly license fees? What about having a direct dial to the desk of the person who created your application – and not navigating through a huge company directory when you need help? What happens when your company grows and expands and you want to add functionality? These are just some of the benefits of having a custom program for scheduling and dispatching, time tracking, bid management, and equipment maintenance.

construction app
If some of your current challenges include sifting through complex spreadsheets (if you can find them), poor communication from the office to the field (and vice versa), and lots of paper waste on your desk (or on the dash of your vehicles) – you need to consider what technology can do for you. Don’t be afraid – embrace all that can be accomplished and made easier with a few clicks or taps!



Technology Can Lower Job Stress

I recently stumbled across an article regarding stressful jobs and I had some pretty specific thoughts about it. So I looked to technology and created this blog post!

usa today stress jobs

USA Today posted Forbes’ list of the most stressful careers. Many of these careers involve elements of danger, or they feature long or irregular hours. Here’s what they came up with:

• Police or detective                                                             • Military service member

• Firefighter                                                                              • Pilot

• Event coordinator                                                              • Senior corporate executive

• Public relations executive                                              • Newspaper reporter

While I’m of the belief that much of the stress people complain about at work is self-induced, I’m also of the belief that certain positions will always and forever be stressful. In my opinion active military, law enforcement and fire fighters, emergency room doctors and most other personnel in the ER, members of the bomb squad, skyscraper window washers and bridge painters (Imagine being up that high!), school teachers and day care workers – that’s stress!

But an event planner?

Stress - business person stressed at office. Business woman holdPhoto credit:  Arianna Huffington’s Tips for Managing Stress – Not Just for Event Planners!

Now, let me just say that I have friends who are event planners. I also have been involved in the planning of many events – business and personal. Yes, there is stress involved. No, it should not be on a list of most stressful jobs.

Let me explain.

Start to finish there are steps that need to be taken to pull off a successful event. These steps can be as simple or complex as you make them. Let’s talk about a few, and let’s keep focus on business events. Think speaker series, seminars, and networking mixers.

Location: You know what “they” say… Location, location, location!
Theme: This includes decorations, entertainment, speakers and / or panel, and even the food and beverage menu.
Menu: There are so many options now that Pittsburgh has become a “foodie” city! Sit down dinner, buffet, waiter-passed appetizers? A lot of this depends on theme and budget.
Guest list: Who is invited and…
• Promotion: How will you get them there, and keep track of who’s who?
Follow up: How do you keep people coming to your events? How do you continue to entice new attendees to show up?

Every single bullet point has a technology component to it. Every. Single. One.

Location:  You’re going to use Google to find cool places to host this event right? You’ll be in business if you can take a virtual tour of venues.
Theme: One word: Pinterest
Menu: If a restaurant or caterer doesn’t have a website… well, you know.
Guest list: You better have the contact information of every single company who you consider your audience and competition;  and your current and potential clients. And you need to have it organized.
• Promotion: Online registration is key. Capture all the information when they register and use it for… you guessed it… follow up!
Follow up: Send out a “Thank You” for attending email with a simple survey asking what they liked – and didn’t like – about your event. Start to finish. From the way you initially contacted them to invite them, to the venue, theme, food, others in attendance, and most importantly – what they would do to make the next event better. Then LISTEN to them. Or if all else fails, just use this app to gauge your audience’s facial expressions.

technology-and-eventsPhoto credit: StartYourBusinessMag.com

Sure, there are software packages out there that you can buy. Open the box and start plugging away. But if you’re a perfectionist like me, you’ll work much better with something personalized. A system that has all the bells and whistles that suit you, your company, and your goals. Guess what?

We have the people who can actually plan events for you, or create software – and even an app – for that.

Seriously? Yes, seriously. Give me a call or shoot me an email (Here’s where that crazy technology comes in handy, again!) and I’ll explain. Don’t be a statistic, be an event planning rock star and let technology (and 4C) help!

Change the Way You Look at Change

This post is part of a series on how the 9 Laws of Data Mining from Tom Khabaza can be applied to analytics. You can find previous posts here.

Law #9: “Law of Change”: All patterns are subject to change


Photo credit: Tedrafranklin, Shutterstock. CC0 Public Domain

All patterns change — not only because the data changes, but because our understanding of the business domain changes.  As Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” (emphasis mine)

For example, when we devise a better marketing campaign after completing a strategic plan to increase customers, we may change the customer profile so that the next time that we run the customer segmentation we may get a different result and those results may trigger other marketing changes. Even when the customer profile does not change, our understanding of competitive offers, substitute products, and other market factors can cause us to change how we decide to implement the business process.  Even when the data pattern is similar, we may have new information about the business or the economy as a whole that will affect how we understand the business and this will affect our evaluation of the model.

The job of a data miner and an analyst is never done—there is always something else to study and a new nugget of truth to learn about a market.  However, we can sometimes fall into the trap of doing things because they have always been done that way. So, how do we get ourselves out of a “rut” in analytics?  How do you repeat a process over and over again while still asking yourself about what could or should change?  The answer lies in having a “cheat sheet” of questions that forces you to think about the analysis in a different way, in other words to change the way you look at the problem. . . or in this case, to change the way we look at change.

This time of year is a great time to think about change, so while we are on the subject of “change”, let’s ask ourselves: How do we measure change? Is there a checklist of things that we should investigate when studying change?  Below are six ways to think about measuring change.

1. How Much?

The obvious and first question that we typically ask is the “how much” question.  In other words, what was the amount of change, the raw total difference from one time period to another?  But don’t stop there!  There is so much more that you can learn about change by asking more questions.

2. Rate of Change: To What Extent? What Percent?

How about calculating the percent change from one time period to another?  This helps us to understand when the change happened and what the extent of the change was. You could also analyze the rate of change over different time periods and ask yourself whether there is a pattern in the rates of change.  If you vary the time period that you are studying, you might get different patterns, like the difference between the average change over months versus quarters versus year over year.

3. What is the Average Change for Multiple Change Rates?

If you have lots of data, you could look at the average change over different time periods and then compare the change rates for one period compared to the difference from the mean or median value.

4. What is the Difference from Optimal?

In some cases, the difference from an average won’t mean much, but the difference from an optimal number or the top performer in a category will give you a lot more insight.  Creating an index is helpful in this case because it makes it easy to see how the current value differs from the optimal or desired amount.

5. Related questions: Where? Causation? Multiple Changes?

Once you have measured change, you can ask other questions that are related to the change, like “Where did the change happen?” or “Who or what factors caused the change?” or “Did multiple changes happen at the same time?”

6. Meta questions: The Nature of the Change

Don’t forget to ask meta questions like: What was the nature of the change? Is it beneficial or detrimental? Was the change an anomaly, an outlier, or part of a larger pattern of change?  And finally, you can ask: How long do you expect or predict the current trend to continue?

We all know that change is inevitable, but how we analyze and learn from change is not.  Understanding the relevance of the changing patterns, what the change means for our business, is how we translate information into insight.  Insight helps us develop a strategy and then we can focus on executing the plan with specific tactics.  However, everything starts with the decision to analyze the change and to look at change in a new way.


Where are You on the Analytics Value Chart?

This post is part of a series on how the 9 Laws of Data Mining from Tom Khabaza can be applied to analytics. You can find previous posts here.

Law #8: “Value Law” – The value of data mining results [and analytics] is not determined by the accuracy or stability of predictive models

In analytics, we evaluate accuracy by defining how often a model predicts values correctly.  Stability refers to the ability of a model to predict correctly on a consistent basis when the data sample is changed within a given population. If a model is stable, then the predictions will not change much when the data sample is changed for the same population.  Both accuracy and stability seem essential to the modeling process, so why does the 8th Law tell us that the value of data mining should not be determined by them?

The answer is that the value is not derived from the process, but from the end result. The 8th Law tells us that the value of the data mining process results from 1) the models ability to improve action (more effective business processes) and 2) the models ability to give insight that leads to an improved business strategy (better decisions).

A model that is overly complex may not have as much business value as a model that is less accurate.  The reason for this is that the cost associated with gathering the survey data for the calibration of the model could be very high; whereas a simpler model might lead us to the same business conclusion.  Khabaza encourages us to ask the question: “Is the model predicting the right thing, and for the right reasons?”  This relates back to Law #2 about business knowledge.  We can only determine whether a model is predicting the right thing for the right reasons if we know the context of the business problem that we are trying to solve. In addition, we can only determine the value of analytics if we think about value in terms of risk and reward.


The chart above encapsulates the goal of analytics investment in relation to the value (the desired net return) from the investment.  4CGeoWorks created this chart based on a discussion with Bill Huber, Owner/President of Quantitative Decisions.  Bill and I both strive to guide companies to make good business decisions that are based on good data and solid analytics.  We try to determine where a business falls along the curve and then how to get them to the optimum.

Some companies get lucky.  They spend a moderate amount on analytics and they reap huge rewards.  It is important to remember that there aren’t many companies in this category.  (The probability curve is not in your favor here.)  Getting value from analytics typically takes money and a lot of effort. If a company happens to be lucky in their analytics, then they probably don’t need our services (at least not until Law #9-the Law of Change-kicks in).

There are some companies (mostly very large businesses) that understand the value of analytics and they are willing to spend a lot of money to achieve their goals.  Those who have figured out how to make analytics work for their business have the enviable position of “Everybody Wins!”  Again, the percentage of businesses that fall into this category is likely to be very small.

A survey in 2012 indicated that only about 5% of businesses were using data analytics on a daily basis and considered it to be a core competency despite a majority of businesses using some form of data analytics.  Although that study is several years old, there is no indication that these percentages have changed dramatically. A smaller survey in 2015 of 316 executives of large, global companies found that only 8% of data scientists felt that their use of analytics was “best of breed” despite the fact that 90% of the large companies were using data analytics.

Other large businesses may spend a lot of money, but they don’t get a good return on their investment.  Most likely, they don’t follow the 9 Laws of Data Mining and ensure that the analytics are based upon business knowledge and objectives.  It could be a problem of hiring the wrong people or any number of internal accountability failures that cause the low return on investment.  For many of these companies, they don’t even know they have a problem, so it may be difficult for us to help them. If a company does recognize that they are not getting the best results from their analytics, we can assist in optimizing their approach.

Most small to midsize companies either do not invest in or spend very little on analytics because they don’t fully recognize the value that it could bring to their business.  By only spending a small amount on analytics, the company reduces the risk of a failed analytics project, but as a result they also are likely to derive fewer benefits which may put them at a competitive disadvantage. They could be missing out on returns that far outweigh their investment which would take their business to the next level. A consultant can provide real value for this company in educating them on the potential benefits from analytics and helping them establish best practices to ensure a good return while keeping investments closer to the optimum point.  So, where do you fall on the analytics value chart?

Pattern Seekers: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

HiResLaw #5: “Watkins’ Law” – There are always patterns [i]

First, let’s talk about “The Good.” David Byrne, writing in the introduction to Gareth Cook’s book, The Best American Infographics, 2013, describes the power of the infographic as:

“…an inbuilt ability to manipulate visual metaphors in ways we cannot do with the things and concepts they stand for — to use them as malleable, conceptual Tetris blocks or modeling clay that we can more easily squeeze, stack, and reorder. And then — whammo! — a pattern emerges, and we’ve arrived someplace we would never have gotten by any other means.”

He could just as easily have been talking about the data mining and analytics process, except that the process is much slower and more methodical than the expression “whammo” suggests.[ii]

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