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Navigating a Successful Platform Partnership

Navigating a Successful Platform PartnershipPlatform partnerships are key to many corporate technology strategies. When their different services are integrated, companies are able to reach more customers, deploy new services and harness IT resources more efficiently.

Instore, a software company providing mobile point-of-sale solutions to retail merchants, has been able to grow its customer base through a network of technology partners. For example, Instore partnered with Mercury Payments to offer efficient payment processing out of the box instead of building an entirely new system from scratch.

Matt Niehaus, Instore’s CEO, explained that these kinds of integrations have been invaluable for helping his company meet growing customer demands.

“We get a large amount of requests from our merchant customers to help them grow their business and run more efficiently,” said Niehaus. “Example requests include online ordering, customer rewards, gift cards, and better analytics.”

Instead of building new product features using in-house staff, Niehaus and his team rely on partnerships with vendors to fill the gaps.

“Integration partners allow us to offer more services sooner,” said Niehaus. “We also save on the cost of developing these services, which can be quite large for complex features.”

Ensuring Alignment with Partners

Integration partnerships can be resource intensive and expensive to implement. Before decided to pursue a deal, Niehaus and his team look to ensure that both companies will derive a significant return on investment.

Currently, Niehaus and his team are working on setting up a partnership with an online food delivery service.

“We have an excellent alignment of interest in that both parties benefit quantitatively and qualitatively from the other’s services,” said Niehaus.

To ensure a successful product integration, Niehaus recommends that organizations look for partners with the following characteristics:

  1. They target a similar customer base.
  2. Their product(s) will help your company build its offerings comprehensively and over the long term.
  3. They aren’t a direct competitor and are unlikely to compete with your organization down the road.

While platform partnerships can initially require significant technical and IT resources, such as the need for engineering and customer support personnel, some organizations are now offering integrations through APIs (application programming interfaces), which don’t require the same kind of heavy lifting.

Not Just a Technical Issue

Platform integrations are not just a technical issues, however.

“It’s not enough to connect your technical teams to make the software work together,” said Niehaus. “You need solid interaction with marketing, sales and customer support.”

Indeed, because business considerations drive the partnership, business development and executive teams should be leading the process.

 

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IT Pros: 4 Tech Trends to Follow

IT Professionals in 2014Neither time nor technology stand still for IT professionals. To effectively support the business, IT leaders must be not only on top of the latest trends, but also ready to execute on them in the context of strategic business plans. According to interviews with IT pros, the following trends are among the most important to follow in the new year.

1. Data science

According to a Harvard Business Review report from Thomas H. Davenport and D.J. Patil, data science is not only important, it’s the sexiest job of the 21st century. “[Data scientists'] sudden appearance on the business scene reflects the fact that companies are now wrestling with information that comes in varieties and volumes never encountered before,” wrote Davenport and Patil.

Companies will be competing for what is currently a relatively small number of qualified data scientists, and IT leaders must join in supporting the big data drive by developing expertise in the products and services that can help their organizations turn disparate data points into actionable insights that drive revenue and inform cost.

“Much of the current enthusiasm for big data focuses on technologies that make taming it possible, including Hadoop (the most widely used framework for distributed file system processing) and related open-source tools, cloud computing, and data visualization,” noted Davenport and Patil in the Harvard Business Review report.

2. Wearable fitness devices

Wearable fitness devices like Fitbit help consumers take care of their health by tracking daily activity and calories burned. “Wearers can get real-time tracking of their actions,” said Dave Wakeman, a technology consultant.

These devices generate a wealth of data that people can use to inform their lifestyle choices–and, with permission, that organizations can use to inform decisions about new product and service offerings.

Wearable technology positions data as a tool to enrich consumers’ lives. Companies can use data from wearable devices to perform comprehensive, individual-level analyses of fitness. This information can be used, for example, by health-based organizations to design more effective products and solutions for their customers.

IT leaders can help ensure that this information is stored and used efficiently and effectively–and safely.

3. Cloud apps and services

Small-business owners are typically challenged in the areas of personnel and financial resources. Cloud apps help level the playing field, giving small businesses access to seemingly infinite resources.

Indeed, cloud apps help democratize computing power for organizations of all sizes, from individual consultants to large enterprise brands.

“It’s awesome to see small-business owners using cloud apps and services to leverage enterprise power at a fraction of the cost,” said Gabriel Mays, founder at Just Add Content.

To ensure that companies are getting what they need–and what they are paying for–IT pros will need to become savvy in the art of contracting and developing service-level agreements (SLAs).

4. Socially enabled business processes

Social media is a power tool that can help businesses harness the power of referrals and human-to-human relationships.

“For example, within recruiting, a number of advancements are available whereby a business can see enhanced by integrating with social channels for awareness building, candidate research and position postings,” said Chris Curran, chief technologist at PwC.

Much of the activity around social media typically comes from the business side, and IT pros should be working with business leaders to develop policy around social–to ensure that the platform is being used within the company’s overall technology guidelines and in accordance with any relevant regulatory mandates.

Final thoughts

The trends named in this piece are on one level very diverse and on another very connected–with the common thread being the data emanating from today’s modern computing systems. Focusing on these trends–and looking for new opportunities to apply big data–will help IT professionals effectively support the business in the new year.

 

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6 Best Practices for Storytelling Through Data

Tell Your Story With DataData science is a discipline in which art meets science. Quantitative best practices are only part of your project’s analytical framework. At the end of the day, numbers need to tell stories that appeal to a wide audience.

“When telling stories through the data, you need to be able to place yourself in the shoes of the listener,” said Matti Aksela, vice president of business analytics at Comptel, a company that automates customer interactions. “In many cases, that is someone without your own knowledge of the statics, models and underlying assumptions.”

Keeping a balance among stories, data integrity and results is a mission-critical task for businesses and department groups of all sizes. Whether you’re running a marketing team, small business, or engineering team, you need to make sure that you tell a quantitative story that connects with a range of audiences.

“Think about a really classy restaurant,” said Aksela. “Will they serve their food just thrown onto the plate?”

Indeed, presentation is key. When telling a story through data, it’s important to have an idea of where you’re headed in terms of your messaging, flow and most valuable takeaways, say experts. This can be especially challenging for SMBs, with limited time and staff, but the following best practices will serve as a guide:

1. Jump into your research with a blank slate

As tempting as it is to seek out “shocking findings” in your data, remember that you are, first and foremost, a scientist. Data-driven stories will unfold through objective analysis. If you’re fishing for information, you may miss out on a story that hasn’t yet been told–something that an open mind can help you uncover.

2. “Read” between the data lines

If you’re building a regression model, test the impact of adding one or two additional variables. Come up with a hypothesis that you hadn’t yet considered. Test it. Measure it as part of your analytical framework.

Some of the most engaging stories are ones that aren’t obvious. Keep your eyes peeled for a new spin on an old topic. Instead of telling the same story over and over, seek out nuances in your data.

3. Incorporate multiple storytelling mediums

People process information differently. Some prefer visual tools like infographics. Others thrive on podcasts and lectures. Hands-on demonstrations are also valuable for teaching core concepts. Make sure that your messaging appeals to a range of learning types.

4. Validate your findings

This concept sounds more complicated than it actually is. In a nutshell, “validation” means testing your numbers against common sense. Can you reasonably explain the trends that you’re finding? Can you come up with an alternative explanation? Talk through your logic, trying to anticipate any and all possible counter arguments.

Where oh Where is the World's Data Being Stored

Data is important when telling your story. We’re generating more and more data each day. Do you know where it’s all being stored? Find out in our “Where oh Where Is the World’s Data Being Stored” infographic.

5. Look for confounders

Confounders are “hidden” variables that affect both the causes and effects in your analysis. For example, you may think that a hard drive failure caused a system failure when, in reality, the two were not related at all. There could have been a virus (the confounder) that caused both to fail independently of one another. Don’t assume that correlation is causation, and always look for alternate outcomes in your results.

6. Put faces to the numbers

People are the heart of great storytelling. Include real-life narratives to make your findings as tangible and human-interest-driven as possible. Your job as a storyteller is to make people care.

 

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