19 posts categorized " Orchestrating Cloud Solutions"

12/09/2018

Wild Apricot, Condo Residents and their Electrical Vehicles (EVs)

Over the last 60+ years, the internal combustion engine (ICE) automobile has seen a dramatic rise around the world. Every year there are more cars produced, and that trend is towards one car for every person in the world. Since the 1950s, the number of automobiles has considerably increased, especially in developed countries. This trend has caused a significant reduction in the number of people per automobile, from 48.2 in 1950 to 9.7 in 2010. There are consequently more vehicles per person, which is a good indicator of potential mobility. Even though an automobile is an expensive product, second to only housing, the penetration of vehicle use around the world is astounding.

Vehicle Use Indicators 1950-2016

Vehicle Use Indicators 1950-2016, courtesy of Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Dept of Global Studies & Geography Hofstra University

 

Internal combustion engine powered cars (ICE) emit CO2 and are not very environmentally friendly. A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year. ICE cars also are also more expensive to maintain. And it appears we are not, on average, travelling more than about 12,000 miles per year in cars. The world's automobile utilization has leveled off at about 1,000 miles per month on average, or about 30 miles per day.  Peak mobility has been reached, especially in the US. It appears we are ready for a transformation in the use of vehicles. We are not using them that much, and traveling by car more than 30 miles per trip is an exception rather than the rule, with a vast majority of our trips taking less than 30 miles.

And guess what? It takes on average  30 minutes on 240V chargers to power a car to go about 30 miles -- not that long if you think about it. All things considered, we can safely make the change now, as EV chargers continue to be deployed in earnest across North America. we will save money  in the long term and help reduce emissions with a transformation to EV cars. All it takes is a one time infrastructure investment, and it turns out the places where EV transformation is happening fastest are urban centres, and in particular condominiums.

Recently we encountered a very interesting use case with one of our Wild Apricot customers: a condominium using Wild Apricot as a resident management system. The condo told us that there are 4 or 5 electric vehicles among the 250 units, and the EV owners would like to setup charging stations in the garage. This presents a variety of questions that the board to this point has not been able to address:

  1. Can the electrical system of the condominium support the concurrent charging of several EVs? How about 50 of them? Or several hundred EVs?
  2. How are charging stations deployed? Does the condominium invest in them for all residents or do they rough in parking spots for EV charger installations for future use? Or do they let owners invest in their own stations willy-nilly?
  3. How does the condo manage the electrical use and recover the costs of the electricity and capital expenses?

In general, it seems like a large risk that most have to evaluate sooner or later. The concentration of EV cars in Toronto has increased dramatically in 2018,  and property managers and board of directors are searching for solutions.

SWTCH-Deck_Page_02
Canadian EV adoption since 2011 by quarter, courtesy of Swtch.com


We think we have one, which is not only friendly and affordable but also very easy to deploy! We have started to build an integration with SWTCHEV.COM - a charging station integration partner who focuses on condominiums in Toronto. They have tied up with electrical contractor Pacific Light & Energy to create a cost-effective and easy to deploy solution for charging stations. And in turn, we have created an integration with Wild Apricot to display various information about your car. The benefits of the solution are many:

  1. Condo residents with EV cars can benefit from an effective 0.10 to 0.20 c per liter of gasoline, a dramatic decrease in the operating cost of a vehicle. This useful calculator will calculate your savings on many popular EV cars on the market today. On average you can expect $700 in fuel savings per year but it really does depend on how much you drive and the cost of gasoline. The more of a gas-guzzler you drive today (or more stop and go urban driving you do), the more savings you can expect. Savings can exceed $1000 per year.
  2. The condo board is able to recoup costs of installed chargers by charging a fixed per-hour fee for charging. Level 2 240V/32A chargers span between $1,000 and $20,000 per charger, with the average charger costing about $4,000-$6,000 installed. Most EV cars can charge a battery from empty in as little as 4 hours, with plugin hybrids taking as little as 1 hour.
  3. The SWTCH chargers are able to manage the load of multiple cars charging without needing to install new transformers or retrofitting the electrical system of the condominium.
  4. The deployment can be both shared (in visitor spaces, for example) as well as dedicated for every parking space and be rolled out in phases.
  5. Condominium property managers are able to comply to Ontario Regulation 48/01 (Operation Part IV) that established a new process for obtaining approval to install electrical vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) in condominium buildings.  As of January 1, 2018 the Ontario Building Code require 20% of inside parking spaces in covered buildings to have EVSE installed, with the remainder of inside space be EVSE-ready.
  6. Most importantly, EV and hybrid EV cars are better for the environment!

We are investing in integrating Wild Apricot to support the ability to integrate a SWTCH account with your resident management system. Once logged in to the Wild Apricot portal you will have easy access to check your bill, pay through one website and reserve a charging station if so equipped.

It can look something like this once you connect your SWTCH ID to your account on Wild Apricot. If you want to know more, get in touch.

Condo home page

11/19/2018

Introducing the Wild Apricot Text Manager

Wild Apricot Text Manager logo
Wild Apricot Text Manager

 Wild Apricot allows any content gadgets to be edited by a website administrator. When placing your cursor over a content gadget you can see the option to edit, like below:

Content editor

However, many gadgets in the System Pages are marked as (System) and do not allow editing whatsoever:

System gadget

Now it is possible to change the text on form labels and buttons inside these System gadgets. You can also publish Wild Apricot websites in 2 languages!

The Wild Apricot Text Manager (WATM) is a simple to configure JavaScript library that levers the jQuery library already included with every Wild Apricot website. WATM will help any administrator manage and replace nearly every piece of system text in Wild Apricot. You can also use it to change CSS for any class or ID. WATM can be used optionally to enable 2 language Wild Apricot websites without needing to create any additional site pages or page templates. A list of replaceable elements is included in the easy-to-edit Excel configuration file. You can make a variety of changes such as global search and replace, modifying form labels and buttons, changing CSS properties on any class or ID and hiding certain labels or buttons altogether.

The configuration for the Wild Apricot Text manager is made inside a comma separated configuration file which can be edited in Microsoft Excel or another text editor. To activate WATM, a few lines need to be added to Wild Apricot’s Global Javascript. You will also need  to edit and upload  the WATM configuration file which includes the text edits and translations. The full WATM package is added to your site using Wild Apricot’s website Files manager.

Support for WATM is available by getting in touch.

 Download Wild Apricot Text Manager

 

Version History

0.1 - Initial Release 11/19/18

0.2 - Added support for many more system flags, added French translation into CSV configuration file, changed testing button toggle label 11/27/18

0.3 - Added support for adding a style, added several more system labels, added support for limiting the language toggle display "flicker" 12/5/18

0.4 - Added support for effective primary menu design changes, added support to override any CSS class or ID 12/13/18

08/14/2018

Why You Should Use Wild Apricot Payments - Powered by Affinipay

2C4FBE9A-5399-4A6A-91C8-5BA9C979B044 image from d2de4os9heh93v.cloudfront.netWild Apricot Payments, powered by Affinipay, is now the preferred payment vendor in Wild Apricot. In this article we will use Wild Apricot Payments and Affinipay interchangeably. The main features of Wild Apricot Payments are:

  • No monthly fee, no startup fee
  • A standard 2.9% + $.30 per transaction fee, collected in the standard currency of the account (CAD or USD)
  • Payments are transferred to directly your bank account within 48 hours.
  • When members check out they stay on your site, rather than leaving your site (eg PayPal Standard forces you to PayPal.com).
  • Recurring payments (aka scheduled payments) are supported.
  • There are a variety of financial reports that are available.
  • Wild Apricot provides integrated one-stop support for the product and the payment gateway.
  • Currently, only US and Canada residents can apply for a Wild Apricot Payments account in USD or CAD currencies.

As of October 1, 2018 only 4 payment gateways will remain -- Wild Apricot Payments, various PayPal flavours, Stripe and Authorize.net. Our informed opinion is simple:

Wild Apricot customers should all consider moving to Wild Apricot Payments, the preferred payment gateway, as soon as possible.

We forecast that support for all other payment gateways will be discouraged and eventually Wild Apricot Payment gateway will be the only supported online payment mechanism.

Many Software as a Service products that offer financial support (eg online invoicing systems) are amalgamating support around 1 payment gateway due to the nature of the evolving markets and availability of specialized gateways like Affinipay. Wild Apricot has created not only a technical relationship with Affinipay, but a financial one as well. Affinipay incents Wild Apricot financially to use them as a gateway, and that helps Wild Apricot to continue to keep software subscription costs down. When using any other payment gateway, Wild Apricot does not get any financial incentives. With Affinipay, this changes forever as Wild Apricot receives a commission based on the volume of transactions that flow from Wild Apricot to Affinipay. In effect the more online transactions you pass through Wild Apricot Payments on your Wild Apricot website, the more money flows to Wild Apricot effectively subsidizing your monthly Wild Apricot fee -- without costing you, the customer, one extra cent!

As a Wild Apricot customer, this only benefits you because not only can Wild Apricot focus on supporting just 1 payment gateway, but they can use the added revenue to create new features and benefits while working to keep the price of Wild Apricot low. This is smart business strategy, but it does create some uncertainty for current customers. We hope you will reach out to NewPath Consulting to assuage those fears and prepare to migrate your payment gateway when you are ready.

The Good

  • USD accounts can be setup in 2-3 days using a simple onboarding form
  • Affinipay has an easy to use and secure dashboard
  • You can send requests for payment (called Quick Bill) by email, and your customers can pay right from the email. This is an alternative of paying for an invoice directly from Wild Apricot.
  • You can also  charge credit cards on the fly using the virtual terminal feature
  • You can make same day voids and refunds up to 6 months after the transaction
  • Deposits happen daily - available in your bank account within 1-2 business days

     

Affinipay Dashboard
Test Mode Dashboard
Wild Apricot Payements Quick Charge Page
Wild Apricot Payments Quick Charge Page

 

Not so good

  • The Affinipay account setup for CAD accounts for Canadian customers requires some paper shuffling and is manual for now. I have assurances that this will improve eventually. For now NewPath can help CAD customers get up and running with a fancy form we are developing. Stay tuned!
  • Currently First Data Canada is the payment processor for CAD accounts and they can be somewhat bureaucratic for account setup. Hopefully this will change eventually without affecting existing or new CAD customers.
  • For now the payment information collection is still done on a separate Wild Apricot payments page (payments.wildapricot.com). This is not ideal because setting up conversion and goal tracking is hard to do on a page you do not control. I am told this is required for PCI DSS compliance.
  • There is currently no support for Interac transfers or debit cards.

02/12/2018

VIDEO: Using the Wild Apricot Sample Excel Spreadsheet

There is an alternative way to export all membership fields, contacts and members from Wild Apricot directly into Excel. Wild Apricot has created an Excel spreadsheet that access the Wild Apricot API to extract any piece of information from the Wild Apricot database. Currently the Excel spreadsheet only provides you instant access to the membership fields and all contacts and members. Check out the video below on how to configure and use this spreadsheet.

NOTE: The current documentation points to an older version. Here's the latest version from Wild Apricot's github repository.

02/01/2018

Delighting Customers With a Digital Workplace

Customer-first-© iQoncept-Fotolia_70871759_XS

At NewPath we like to ask this core question: What's the most important thing to a small business owner?

Your business idea, you say? An idea is great. But without customers, it really is just an idea. And the value of an idea is related directly to the ability to bring the idea successfully to customers. The better you execute, the better the idea.

Time, then? Time is an important aspect of running a business, but we all have the same amount of time. Without customers, you just have a lot of time on your hands.

Money? It has to be money! Money is important, no doubt. But happy customers pay you for your services or product. Money on its own won't grow without value being delivered to customers.

So what IS the most important thing for small business success? Your customer! A customer is by far the most important objective for a small business owner. Happy customers will pay money for your idea and tell you when they'd like it delivered. Businesses increase their chance of success when customers are the MOST important thing.

Customer-oriented technology - a case study

So what does the customer have to do with building a digital workplace? Everything! Today, people are changing how they find valuable information, and they’re looking for help to prioritize what steps they take to run a business.

Therefore, your digital workplace should be set up in a way that you’re providing this kind of information (online content), in a way that your prospective customers can find it (and you). The pre-sales and post-sales process has changed so that customers are doing more research long before they may ever interact with you directly.

Yet there’s a natural tension between putting technology in front of your processes and being truly customer focused. That’s why when choosing the right technology solutions for your business, it’s important to discern when your technology will enhance your customer relationships, and when it will get in their way.

For example, we mentioned a customer in our last newsletter who is working on becoming digital workplace in a customer-focused way. They are trying to automate a process that is very cumbersome and complex for their patients.

When a client needs a medical test, they need to fill out forms through a paper clerical process that involves a staff member to select the right form so the patient can fill them out by hand. Different information is needed for different tests, different forms are needed for different insurance companies, and patients also want to identify the best price for the tests they need.

As you can probably tell, this is all very time-consuming and means the clinic can only serve a limited number of patients. The system NewPath designed routes data to the necessary forms depending on which insurance they have, and generates an editable PDF for the clinic that can be digitally processed or uploaded to the clinic website.

The whole thing takes far less time, and is more accurate. Automating this data collection for the customer, and automatically generating the right set of forms depending on the condition is much more customer-friendly.

In this example of digital workplace transformation, our customer was looking at what the customer values. They understood how painful it was for their patients to look for and fill out all the different requisitions, and investigate which clinics took their insurance, etc. This process ensures the right information is sent to the right place, helping their client navigate a very complex healthcare system.

These technology solutions will also help our client scale their business and talk to more patients. We’ll talk more about the specifics of this project in a future article. If you’re curious about the tools we used, click these links to learn more about Formstack and WebMerge.

Delighting customers

In a digital workplace, a business uses cloud-based technology to deliver value to customers, ensure customer success, and manage their resources. They also use technology to help deliver their value proposition consistently, delighting customers and attracting prospects through digital marketing.

Let’s take a deeper look at these last three areas, beginning with consistent value proposition delivery. Right now, clients may have a different experience depending on how they interact with your business, and with whom, and also how you portray your business value, products and services.

When you use technology, you’re taking processes that are malleable and flexible, and creating an interface where clients can consistently get the same high level of service. For example, At NewPath we prefer to talk to our customers in short meetings on a regular basis to work through the issues in our projects, so we’ve created a consistent method to achieve this.

When customers want to book time with our director Alex Sirota, they access his online booking calendar, powered by Appointlet. Instead of having to go back and forth by email to find a mutually convenient time, Alex presents a digital interface that allows customers to choose a time that will work for both.

There are a consistent set of steps that occur every time they schedule a meeting. They choose their time zone, type of meeting, and preferred location (these preferences can be saved for future bookings).

Once they select a time, the underlying technology springs into action. The customer receives a confirmation with a calendar invite and a reminder before the meeting, all of which is totally automated and personalized.

Now let’s talk about the opposite of delighting customers, by using a not-so-delightful example we can all relate to: the automated phone system. You’re having an issue with one of your vendors so you dial customer service, and then various phone cues tell you which number to press for certain outcomes.

In the past we would have connected with a human voice, “How may I help you?” and that person would triage your call manually and connect you with the right person who could solve your problem. Today, customers are forced to do that routing ourselves, but if our problem doesn’t fit neatly into one of the options, it can be extremely frustrating.

So while these automated phone systems certainly make for a consistent experience, it’s definitely not delighting customers. Now with new advances in automation and artificial intelligence, there are some phone systems that you can speak to with natural phrases and it can translate those into its set menu items. In other cases, the system will identify your phone number and recognize you as a current customer to route your call accordingly. These are all steps in the right direction.

Another way companies are using digital to delight customers is by providing support via social media. They know customers are there already, and this may be the first place they go to talk about a problem they’re having with a company, product or service.

Some companies provide comprehensive social media groups on Facebook, online support materials or forums, which can be cost-saving as well. Others offer instant chat, or the option to have someone call you back instead of waiting on hold.

At NewPath one way we try to delight customers is with our customized video training sessions. Why not just send them to the support articles at Wild Apricot or our other vendors? The difference is that we train them on a particular sequence of things they need to know to reach their specific goals.

We also record these training sessions so our customers can review them later. We know that after the session when they try to replicate the steps, they may run into a bump or two. With the recording, they can re-watch the lesson as many times as they need to. Of course we’re always here for questions, but this empowers our customers to do more on their own and they tell us this is much appreciated.

We think there is a huge opportunity for service-based companies to do more video-based collaboration, training and support. It’s a way to delight customers, and can also save costs and time for you both.

Lastly, let’s look at attracting prospects through digital marketing. We find that the best way to do that is through content marketing and through building relationships with vendors that recommend our service.

How does being a digital workplace support your ability to distribute content? The first way is that you need to have a website built so that it allows you to categorize, structure, and publish content in a way that is optimized for the search engines. The second way is through email marketing, where you build a prospect list and keep in touch on a regular basis. We’ll talk about each of  these marketing efforts/tasks in detail in future articles.

Customer first, digital second

At NewPath we interact with customers primarily between email and
Zoom, and sometimes by phone. Internally, we use another channel called Slack that allows us to structure conversations around different customers and projects, but we haven’t given our customers access to that channel. We don’t want to superimpose our way of doing things onto our customers. If they hear about Slack and are interested, we will let them into Slack, but until then we’ll keep using the support channels our customers are used to.

Cloud

We think there is a place for digital transformation in every single part of your business: sales, accounting marketing, operations, HR, and client management. The caveat is that the transformation should be customer focused, not just an excuse to use an interesting digital tool. That’s why we suggest testing new solutions first with a subset of your customers, figuring out what really resonates and delivers value they have not experienced with anyone else.

If you have any questions about your own company’s digital transformation, feel free to get in touch, particularly around the implementation phase. We specialize in helping small businesses prioritize their digital transformation projects, and select and implement the right tools for the job.

12/07/2017

How to Get Ahead in 2018 - An Interactive Guide for SMBs

How to Get Ahead 2018 - title slideThis month we have something very special for small business owners and their employees. The crack marketing and sales team at NewPath Consulting are thrilled to present our special small business guide, How to Get Ahead in 2018. We have pulled together industry experts, knowledge from our many years of experience in the field, and culled a collection of our best posts from 2017 into a 20+ page electronic book, available for download for our website visitors.

How to Get Ahead in 2018 is an interactive guide you can access online or download to your computer to learn our best insights, suggestions, quizzes, tips, and links. It includes a model of what we think small business owners need to do to be successful in 2018 - namely, 5 core business capabilities that are subdivided into several subtopics. We believe SMB owners must either acquire these skills or outsource to web professionals like NewPath Consulting.

Using online services and technologies is not enough. For your business to truly become a digital workplace, you must continue to upgrade these skills and be continually more proficient in attracting and serving your customers online. And we’re here to help.

We wrote this book for businesses that have been on the forefront of technology at times but are finding it hard to keep up, and for those that have shied away completely. Practices that worked even one year ago have been surpassed by new and different approaches. In this guide we give you the basics of what you need to know and do in order to keep ahead of the competition.

We started with actual business basics - not technology. What does every business, regardless of size need to do? We think it's:

  • Understand your business and your business model
  • Attract and connect with prospects online to build an effective sales funnel
  • Nurture customer relationships and build brand loyalty
  • Implement services to collect and analyse business performance

So with these goals in mind, we’ve outlined 15 simple, concrete steps for becoming a digital workplace, and link you to our favourite cloud-enabled technologies for each tip. You’ll know exactly what to do, and the tools you need to do it.

We’ll take you through a process that starts with a solid foundation - your business model - and builds a solid online presence that makes you available to customers and prospective customers 24/7. We also teach you the many ways you can automate your sales and marketing so you can focus more on your customers.

10/30/2017

Data Pipelines to the Rescue: Building modern analytics platforms

This article was originally published on the ChiefMartec blog. Alex Sirota from NewPath Consulting wrote the article as an entry into The Hackies essay contest for the Spring 2017 MarTech conference in San Francisco. It has been slightly updated with new information available as of October 2017 including new research on new data pipeline vendors.

 

In Out of the Crisis, page 121, Dr. Edward Deming states:

The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable, but successful management must nevertheless take account of them.

Deming realized that many important things, that must be managed, cannot be measured. You can’t measure everything important to management, and yet you must still manage those important things. But figuring out what is important to measure, and effectively doing so is as painful today as ever. Effective digital transformation depends on measuring the things important to your customers, not to just your executive management and staff.

Fundamentally changing a business strategy requires some difficult and controversial choices. How can we make effective decisions in a world of constant noise and disruption? We need to observe and measure what customers and organization staff actually do, not what their biases dictate.

Data Access is Sacrosanct

Today, most key business performance data is stored in structured and unstructured formats on internally-managed infrastructure. The most important decisions are made using information stored in spreadsheets, presentations and in various proprietary data formats designed to keep data secure and inaccessible by most staff.

Data access is sacrosanct and business users have to go through a set of data priests guarding information fiefdoms to get it. If you want to see an integrated view of all business metrics, you have to build a “Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Dashboard.”

Been There, Done That: Excel Dashboard Hell

The creation of the KPI dashboard involves blessing from IT and buy-in from the business owners of the data. All are involved in a massive project to export, transform and load data (ETL) into a data warehouse.

These projects are expensive, and only the companies with large resources can undertake this strategic but critical work. Production enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, marketing and sales systems (e.g. CRM), financial and accounting systems, and customer service systems feed a data warehouse that theoretically will provide a complete picture of overall business health.

The dashboard, usually fed from other underlying intermediate data sources, informs the CEO accountable to a “bottom line” and controlled by the CFO who reports financial results. Downstream individual lines of business use more granular dashboards to understand various revenue and cost drivers to respond to pressures and take advantage of opportunities.

When successful, these projects can predict when a business model is working and provide insight to strategic decisions.

Most of the time though, these projects are departmental, designed by sales, marketing or operational teams. To collect the data across an enterprise, spreadsheets become the lingua franca, usually out of date, maintained by business owners and their Excel-minions. The data in a spreadsheet is usually laced with bias from the people who supply the data. Or worse, they are laden with inaccuracies or incompleteness due to the various transformations and inadequacies of the underlying data warehouse.

Cloud-enabled Microservices Transform Business Intelligence

As business applications move into the cloud, so too does the data that needs to be analyzed. But with the disaggregation of IT services around business capabilities into hundreds or even thousands of cloud “microservices” what does the data challenge begin to look like?

It looks absolutely terrifying and chaotic.

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

The “Era of the Cloud” (diagram from Matt Miller of Sequoia Capital) has a critical feature that makes sense of the potential chaos: each service has an underlying data model that is abstracted by an easily accessible API.

Because APIs are a critical component of integration between cloud services, they are also a ready made data tap for a modern cloud-enabled data warehouse. In fact the quality and stability of the API, and the ability to get direct access to transactional, non-summarized data is a differentiation point when selecting cloud services.

A new type of data is commonly also available — “meta data” that measures every transaction whether it be an anonymous click on a website or even the usage and telemetry data from an application user interface. Cloud services collect an extraordinary amount of data, much of it collected as “exhaust” data and recorded by computers rather than forgotten by people. This new type of data, stored for of pennies per terabyte, can point to performance indicators that have never been available before.

Answering Two Holy Grail Business Questions

  • How do you identify your most profitable customers and segments?
  • How do you attract more customers like them?

These two questions sum up the “bottom line” of most business models. Yet many businesses, large or small, are not positioned to answer them. They rarely have the necessary analytics in place to inform a decision maker whether or not their current business strategy is working or where improvements are in order.

Until recently, answering these type of questions could be prohibitively expensive and maybe even impossible. But keep these two questions in mind as we build an enterprise running entirely on API-enabled cloud services using a “data pipeline” and pose a set of underlying intermediate questions than can inform the answers to our two core questions.

  1. How much revenue do we generate by customer segment? How much cost do we have by each customer segment? How quickly can we analyze different segments of our customers? (Source: financial + CRM)
  2. What is our advertising ROI by channel? (Source: web and ad analytics, including external vendor)
  3. Are our customer success efforts affecting our churn rate? Can we optimize our customer support efforts? (Source: customer support + web application analytics)
  4. Are our sales people talking to the right target customer? Are there other prospects we are missing? (Source: CRM + marketing)
  5. How effective are our staff at innovation? How quickly can staff ramp up to be effective after hiring? How are they learning on the job? (Source: is there a system for this at all in organizations?)

We will need to centralize these data sources so that our business intelligence tool can draw from one aggregate pool of data that’s consistently updated. We will also need to automatically maintain a data dictionary and identify common identifiers shared between systems (e.g., an email address to identify a customer between pre- and post-sales systems).

Cloud Enabled Business Intelligence State of the Art

At NewPath Consulting we have researched the creation of cloud-based business dashboards since 2014. Cloud-based systems each have their own data silos, as illustrated below:

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

Each cloud-based system has its own way of doing data analysis, usually very limited. In many ways, the cloud-based data problem is a lot more complex, because the proliferation of data silos is even more intense in the cloud than it was when data resided in several, on-premise proprietary systems and documents repositories.

The saving grace to the cloud data problem is two-fold:

  1. All cloud applications are designed with a REST API, that allows the programmatic, real-time extraction of data.
  2. A new breed of data pipeline and visualization companies have developed highly effective tools democratizing data access and analysis.

Creating the Cloud-Enabled Data Warehouse

The following graphic from a Looker and RJ Metrics presentation illustrates several technical challenges of data integration common to all cloud data warehousing projects:

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

Web traffic, distribution and online goal data can be managed in Google Analytics for example, but what about transactional data? How do you manage the data about the journey from an anonymous prospect to a long-term, profitable customer? And how could a business determine if a customer is profitable if measures of profitability have to come from multiple systems?

This is the core business problem in any business intelligence system — creating the necessary underlying relationships between various data sets.

At NewPath Consulting, customer profitability is dictated by:

  1. Cost of customer acquisition
  2. Number of customer service requests
  3. Number and length of longer term implementation or maintenance projects
  4. Underlying software and human resources needed to service those requests

The data to support these indicators post-sales can be tied together between systems easily: the email address(es) that the customer uses across multiple operational cloud services. In a pre-sales scenario we must count in aggregate, but customers decloak from anonymity with a direct interaction by phone or email or some other traceable identifier such as a web cookie or customer ID.

Data Pipelines to the Rescue

New tools such as StitchAloomaXplenty, ETLeap and Fivetran and even open-source solutions allow real-time “copy and paste” and “synchronize” of multiple cloud data sources into a cloud data warehouse, so it can be manipulated and visualized in many ways. Tools like Alooma and Xplenty enable data transformation services as well. Since writing this article, Stitch has launched an open-source project called Singer that enables the creation of "data taps" for many SaaS platforms. This well-written and researched August 2017 article from Mode Analytics details differences and evaluation criteria for data pipeline tools.

Visualization tools like Looker coupled with data pipelines make the building of a data warehouse a snap. Even G Suite add-ons such as Supermetrics can populate a Google Sheet to create a DIY cloud business intelligence system for SMBs.

NewPath Consulting has started to put together a content marketing dashboard using Google Analytics data to analyze daily, monthly and yearly trends in our content marketing efforts. We have also integrated our billing system into a steady stream of expense and customer payment data.

It is a satisfying experience to spin up a fully configured data warehouse in the cloud with a few clicks and in minutes start pumping raw data from multiple cloud sources manipulated through tried and true object/relational techniques.

Here’s an illustration of how these new data pipeline tools enable a totally new degree of analysis composed of a myriad of cloud-based data sources:

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

In addition to providing fantastic visualization and reporting functionality, modern business intelligence tools often have a modeling layer as well that allows users to perform joins/transformations as needed.

Unlike in traditional ETL (extract, transform and load) systems, transformation is performed after the loading step (i.e., ELT — extract, load, then transform). The benefit is that the end-users — the ones who primarily work with the data — have a lot more power and access to raw data, and don’t have to depend on IT to accomplish the analysis they need.

Four Business Intelligence Futures

So where do we go from here? We believe there are four innovations on the horizon for businesses and the people that operate them:

Data citizens, unite. The democratization of cloud-based raw data, delivered through the immense compute and storage capability of cloud data warehouses like AWS Redshift will open up access to users beyond data scientists. Business users will become data citizens and end the reign of data priests and information fiefdoms.

Unlimited access to raw, unfiltered customer-oriented data. The transformation from an ETL to an ELT model will enable direct access not only to summarized data (e.g., Google Analytics dimensions and metrics) but also to customer behavioral and transactional data as well as exhaust “meta data.”

Business model canvas-on-steroids. The metrics to measure each part of a business model can be evidence based (rather than assumptive or intuitive), supported with key performance indicators, summarized in real-time from hundreds of disparate cloud based data sources.

The cloud-enabled business advisor. Imagine the ultimate solution to the CEO’s job of making better business decisions: a cloud-enabled, AI-powered advisor. When will an intelligent, virtual business advisor begin to whisper into the CEO’s ear with recommendations around potential acquisitions, resource reallocations, pricing adjustments, and structural reorganizations?

If you want to be kept up to date on this project, please let us know, and we’ll put you on a notification list.

09/28/2017

Building an alumni club fundraising and communications platform with WordPress

UMACT Horizontal logo
When I became the president of my alma mater's alumni club in Toronto, I reviewed other University of Michigan alumni club websites around the world.  Currently UM alumni club websites are plain-looking, cookie-cutter sites that don't feature the flavours and feel of each community nor do they let each club easily fundraise and collect detailed information about their members. I started the UM Alumni Club of Toronto (UMACT) in 2011 and  quickly experienced the pain  alumni leaders have when they start clubs -- no money and a list of zero members to work with. 6 years later the club is has over 500 on our mailing list, and we're aiming to have 1000 members in our membership list by end of 2018. We hope to have at least 50% of Canadian UM alums on our mailing list with the help of our technology platform.
 
Each alumni club has an obligation to communicate with their members through a well-maintained membership list on a well-designed online fundraising platform. We chose WordPress to build our platform and were pleasantly surprised by the flexibility and power of the platform. The UMACT had the privilege of hosting two LSA Opportunity Hub/Global Internship interns, Reis Becker and Olivia Varnado. Reis and Olivia built the UMACT fundraising and communications platform over the summer with a bit of guidance and direction from Alex Sirota, director at NewPath Consulting.
 
 
The benefits of the resulting platform are truly amazing:
 
 
The features we've implemented:
 
  • The homepage can be used to feature any UMACT photos and events, as well as a call to action to create a UMACT member profile.
  • Visitors can view UM alumni member profiles under the 'Member directory' page, where approved UMACT members can display their photos and information. Contact information is protected and can only be viewed by other approved UMACT members.

  • Members can choose to hide their profile but still allow the club to maintain their information. Each member has a username/password to update their information directly with the club.

  • The 'Connect' page lists our social media platforms and contains a contact form which can be used to contact UMACT directly via email. 

  • The 'Blog' page will feature newsletters as they are published and other news. These can be pushed to social media channels automatically. We are exploring ways to push automatic notifications to WeChat and other app platforms.

  • The 'Events' page displays all upcoming club events and supports online registration forms.

  • The 'Donate & Shop' page can be used to make online donations to UMACT, and features merchandise like t-shirts and other UM memorabilia. WordPress has a full ecommerce system with support for inventory, backorders, and supports multiple currencies.

  • Each member can be assigned a role (like 'board members') to enable select access to pages exclusively for board members. When you login as a board member you get access just to the pages and file you need.
 
Here is a list of free plugins we used to build our UM alumni club fundraising and communications platform. All these plugins can be extended with commercial 'add-ons.'
 
  • Ultimate Member - membership management, member directories, integration for protected access to sections of site and dynamic menus

  • Mail Poet - email marketing, supports template and dynamic content from the WordPress database (automatic event calendar in emails for example, or latest posts)
     
  • WooCommerce (for ecommerce) - can be used to sell just about anything including keeping inventory, and you can have special items available only for members
     
  • The Event Calendar - event calendar management, categorization of events, premium ticketing features
     
  • Ninja Forms - custom forms to enable surveys, event registrations and other data collection functions
  • Duplicate Posts - A very handy feature is being able to "clone" any page, post, product, event, venue or really any other "post type" in WordPress. This makes it easy to create template content that can be modified quickly. (Editor: Added this plugin on Feb 7 2018)
 
If you'd like to know more about how we accomplished all this for free this summer with the help of a couple of UM LSA interns please get in touch and I'd be happy to share our efforts. We even have administrative documentation you can use and adapt/translate for your needs as website administrators. I look forward to talking with you soon.

09/05/2017

How and When to Choose the Right Software Solutions For Your Business

Digital Workplace Infographic Final - reduced

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on digital workplace transformation. Part 1 and Part 2 are also available on this website.

There’s a problem with how most small businesses choose their technology solutions, and we see it far too often. First the owner or manager purchases a product that solves a particular perceived pain or problem. Then they try to make it work within their existing business model and organizational structure. We feel that this approach is backwards, and your business ends up not getting the real value from the tools you choose. It’s not the technology that small businesses need first, but rather core knowledge and capabilities in the areas of business, market, content marketing, design/usability and implementation.

Ideally, you should know the key activities that will expand and sustain your business, and the key resources you’ll need to execute those key activities. In the Business Model Canvas (the one-page business model generator that we use and recommend), these two elements appear on the left-hand side of the model or the “backstage” area of your business.

From working with so many small businesses over the years, we have become adept at helping businesses identify their key activities and resources (business objectives), as well as the technology solutions that can support those activities implemented by your key resources. In the following infographic, we’ve organized our favourite technology tools and services around six different business objectives (the concentric circles), building up from the five core knowledge areas in the middle.

NewPath Consulting Technology Stack

The productivity tools in the infographic are indicated by their company logos, and are arranged in concentric circles according to the business objective(s) of each tool. These circles radiate from the core capabilities and also correlate to the size and maturity level of an organization. We believe that businesses of every size can benefit from assessing their core capabilities and having a well-curated technology “stack,” a combination of software services used by staff and customers to achieve various business objectives.

For more details about NewPath’s technology “stack” (combination of software services) and the services we use and recommend the most, please see our post about software integration.

The five core capability areas are:

  1. Business - clarifying your business model and business objectives, and your professional ethics and legal practices such as contracting and intellectual property.
  2. Market - understanding the customer and what motivates them to engage, and defining your value proposition and the 4 Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, place).
  3. Design and usability - creating the necessary online environment to deliver value to customers, which includes branding, graphic design, security and privacy.
  4. Implementation - developing or acquiring technical knowledge and fundamental capabilities of digital workplace software services
  5. Content marketing - combining capabilities 1 through 4 to publish and distribute content that will help you find and retain customers and business partners

For reference, here is the full set of subtopics for each of the five core capabilities:

Web Management Professional Body of Knowledge
Web Management Professional Body of Knowledge c/o Web Management Institute

 

Of course, you may be thinking, how can I be awesome at all of these core capabilities?!? Be assured, no single business owner can be equally good at all these areas of knowledge. In fact, MBA (Masters of Business Administration) graduates focus on only two of these core capabilities - Business and Marketing. Many companies are started by a ‘technician’ who does not likely have many business or marketing skills, or a business whiz who doesn’t have the implementation skills to deliver on the value proposition by performing the core service offering.

What you need is to invest in getting help to bridge the gaps, yet we rarely see businesses doing this well. We get it; it’s intimidating. But there are resources out there to help you learn, and people you can hire to help. In fact, we hope you’ll let us help you.

Going outwards from the centre of the diagram we focus on the “orbits” that surround the core knowledge areas. We believe the software tools you choose must be aligned with the maturity of your business - how long you’ve been in business, how many people work for you, and your revenue.

We begin, as most small businesses do, with the content and experience band - a website and lead generation program. Unfortunately, most organizations stop here, but as your company grows you will need more tools and services. The next band is advertising and promotion, where you start making more direct and outbound offers.

As your business grows, you might want to start selling online, and you’ll need services that support your commerce and sales process. As we go further out, you’ll need to build awareness with a larger audience through social media and relationship building.

When you grow to the data layer, specifically if you are a larger organization, this is where you’ll need things like analytics, invoice and billing, and data aggregation services. At the management band, you will need human resource management products, training and project management tools that have  a broader scope.

What’s important is not just which products you choose, but what business objectives each tool serves and how they work together. As your organization grows, you should be adopting these products based on your needs and level of maturity. The more mature your business, the more tools you will have to adopt and integrate. Yet if you start loading up on software too soon, you’ll create chaos and confusion while wasting money and time.

The customer is the most important thing

We believe the most important thing to any small business is its customer, and that today’s online customer requires that you have the high quality digital workplace we have outlined here. From that solid foundation you can get more customers, deliver more value, to then be able to charge more and earn more revenue.

This article concludes our blog post series on digital transformation for small businesses. First we covered the need for building a digital workplace. Then we revealed the importance of creating and evaluating your business model, a must for digital transformation. In this article we addressed how to choose the right software for your business, based on NewPath's own software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology stack and how we’ve used these tools to help our customers grow.

Click here to download a free one-page visual summary of our digital transformation model.

The important question now is what do YOU think is the most important thing to your business? If you’re still juggling time and money as your top priorities, instead of your customer, we invite you to make this business paradigm shift to focusing on your customers.

NewPath’s SMB experts are here to help you choose, implement and use new technology in order to benefit your business and find you more time. Business Success Plans start at $239.00/month for all-inclusive technology, service and support with no contracts or start-up fees. Contact us today for your free consultation!

07/04/2017

Today’s Customers Need a Digital Workplace

NewPath MountainGapCustomers2 Revised
© Carolyn Ellis, BrillianceMastery.com

 

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on digital workplace transformation. Part 2 and Part 3 are also available on this website.

Attention small business owners: There is a new digital divide between those companies embracing technology to run their business and those that aren’t. Don’t get caught on the wrong side!

Does your website help your business grow?

Did you know that 60% of small businesses today don’t have a website? And for those that do, many are just a glorified online brochure, rather than an extension of the business. Visitors are not able or encouraged to take the next step to engage with the organization, e.g., complete a survey, book an appointment, purchase a product or service, or request more information.

That’s simply not going to cut it in today’s customer service landscape, where the customer makes purchasing decisions online. Today’s customers are demanding more - many of them want online support and online ordering; in essence, they want to be able to do everything they can online without having to call you.

Customer experience is overtaking price and product as the key differentiator. The way you keep customers is by offering a better customer experience, and that comes from interacting with them on their terms. Beyond phone, web conference or even face-to-face options, customers want the option to interact with your business online. You must build a digital workplace to service customers in the 21st century.

Three key elements of a digital workplace

In order to equip your business to cross the digital divide, we encourage small business owners to think about three major priorities:

  1. Website - What does your website look like on desktop and mobile? How well does it function as a marketing communications platform? How does it communicate your value proposition to customers and prospects? Can they buy right from your website? Do you publish information that’s useful to customers and also boosts the popularity of your site? Have you built an email list or a social media presence so that you can keep your company top of mind with your prospects and customers?
  1. Analytics - Do you have means of collecting insight analytics of some sort, such as Google Analytics? To what extent do you know how your website is resonating with your audience, and how your business model is performing? Can you quantify your business’s success in terms of profitability, cash flow, etc.?
  1. Automation - Do you have a way to collect data from prospects and customers without letting anyone fall through the cracks? Do you have the ability to take someone to the next level from prospect to customer by collecting some information and then responding in either a partially or completely automated fashion?

For example, a landscaper’s website may have a form to request a quote, where a salesperson will follow up, and another form to sign up for a newsletter and be immediately added to a database to receive ongoing communications. Automation can take on many different forms.

The trap of business ownership

Traditionally, small business owners don’t have core expertise in any or all of these three areas. They know how to deliver a particular service, or they may be very sales and marketing-oriented, but they’re still missing one or all of these skill sets.

At NewPath, we see businesses who either aren’t doing anything at all and behind left behind, or they start trying to solve their technology problems alone. But a pretty new website, jazzed up content, or a web-based invoice and billing system, on their own, don’t address the bigger issue because they don’t connect the dots to the company’s business model.

Website, analytics and automation each require constant focus. And here’s the key question for business owners: Now that you’ve invested in technology, how do you juggle your priorities to rise above the competition?

Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth books, aims to help business owners out of the trap of constantly working in your business, to stepping into the big picture of creating systems and structures to work on your business.

At NewPath we believe there are eight systems that every business needs. None of them are about about implementing your actual service, rather they are systems that help make your business a better business, and give your customers the stellar experience that will set you apart.

What’s your score?

As you read through this list, ask yourself how many of these do you feel confident about, and which ones are keeping you up at night? Those answers are the key to your growth as a digital business.

  1. Provide great customer service - Are you accessible in a way that your prospects appreciate? How quickly do you respond to email and do you provide satisfactory answers? Are you available by phone?
  2. Be more responsive - Can you get back to someone with a proposal or service fairly quickly, but in a way that saves you from reinventing the wheel every time?
  3. Automate processes - This one element underpins all the others, and applies to many different areas of your business from prospecting, sales and marketing, to fundraising and event ticket sales. Ultimately you want to eliminate any need to retype or re-enter data, or manage details on multiple spreadsheets.
  4. Review analytics and forecast - Are you regularly looking at how your business is performing? Can you review your cash flow and other metrics every month or quarter, without making yourself crazy trying to compile the data? Can you see how your content marketing is performing, and what makes sense and what doesn’t?
  5. Connect with and attract prospects - Are you doing a good job of marketing your company and getting visibility, with leads coming in not just by word of mouth but by referrals from your partners? Have you achieved thought leadership and visibility in your industry and/or your local community? Does your reputation speak for itself?
  6. Acquire emails and convert leads - Are you systematically building an email list that allows you to generate a following and fanbase?
  7. Nurture relationships and build loyalty - Do you use those emails to continuously communicate with your audience and be sure you’re top of mind? If someone hears of a need or has a need for your service, are you going to be one they think of and refer to?
  8. Secure your data and financials - Do you have a security policy, and a way to make sure your data is backed up, readily available, and secure?

How did you do?

NewPath Juggler w motion lines
© Carolyn Ellis, BrillianceMastery

If you feel confident about 6-8 of the systems on this list, congratulations on making such a strong effort to work on your business and not just in your business. If you find yourself getting tired of juggling all these balls on your own, or you’re curious how much more efficient you could be, talk to us about reviewing your systems and showing you what else is possible.

If you’re managing 3-5 of these areas, but you’ve lost sight of the rest, you’re likely feeling the weight of this lopsided reality. Let’s discuss how to build on your strengths and fill in the gaps.

If you’ve been diving in and out of only a couple of areas on this list, but mainly focused on delivering your service and putting out day-to-day fires, you’re probably at your wit’s end. What’s worse, the business you’re working so hard to keep afloat is in danger of dissolving before your very eyes. Get in touch. Now.

NewPath’s SMB experts are here to help you choose, implement and use new technology in order to benefit your business and find you more time. Business Success Plans start at $239.00/month for all-inclusive technology, service and support with no contracts or start-up fees. Contact us today to learn more and get started!

NewPathConsultingteam
© Carolyn Ellis, BrillianceMastery.com