It’s All in the Numbers

With the right IT partnership, mid-market businesses can leverage analytics to help make better business decisions

The Rio Grande Pacific Corporation is relatively young as far as freight train companies go. Launched in 1986, the business serves as a holding company for regional rails. Today, the Fort Worth-based firm transports everything from agricultural commodities to chemicals to lumber across the American South, Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

Not exactly the picture of 21st century innovation.

But in this digital age, even a 200-year-old transit industry is embracing new technologies—the application of data, in particular. By modernizing its data center, Rio Grande Pacific has been able to keep its physical railcar operations running smoothly. The data, for example, is giving executives quicker access to information for strategic decision-making.

It has also lead to an unlikely new revenue stream. The company’s technology group now develops IT solutions for other short line railroads and commuter operations across the United States. These include services such as advanced dashboard and analytics that offer comprehensive monitoring of the railroad’s overall health.

“We recognize that the future of rail is tied to technology,” said Jason Brown, chief information officer at Rio Grande Pacific. “Railroads are in need of real-time information in order to make rapid decisions.”

The Rio Grande Pacific Corporation isn’t only upending stereotypes for businesses in its sector, but also for businesses of its size. With only 300 employees, the mid-sized firm isn’t the type that’s normally associated with data analytics. Yet these days mega corporations aren’t the only ones that are leveraging numbers-based insights to gain advantages. Research has shown that mid-market organizations that actively use big data have 50 percent higher revenue growth rates than those that don’t.

“The most competitive companies in every industry will emphatically commit to implementing a data strategy,” said Daniel Newman, a principal analyst at Futurum Research and CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. “Any company that thinks they can't be better with data is completely missing the point of what’s possible.”

Making sense of the figures

When captured, analyzed and applied in meaningful ways, data can augment practically any area of a business. It offers intelligence on everything from customer purchasing habits to new industry trends.

Sean Kinney, senior director of midrange storage marketing at Dell Technologies, compares today’s data strategy to yesterday’s Internet strategy. “If you roll the clock back to 20 years ago, companies were talking about their Internet strategy. Nobody's talking about that now because it’s core to business,” Kinney explained.

He added, “I see big data at about that same inflection point. Insights and analytics can ultimately drive more value for your customers and help you grow your business.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. The vast data stratosphere can get pretty overwhelming. Ninety percent of all the world’s data was created in just the last few years alone. Our current rate of data output is roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes a day. And as the Internet of Things and other smart technologies continue to gain a foothold on daily life, our collective digital footprint is only going to grow larger.

Figuring out how to make sense of this vast and continuously growing store of information is a challenge for any business—especially mid-sized firms that often lack the budget, technology, expertise and staffing to launch big data initiatives. Surveys of mid-market organizations consistently reveal that the costs associated with big data projects, namely upgrading IT infrastructure and outsourcing analytics, remain a top barrier to adoption.

But the benefits far outweigh the costs, experts say. Organizations that have already embraced IT transformation will have an edge over their competitors when bringing analytics into their business model. According to the Enterprise Strategy Group’s 2018 IT Transformation Maturity Study, companies that undergo IT transformation are 18 times more likely to make better and faster data-driven decisions than their competition. These companies are also twice as likely to exceed their revenue goals.

From big data to smart data

Big data doesn’t have to overwhelm. When mid-market firms ask the right questions of their data and focus on incremental successes, it can provide key insights—into all areas of their organization. Here are a few examples for how business intelligence can be leveraged across departments for company-wide success.

IT

IT departments are tasked with keeping a company’s most sensitive data safe. Numbers-based insights can help them do that. Using tracking software, IT managers can actively monitor employees’ online activities—the end point where most breaches occur. Through analysis, they can identify which employees are at a high security risk and in need of additional training.

Leadership

Business leaders can use data analytics to help them compare the performance of employees on their teams—minus the influence of any unconscious biases. Being able to recognize staff members who need extra guidance, for example, allows for quick interventions where necessary, whether through mentorships or further instruction.

HR

Workforce analytics can be an invaluable asset to human resources departments in every company, especially when it comes to employee satisfaction and retention. In leveraging internal survey data, HR managers can get a better read on the biggest factors impacting employee engagement. Knowing these drivers can help focus efforts to improve productivity and increase retention.

Marketing/Sales

Every business strives for customer growth. With data analytics, companies can learn more about how customers interact with products and how to customize messaging for greater success. In the case of an email campaign, for instance, marketing teams can use analytics to determine things such as which subject lines get the most opens, the best time of day to send an email and what types of messages generate higher click-through rates.

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Leadership

Business leaders can use data analytics to help them compare the performance of employees on their teams—minus the influence of any unconscious biases. Being able to recognize staff members who need extra guidance, for example, allows for quick interventions where necessary, whether through mentorships or further instruction.

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HR

Workforce analytics can be an invaluable asset to human resources departments in every company, especially when it comes to employee satisfaction and retention. In leveraging internal survey data, HR managers can get a better read on the biggest factors impacting employee engagement. Knowing these drivers can help focus efforts to improve productivity and increase retention.

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IT

IT departments are tasked with keeping a company’s most sensitive data safe. Numbers-based insights can help them do that. Using tracking software, IT managers can actively monitor employees’ online activities—the end point where most breaches occur. Through analysis, they can identify which employees are at a high security risk and in need of additional training.

slide

Marketing/Sales

Every business strives for customer growth. With data analytics, companies can learn more about how customers interact with products and how to customize messaging for greater success. In the case of an email campaign, for instance, marketing teams can use analytics to determine things such as which subject lines get the most opens, the best time of day to send an email and what types of messages generate higher click-through rates.

Partnering for success

Prior to Rio Grande Pacific’s IT transformation, the company’s systems lacked the resilience and reliability to continue its aggressive growth. They needed high-speed, high-performing servers and networks, and scalable storage solutions that would allow for quick, easy access to data when response time was critical. To optimize its operations, the rail company looked to Dell Technologies as a partner. With Dell Technologies Unity All-Flash midrange storage as the foundation, the organization’s server performance increased by tenfold. Moreover, they can now get real-time data on all aspects of the business for more efficient management.

“If you're going to adapt for the future, you have to have the data at your fingertips,” said Robert Bach, president and chief operating officer of Rio Grande Pacific.

Any company that thinks they can't be better with data is completely missing the point of what’s possible.

— Daniel Newman, a principal analyst at Futurum Research and CEO of Broadsuite Media Group

Given this new era of data-driven business, mid-market companies will need to make data security a top priority as well—and it needs to start at the end point, said Thomas Barnett, a business development brand manager at Dell Technologies. Research shows that 95 percent of data breaches occur due to human error. That can include lost or stolen devices, unwittingly falling for phishing campaigns or accidental introduction of malware.

“The worst-case scenario is it goes beyond the end point and encrypts your entire data center,” said Barnett. “Then you're really up the creek without a paddle.”

To mitigate this risk, Barnett recommends taking a multilayered approach with solutions such as Dell Data Encryption, Dell Data Guardian and Dell Threat Defense that offer data protection and active threat prevention. Educating end users on how to detect potential threats is also key, he said.

Data, data everywhere

With a modernized IT infrastructure, businesses can start leveraging data to maximize success. Take the issue of high customer attrition, said Newman. A customer service department could implement a data project that runs analytics on queries such as how many times a person typically reaches out before that customer is lost, how long they spend on the phone with the representative and which employees they speak to.

“Maybe you learn that the rate of attrition is exponentially higher for the same three representatives than the other seven,” says Newman. Knowing this, he says, you can determine the root of the problem. Are these employees recent hires? Do they need more training? Are they unsatisfied with work? “These are real, tangible things that can be solved through analytics,” he said.

The more you know, he added, the more informed your decision-making will be—and the better it will be for your bottom line.

“In the modern age, a company not using data is basically like driving a car blind,” said Newman. “Nobody would get behind the wheel of a car with a blindfold. Why would you run a business with one on?”

Learn more about how Dell Technologies can help to securely transform your business.