Tapping Into Big Communications Data for Hidden Insights

You can’t deny that we’re in the middle of an exciting period of digital transformation. One important byproduct of this transformation is the creation and collection of large amounts of digital data. Dubbed “big data,” this topic continues to be buzzworthy. After all, organizations have solved many challenges using the insights lurking within the vast amounts of data they already own. In the past few years, these same approaches have been applied to a previously ignored subset of big data – communications data.

It’s widely agreed that 90 percent of the world’s digital data was created in just the last two years. Communications data has been a leading source of this explosion. The rapid influx of new device innovations like tablets, smartphones and sensors has increased the avenues to consume audio, visual and text information using unified communications platforms. As the number of innovations continues to grow, so have the data sets they created.

Unlocking the stories in the data

Enterprises have discovered that the data they’ve created isn’t just white noise. It can provide a picture or a story once users unlock the information. Taking this one step further, organizations have started to use these stories to make decisions and project future outcomes. It is now evident that sifting through this amassed “big communications” data provides unprecedented insights that can help drive businesses forward.

While some types of communications data have been quicker to yield obvious value from the stories they tell, other types have remained locked in their source systems. The lack of full adoption is often due to a variety of reasons – some industries didn’t experience the same pressure from consumers or users, some companies felt current processes were not broken and didn’t require an update, and others still couldn’t see the ROI of adding more steps to their process. Regardless of the reason, not seeking a data strategy to discover both the obvious and less obvious stories leads to missed opportunities.

Many enterprises have communications data residing in silos across their organizations. They have to find the right key to unlock it as well as how to pull it together to make sense of the data. Even though they may have large volumes of raw data in their hands, meaningful information to make strategic decisions can be difficult to pull out or require expensive resources to analyze.

Forward-thinking organizations have solved how to tap into the full spectrum of insights previously hidden within these siloed communication data sets. This shift is being largely driven by tapping into data that’s managed by the telecom expense management (TEM) industry.

TEM’s role in the solution

TEM helps companies manage their fixed and wireless expenses so they can identify and carve out excesses in their telecom spend, make smarter purchase decisions, uncover billing errors and optimize their communications budget. Regardless of whether TEM is managed in-house or by an outside provider, it’s a critical continuous process to control costs, streamline operations, improve compliance and provide a strong basis for strategic planning.

Recently (think last two years), the technology front of TEM has encountered innovations. Enterprises now have access to real-time data discovery and data visualization tools, which has fundamentally transformed the power of TEM.

This new application of analytic solutions is taking things up a notch and giving TEM a turbocharge. Now, telecom managers and executives alike can get their hands on nearly real-time data and look at costs, configurations, interrelationships, geography, ownership – the options are endless. It puts knowledge into the right hands to encourage and enable evidence-based decision-making.

The keys to unlocking the value in this data are to create a unified communications data architecture, implement business intelligence tools, and arm end users with the ability to extract and make sense of the insight.

Putting big communications data to use

These are some considerations and takeaways for companies looking to glean insight from the data derived from communication channels:

  • Create transparency. Interactive data exploration and diagnostic analytics empower telecom and mobility analysts by enabling them to focus on the current version of the truth as well as to execute a root-cause analysis of why it’s happening.

  • Eliminate the data silos. Pulling multiple communication data sources together is a big plus for creating transparency across an enterprise. Think about looking at fixed-line telecommunications right next to mobile, unified communications and then even cloud data.

  • Remember that self-service is not self-sufficient. Self-service analytics are great unless you get stuck spending all your time developing reports instead of discovering value-added insights. Guided analytics, or predeveloped analytic sets designed to guide end users to tangible insights, can be leveraged as a best practice within enterprises that don’t want to spend resources or budget on trying to re-create the wheel in report design.  

  • Optimize communications. There is an opportunity to uncover new insights from current and evolving communication vectors, including unified communications usage. Gaining new cost insights is the most obvious, but other opportunities include identifying patterns of usage (including overage and adoption of new functions), identifying compliance issues, managing dispute resolution and managing contract negotiation.

These practices can help organizations develop the most precise picture from the big communications data goldmine. As a result, organizations will have the insights to make better business decisions and to optimize usage and processes.

The Fatal Four: Avoiding Construction Injuries

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 1 in 5 deaths that happen at places of employment unfortunately occur on construction sites. There are many ways worksite injuries and deaths can occur, but construction companies should watch out for four particular scenarios, known as the Fatal Four: falling, being struck by an object, electrocution, and being caught in or between objects.

Falls

Construction workers falling from various places on construction sites comprise the majority of construction fatalities at nearly 39 percent. Because of the high risks associated with falls, OSHA requires construction companies to do all they can to protect their employees from them.

The requirements include the following:

  • Guard floor holes. Companies must guard every floor hole that an employee could accidentally fall into. Acceptable guard options include a railing and toe board or a floor hole cover.
  • Provide guardrails and toe boards. These must be placed around every open-sided floor, runway and platform. They must also be provided to protect workers from falling onto dangerous machinery, regardless of height.
  • Inspect ladders and scaffolding. A competent employee should inspect every ladder at the beginning of every day to be sure it is safe to use. If it isn’t, the ladder should be tagged or marked in some way and removed from the construction site until it can be repaired to OSHA standards. Scaffolds should also be inspected at the beginning of each workday to ensure safety.
  • Always stand on the floor of lifts. Never let employees try to raise their work height on scaffolding or aerial lifts by using buckets or ladders. Workers should always stand on the floor of a lift for maximum stability.
  • Provide fall protection equipment. Depending on the nature of the construction site, additional fall protection equipment may be required. This equipment might include a safety net, stair and handrails, and a safety harness and line.

Unfortunately, despite companies following OSHA guidelines and doing everything in their power to protect employees, accidents still happen. Keep an eye on your construction sites and make your employees aware of the dangers. 

Nearly 10 percent of deaths that occur on construction sites happen because falling objects hit employees. Employers can implement many safety protocols for their construction sites that can help prevent this, but OSHA requires that construction employers have certain rules in those safety plans.

  • Provide and wear hard hats. It’s always a good idea to wear hard hats on a construction site. Per OSHA standards, employees are required to wear them on, under and around a scaffold. Hard hats should fit snugly and not come loose when being worn. Have your employees inspect their hard hats for dents or cracks. If there’s any sign of deterioration, the hard hat should be replaced.
  • Don’t exceed maximum loads. Pay attention to maximum load rules for scaffolds and other equipment. Never let your workers exceed a maximum load.
  • Hoist tools after an employee has climbed a scaffold. To prevent falling tools and protect employees, hoist tools up to employees after the worker has already climbed a scaffold or another height. Don’t have employees carry tools with them, as both the worker and the tools are more likely to fall this way. Tool belts can also be used to carry tools and other materials.
  • Erect canopies or barricade an area. Depending on the nature of the construction site, it might be wise to erect canopies overhead to protect employees from falling objects. Particularly dangerous areas should be barricaded to prevent workers from entering the danger zone and being struck by objects.

Electrocutions

Over 8 percent of construction site deaths occur when an employee is electrocuted. As the employer, you can provide some protection for your workers. OSHA has some requirements to help prevent death by electrocution:

  • Stay at least 10 feet away from power lines. Scaffolds, aerial lifts and other machinery must be at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines.
  • Replace hard hats in the event of electric shock. In addition to protecting employees from falling objects and other dangers, hard hats can help protect workers from dangling electrical wires and other electric concerns. Be sure to immediately replace an employee’s hard hat in the event of electric shock.
  • Use nonconductive ladders. If ladders are going to be anywhere close to any electrical equipment, make sure they have nonconductive side railings.

Caught in or between objects

Over 7 percent of construction-related deaths are due to a worker being caught in or compressed by objects or equipment. Some of these deaths are also due to workers being trapped and crushed in a collapsing structure. Sometimes there is no way to predict or prevent an accident of this nature, but OSHA has standards for employers to meet to help protect construction workers.

  • Properly train all machine operators. Workers who have not been thoroughly trained on how to use and operate machinery and equipment should never use that equipment. It is the responsibility of the employer to train and responsibly authorize employees on machines.
  • Have competent safety monitors who are within reach. Not every construction company has to use a safety monitoring system, but if they do, the safety monitors must be competent and within hearing distance of the employees they are monitoring. The monitor has to be on the same walking or working surface as the employee(s) they are watching, and they must be able to see the monitored employees at all times.

Other OSHA standards

OSHA has other standards that construction sites must follow. More or less might be required depending on the state in which your company is located, so be sure to check and comply with local laws when developing your business’s safety plan.

Under OSHA standards, construction companies must do the following:

  • Keep work areas clean and organized, especially floors.
  • Keep floors dry as much as is reasonably possible.
  • Provide all required protective gear for each worker at no additional cost to the employee.
  • Train all employees on safety protocols in a language workers can understand.
  • Inform workers about dangerous chemicals and materials onsite.
  • Train employees on how to handle dangerous chemicals and materials.
  • Have a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) onsite if any hazardous chemical is being used in the area.
  • Provide appropriate face and eye protection as needed.

This list is not comprehensive. It’s always a good idea to review and understand OSHA standards while developing your company’s safety plan. You can learn more about these laws and standards on the OSHA website.

11 Ways to Promote Your Business When You Don't Have a Marketing Budget

Promoting a business can seem daunting for small business owners who have little to no money in their marketing budget. Fortunately, in this digital age, it’s easy to promote a business online without breaking the bank.

So how do you market your business when you don’t have any spare dollars to spend on marketing? It can seem like you’re stuck in a vicious cycle, but if you use these 11 tips, you can garner increased attention for your business and bring in more customers (almost) without spending a huge sum.

1. Raise your community profile by getting involved in local events. This could be anything from sponsoring a local charity run so that your company name is on the T-shirts to donating your product or services as a prize in a local fundraising raffle.

2. Increase your local visibility. Place an entry in local paper business directories and online directories like Yelp or Yahoo. People frequently turn to online directories to search for a local service, and they pop up near the top of Google and other online searches too. Local advertising brochures are also inexpensive to advertise in and reach many consumers.

3. Share your knowledge. Everyone wants to get the inside info, which only the experts know. Sharing advice or skills helps get your name out to the masses. You could do this by:

  • Giving a free workshop or class
  • Providing tips or advice that you can offer as a downloadable page on your website
  • Writing an expert article for a local magazine or website

4. Speak directly to your market by giving a speech to your local community on a topic connected with your business. You can also appear as a guest on a local radio show to talk about your field of expertise. More people listen to the radio than you might think.

5. Maximize word of mouth. Don’t be shy to ask your customers for referrals and recommendations. Many people are happy to tell their friends about the great job you did. Seek out enthusiastic quotes from delighted customers that you can use on your marketing materials.

6. Support the media. Subscribing to Help a Reporter Out (HARO) gives you a chance to respond to reporters looking for professional information and journalistic sources. It’s a free way to get your name into local and sometimes national media.

7. Use promotions wisely. Giveaways – free samples of your new soaps, a free yoga session or a raffle to win free installation of new windows and doors – always attract attention.

8. Establish an online presence. Today, people are more likely to search online for a local plumber, so create a website with a blog so people can find you. There are plenty of free website builders that guide even novice website builders through the process.

9. Make the most of social media. Being active on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is a great way to get your name out there. Having a Facebook page also makes it easier for people to recommend you by tagging you. I recommend following these three tips for your social media pages:

  • Connect with local influencers, businesses and community figures who are likely to use your services and recommend you.
  • Join Facebook groups that are relevant to your business and contribute helpful advice without self-promotion, in order to increase your reputation.
  • Choose the best platform for your business, e.g., Instagram for visual products, Twitter for B2B connections, Facebook for B2C and service industries, Pinterest for visual products and crafts, LinkedIn for B2B services, etc.

10. Use email marketing platforms to send reminders, discount coupons, advice and more to your customers and potential customers. Many email marketing services are free up to a certain number of recipients. They offer plenty of templates and advice to help you send engaging emails.

11. Create a Google+ profile through Google My Business so your business shows up in a Google search for local businesses. This strengthens your local SEO so you show up higher in Google searches, plus your business will appear on Google Maps results.

Tricks for increasing your marketing budget

Although it is possible to effectively market your business with zero budget, it’s even better when you can allocate a little money to marketing. These four tips can help you add some more dollars to your budget.

  • Make the most of your tax deductions. If you’re an independent contractor, there are multiple ways you can chip away at your final tax bill, which keeps more money in your pocket to spend on important things like marketing.

  • Do what you can to reduce business expenses. It’s easy to fall into certain habits, which aren’t always the most cost-effective. Every now and then it’s good to review how much you’re spending to see where you can cut costs.

  • Manage your cash flow. Ideally, you’ll always have positive cash flow. Just in case, it’s best to have three to six months of working capital on hand in an easy-to-access account in case of emergencies.

  • See if you can raise your prices. If you’re smart about it, raising your prices will bring in more income without causing you to lose customers while also giving you more freedom with your marketing budget.

5 Habits the Most Collaborative Companies in the World Share

When Marissa Mayer abolished Yahoo’s work-from-home option in 2013, she argued that, while some experts believe employees are more productive when they work alone, they’re more “collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” 

I’ll start by acknowledging that yes, it might be more natural to turn to a colleague seated next to you and engage in a discussion of ideas. That said, in today’s working world fueled by technology, it’s just as easy to Skype a colleague who’s sitting on their couch halfway around the globe than it is to walk down a hallway and meet with colleagues in a conference room. Collaboration is not about proximity; it’s about the sharing of ideas.

Furthermore, the great thing about collaboration is that it’s not limited to large corporations with bountiful resources. Some of the most collaborative companies I’ve seen are startups with fewer than 50 people on staff. The key traits that enable collaboration, which I’ve outlined below, can scale to fit any size of company.  

1. Give employees the space they need.

One might guess that the rise in popularity of open office spaces was to foster collaboration among employees. In reality, it’s often an environment for distraction and decreased productivity. On any given day at any given time in an open office space, some employees are working, some are conversing socially, and some are trying to discuss an idea. It’s a recipe for a loud office and a lot of wasted time. Employees need private spaces for small and large groups to go for dedicated collaboration and brainstorming. When employees are free to step away from daily work, they can come together in the right space.

2. Know when to collaborate and when to leave alone.

Collaboration isn’t an ongoing process that happens all day, every day. At most times of the day, employees will be engaging in productive work, and it’s important that business leaders know when their employees need to be left alone. If it’s a busy time and you know your employees are up against deadlines or trying to finish work before a long holiday, now is not the time to schedule a team brainstorm. Respect your employees’ need to get their work done, and schedule team meetings when they’re going to have the availability and mind space to collaborate.

3. Give employees the technology they need.

Adding to my earlier point that collaboration is not limited to proximity, employees must be given the technology tools they need to collaborate when apart. This includes reliable online conferencing systems and secure Bluetooth headsets. One employee can be jotting down notes on a whiteboard in their office while speaking to a colleague in an office across the country. They need to be able to talk and move around their respective rooms without worrying about dropped calls or restrictive wires.

4. Find the best talent.

To generate the best discussions, you need the best talent. That means employees who are uniquely qualified for their particular roles in your particular company. I’m a firm believer that talent shouldn’t be limited to your city. When you find the right person, why does it matter if they can’t come into the office every day? Again, we have the technology to connect anyone from anywhere without disruption, so use it and enjoy its benefits. Hire the best candidate and see how they benefit the innovation in your company.

5. Invest in effective training.

It can be difficult to find extra budget for professional trainers, but it’s so valuable if you are able to. A person with an outside perspective can evaluate your employees in a way an internal executive can’t. You can find many trainers who specialize in productive brainstorming and collaboration and can come into your office to lead sessions with the most critical employees or sector of your business. When you invest in outside trainers, you’re really investing in your employees and thus your business.

Looking forward

Even if you have a collaborative office environment, I highly recommend considering the above suggestions and seeing if there is room for improvement. Some of you might believe that, as long as the work is getting done, it doesn’t matter if your employees rarely come together on ideas. To that, I ask you to think not about where your business is today, but where it could be in five, 10 or 15 years. It doesn’t take a billion-dollar CEO to understand that two minds are better than one.

Does Your Local Social Media Strategy Contain These 3 Elements?

Social media marketing is only one of many digital marketing channels a small business should integrate into its overall marketing strategy. 

While social media may look like a free advertising channel, in order for social media to be worthwhile, a company needs to have a solid plan outlining its goals, objectives and metrics that allow it to monitor its ROI.

For small businesses, it’s essential that its social media strategy is built around its local audience. There is no point in spending time and money attracting thousands of followers from all around the globe if your company cannot sell its products or services to those followers. Here, then, are the three key elements each small business needs to include in its social media marketing plan.

1. Engage with potential clients, not with a like-minded audience.

Many small business owners only create posts and updates that are centered around the products and services they offer. This often leads to building followers that are heavily concentrated around the company’s own industry. For example, if a company selling insurance packages only creates posts using the tag “insurance,” it attracts followers who actively monitor everything that has to do with insurance. This tactic may not be suitable for consumers who only care about insurance when it’s time to renew their policy or when they acquire a new property.

Consider what your potential local customers are interested in and make sure that a portion of your posts addresses those interests (and concerns). Depending on the product or service you sell, you may need to dedicate more or fewer posts to topics that may have nothing to do with the industry you’re in. For example, a company that sells trending technology gadgets such as drones or VR products may not need to go out of its way to attract followers that are potential clients, because technology consumers tend to be naturally attracted to new technology. On the other hand, a company selling insurance policies needs to dedicate more of its social media posts to various topics that have nothing to do with insurance in order to get noticed and ultimately followed by potential clients.

The key is to pinpoint potential clients, identifying what they are actively interested in and then addressing their interests in your social media strategy. 

2. Engage with the local audience.

It is easy for a company to recycle tags that provide the most exposure and therefore attract the most followers. This usually leads to building a globalized audience, one that isn’t likely to convert to customers.

It is therefore essential to address your local audience, and the best way to do this is to explore tags that are trending locally. For example, on Twitter, the hashtags that are trending at each given moment in a specific location are shown on the company’s Twitter home page. Give these trending hashtags serious consideration.

Again, each company’s situation is different, and your social media marketing strategy should reflect this. For example, since California is a social media hub, a company based in California may not need to dedicate as much of its posts to locally trending topics as, say, a company based in Saskatoon, Canada. The Saskatoon company may need to address 90 percent or more of its posts to its local audience by using locally trending hashtags, while the California-based company may be fine not using locally trending hashtags. 

3. Advertise your products and services.

Local businesses face certain challenges when it comes to social media advertising. Not only do they have to ensure they are responsive to their potential customers’ interests, but they have to find ways to address their local audience. Some of your social media posts, therefore, must advertise your products or services, and you have to do this in a clever way without annoying the followers you’ve been working so hard to acquire.

A technology company, for example, may have more leeway with promoting its business in its posts, simply because its followers may naturally be interested in the products the company offers. On the other hand, an insurance company has to formulate a strategy to include a small percentage of subtle advertisement posts that align with other posts the insurance company uses to attract followers. For instance, if the insurance company attempts to attract followers by creating sports-related posts, its advertisement posts should be written in such a way that appeals to sports fans.

These three key elements can help small businesses everywhere improve the results of their local social media marketing efforts. In addition, businesses should continue to monitor their results and update their plan periodically for the best results.

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