7 Tips for Big Data Success

Experienced Big Data users understand the paradox – Big data starts small. Rather than rush to implement new techniques and technology a small win can help to drive big results. Patience is often hard when there are big problems to solve, but creating a solid foundation for success can make things go faster when you need to implement Big Data transformations for analytics and dashboards. Our friends at Big Data Analytics News provide 7 quick tips to consider before you launch – start small and drive to big results.

The entire article is located on Big Data Analytics News

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Accountability lessons from prison

Standing in the Sally port waiting to enter Dillwyn Correctional Institute on a clear spring afternoon, a cold reality of prison life encloses each instructor. The course they are about to lead is an experiment to prepare inmates for successful re-entry to society. Can convicted felons operate a successful business after they complete their sentence?

Mistakes and second chances

Mistakes are bad choices, actions or results. A good business plan will measure results, assess them and apply modifications to try to make things better. Hence a good plan assumes mistakes will happen and new methods be found to address them. Mistakes happen and learning results. Lessons learned create value when applied. Hence, mistakes create improvements when learning is applied.

Discussing Darden School ‘cases’ inside a prison provides a unique educational perspective. The intensity and reality of consequences and the importance of the learning are compelling. The outcome of this course literally means the difference of a free life or a return to prison. Here are a few lessons that have been learned by the inmates, this instructor argues they apply to all businesses:

#1 – Judging is not as important as learning

Every felon attending the course is a real person with real dreams and disappointments. Many people will privately discuss egregious mistakes that have been made by themselves, friends or other family members. Not many people live into their adult lives without having made serious mistakes in judgment, action or inaction. While not everyone has the same level of mistakes and associated consequences, it seems fair to think past mistakes do not define the totality of one’s character and value.

In business, those leaders that take on problems and find a way to fix or better resolve situations are deemed successful. It seems only fair that once the cost of a mistake has been addressed, then looking forward with a new understanding may be considered a success as well. While the assumption of felons repaying the costs of a mistake is challenging, the justification corresponds to normal business practice. These felons have been judged by the courts and are paying a debt via their prison sentence. How many successful businesses have been created without overcoming a lot of mistakes?

#2 – Second chances must be both earned and provided

While blind faith that convicted felons will not repeat their past mistakes is not a practical approach, there are huge economic reasons to want felons to return to society. There must be additional rules and checks in place until trust has been established. Who better than someone that has given up years of freedom to understand the value of a second chance? Those genuinely desirous of a fresh start are willing to earn trust and pay their dues. Herein lays the opportunity to apply business lessons to the approach to return of felons to society.

Great businesses provide clear responsibilities, process and accountability. Great leaders do not describe the explicit definition of rules, responsibilities and goals as extra work but rather necessary work. These same companies do not fire someone for a single mistake, but carefully hold them accountable for mistakes with a sincere expectation for the proper behavior to be delivered going forward. Perhaps, with time and experience, a set of reasonable rules can be applied that balance cost of second chances for felons.

#3 – What goes around comes around

The obvious point here is that felons made bad choices and incarceration resulted. Another point, though less obvious, is that second chances are valuable for both the giver and the recipient. Offering someone that has failed badly a chance to earn respect and honor from their own effort is an enormous gift. The interesting point of those involved with the prison program, however, is that the instructors often discuss how much they receive rather than how much they have given.

This lesson also applies directly to business. Applying accountability with a staff member demonstrates that their work is important and provides the encouragement of high expectations. Tracking results and teaching the lessons of mistakes leads to staff ownership and productivity – a gift that will return many times to an owner.

#4 – Prioritize well and choose accordingly

Prison accountability is much more severe than that of its business counterpart. Small business people face challenges of time with their family, for themselves and face intense financial risks. Inmates lose access to their family almost entirely, cannot support them and face intense humiliation. The cost of their choices is severe and long lasting. The value of priorities and discipline is illuminated when the harsh consequences of bad priorities and lack of discipline are encountered in a prison.

Such a ‘case’ makes a great lesson for any entrepreneur. Choices have consequences and actions must be prioritized to use those that yield the best results. Every business has more tasks than time. The need to make the right choices and use time well is an important key to success. There is an intense pressure to execute at a high level. Such pressure can lead to fatigue, bad choices and over-analysis. The inevitability of mistakes and the ability to learn and earn a second chance paradoxically frees one to move forward with less stress and more confidence. Do your best, learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself and go make things better.

As the last sally port gate opens the instructors pick up their phones and keys and head home in the now cold dark night. The emails, voice message and texts have queued up during the class. While the answer to second chances for felons is yet to be known, at least one instructor knows that he has learned lessons and will use his second chance tomorrow to apply those lessons to his reset priorities.

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Prison education and second chances - lessons of accountability from inside the fence
Greg Fairchild,
UVA Darden School of Business

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Social Capital – A surprising reminder for entrepreneurs

Social Capital – A surprising reminder for entrepreneurs

Dr. John Thomas of the UVA Cooper Center presented a summary of how communities are using a new approach to address challenging socio-economic situations at the Crater Community Hospice breakfast meeting at Virginia State University on April 2, 2014. The breakfast commemorated the 20th year of service to the Tri-Cities and greater Crater district. Brenda Mitchell, CEO stated “CCH has many supporters who trust our organization and without which we would not be celebrating this milestone.   It was an honor to have Dr. Thomas speak at our event and we hope all attendees will strive to increase collaboration and implement his suggestions. We are looking forward to another 20 years as a result of these efforts!”

Dr. Thomas sighted seemingly identical problems that were addressed in old and new ways by different communities.  After extensive studies into communities that have faced economic downturns in the last few decades, patterns of success and failure are evident in how communities try to revitalize themselves. Failure results from when there is suspicion of the motives of others. Successful communities execute power and leadership via web of organizations – multiple small hubs of shared interest. The successful social-economic responses to a  community in crisis occur when organizations with shared understanding and values come together. They form hubs of leadership with members who share a high level of trust.

There are two basic models to use for leading a community in challenging times: Big and well-resourced companies with a big commitment or small grass roots efforts with intense effort. In the communities that are rebounding and thriving there is a clear network of passionate yet fluid leadership. Groups form and grow dynamically. This new network style only happens in an atmosphere of trust. Of course such trust is the result of shared understanding – it must be both given and earned.

As part of his research, the Tri-Cities region has been analyzed. His assessment of significant factors include

  • 1. There are numerous non-profit organizations
  • 2. The CCAM organization is an internationally recognized model for success
  • 3. The local and national economy is improving
  • 4. The military training hub is a huge asset
  • 5. Long term business owners are missing


In summary, when asked how local business can best serve their communities, Dr. Thomas offered a simple list. Perhaps surprising to many community oriented entrepreneurs, he suggested the most important thing is focusing on the success of your own business. It makes sense of course. Businesses cannot give time, money or other resources unless they have something to give.

The three ways entrepreneurs best help their communities

  • 1. Make their business successful
  • 2. Give or donate locally
  • 3. Participate with a non-profit – volunteer, guide or give


The mission of Crater Community Hospice is to educate the community as well as provide quality care and service. 

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Healthcare Big Data Trends

Examining our health system to see how Big Data can improve results

What a great summary of how Big Data analytics, ETL and Dashboards can improve outcomes: Active decision making, statistical support for treatments, performance accountability, collaboration, regulatory compliance, remote service, planning, logistical support of operations.

Read more on this article with our friends at Big Data Analytics News.

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Convenience Store Performance Analytics like Google Dashboard

Managing Convenience Store performance like Google analytics manages a web site

Google analytics uses key performance indicators to show how a web site is performing. With this information you can track your web site performance and determine how your marketing programs are working in terms of bringing people to a site and getting them to purchase items. A similar approach can be used with your convenience store data. It is not difficult to create a custom dashboard using your existing data for sales, costs and service. With an effective dashboard you can see your key performance indicators for your store performance.

Most companies have data about their sales, costs, staff hours and other key measures. Not everyone has the data in a format that can be easily reviewed to monitor trends over time, by store (district and region), by product, by service or any other key metric that needs to be managed. It is usually a straight forward process to extract and transform data from the mainstream CStore systems such as PDI/Enterprise, DataMax Envoy, Factor Store Trak or most other commercials systems. So it does not have to take long for you to start performing data analytics.

Using a basic dashboard template that is configured for convenience store performance, you can quickly understand how you are performing and learn how to drive results. To save time, use a dashboard template based on the concepts and ease of use found in Google Analytics so that you have the ability to track trends, identify key performance metrics and enable accountability to your goals. This model allows you to mix and match parameters to see key metrics across a selected time range for specific stores, districts or regions. Once the base system is in place, further customizations can easily be made to support marketing or other goals.

The example below uses the graphing and selection approach from Google Analytics to allow easy changes show you how your stores are performing.


Our tool of choice is the Pentaho CTools to make our dashboards. It is an open source product that allows you the power of Data Analytics from one of the leading Big Data tools without having to purchase any software.

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