How COVID-19 is Transforming the Business Intelligence Landscape
ProfitSword offers advice for the hospitality and senior living industries on leveraging business performance data during the COVID-19 crisis to emerge stronger.
IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: With the hospitality and senior living industries among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis, we examine how the pandemic is creating a unique set of challenges with regards to ensuring financial stability and meeting organizational needs. For a special edition of the podcast, we are joined by three experienced leaders from the business intelligence and data management software platform ProfitSword.
Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello! I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. For the past several weeks, IN CLEAR FOCUS has looked at some of the ways in which COVID-19 has impacted marketing, advertising, and consumer behaviors during the lockdown. This week, thirty-one states across America kicked off phase one of reopening the country and hopefully, restarting the economy. With the hospitality and senior living industries among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis, this week, we examine how the pandemic is creating a unique set of challenges with regards to ensuring financial stability and meeting organizational needs. For this edition of IN CLEAR FOCUS, we’ll be hearing from three experienced leaders from ProfitSword, a business intelligence and data management software platform – and Bigeye client for the past five years. ProfitSword’s President, Maureen Allen, provides insights into some of the ways in which hospitality and senior living clients’ perspectives and priorities have changed since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Chief Operating Officer, John Crutchfield, explains how agile practices can be scaled to meet the demands of the current market climate and lead to more seamless and effective work management experiences. And ProfitSword’s Director of Business Development, Paul Bennie, reflects on what sales and marketing professionals can learn from the current situation, what lasting changes will result, and how technology may evolve to meet new needs.
Maureen Allen: My name is Maureen Allen and I am the president at ProfitSword.
ProfitSword is a cloud-based business intelligence software solution. It was founded in October of 2001, by Tili Findley and Mike Patton. They’re co-owners. We’re headquartered in Orlando, we also have a development office in the Atlanta area. We have just over 70 employees and over 100 partners mainly, with a hospitality focus, which represents approximately 3,500 hotels and over 25,000 users worldwide. ProfitSword was initially built to serve hospitality professionals and our applications are very versatile. Because they’re very versatile, we’re able to actually branch out to different verticals, and we recently did that with senior living. Our main module that we had for hospitality is now built to mimic what senior living would use and that means like hotels versus units, that type of thing. But basically, we could branch out to any industry as long as they have a chart of accounts and we could build it towards their vernacular and that type of thing. And I think, we’re heading that way for the future. But right now we’re in hospitality and senior living.
Adrian Tennant: How would you describe to somebody what ProfitSword does exactly?
Maureen Allen: So it’s business intelligence. Its main focus is forecasting, budgeting. We also have our daily income journals, a plethora of reports that we provide for our clients. And it’s day-to-day, it’s day to day, real-time information that our clients are able to see in a second.
Adrian Tennant: How did you arrive at a software-as-a-service rather than an on-premise solution?
Maureen Allen: We do have some legacy on-premise solutions, but as technology matured throughout the years and the cloud became less of a scary unknown, the benefits of our hosted solutions became the primary focus, with SAAS or software-as-a-service, we have less implementation time, centralized support and maintenance. We have better disaster recovery options, scalability and in some cases, labor cost savings for our clients.
Adrian Tennant: How has COVID-19 impacted the work you do day-to-day?
Maureen Allen: So my day to day has not changed tremendously. Our team has always had an all-hands-on-deck type of mentality. And we truly have an amazing group of individuals that work together to accomplish any task or challenge that is thrown their way. So, of course, we’re more heightened, we’re more sensitive, empathetic to our clients mostly, and I’ve spoken to probably 90 percent of our clients since the end of March. I’ve been calling them, talking to them. It’s at the point where you’re not sure if they’re working at the office, but fortunately, you have some cell phone numbers you could call them. So talking things through with them and helping them. On a daily basis, our client service team has begun to be giving a lot of tips and tricks. Our training team, because a lot of right now our clients are not – it may not be the same contact that we normally deal with. They may be furloughed and so we’re talking with other members of the team that are not as familiar with our systems. So our training team is on top of that and they’re making sure that everybody is able to contact us by phone, by email, by ticketing, whatever the case is. We’ll have calls with them. We’re doing webinars each week as well. So, you know, normally we do webinars once a month, but we’re doing them every week. We’re sending the tips and tricks out at least twice a week for people to help them with forecasting for the future and that type of thing.
Adrian Tennant: What are some unexpected challenges the current situation has presented to you?
Maureen Allen: So the travel industry as a whole has really been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as we know, it’s struggling to keep their properties open, which definitely hurts them financially. We are working with all of our partners. Now more than ever, our partners need our application because ProfitSword’s system has always been web-based and available on any device at any time. So they’re very happy that they have us. We’re able to easily make any switches or changes for them. We’ve had a lot of clients ask for a new report, “can you do this for us because we don’t have this report?” And our reporting team, our development team, technical team, they’re all on top of that and they’re helping with any new processes, any changes really. We’re helping monitor their day-to-day right now, even though the occupancy’s mostly below 10 percent in most hotels, they still have staff there. So there are things that are being integrated back and forth with the hotel systems in our system. So we’re monitoring that for them.
Adrian Tennant: ProfitSword also serves senior living facilities. How are they being impacted by COVID-19?
Maureen Allen: Senior living community communities they are different, you know, they have 24-seven residents. We’ve heard that most of all the communities have been on lockdown and are actually in need of more personnel at the time. So they’re actually hiring. I’ve been seeing in social media that they’re advertising to hire. They need staff to help out. We’re not quite sure, we’ve heard from a couple of our clients that they’re really not bringing any new residents in, but if there is a case where they’re the only solution, then yes, they are taking them in and they’re, you know, with caution and, and that type of thing. So those communities are very crucial right now, especially for, you know, the 65 and older as we all know, are more susceptible to obtaining this virus, unfortunately.
Adrian Tennant: Are there any ProfitSword clients that you feel are making a real difference for their teams, the industry, or local communities during this pandemic?
Maureen Allen: I’ve been watching social media a lot and it has shown many of our clients giving back to the communities, whether it’s with providing food, accommodating special rates for lodging, especially for essential workers that don’t want to go home, for fear of
Adrian Tennant: Maureen, what sources of inspiration help you remain positive through this?
Maureen Allen: Since March, I talked to at least one or two or three, maybe 10, on some days I talked to 10 clients in one day. And just talking to them and hearing challenges, but also coming up with solutions and helping them, I’m very inspired by their attitudes and their willingness to continue with us. And even though they’re struggling, they’re very adamant that “we need your system and we’re very happy that we have you and that your staff is able to still work with us on a day-to-day basis”. So that inspires me to do more for anybody.
John Crutchfield: I’m John Crutchfield. I’m the Chief Operations Officer at ProfitSword.
Adrian Tennant: John, what does your role at ProfitSword entail?
John Crutchfield Agile operations, client success, project management, implementation, software support, uh, product development, and quality assurance. So there’s a lot there, but my main focus is kind of the cohesion between those teams and rolling out agile methodologies to ensure we’re not working in silos. At the same time, we’re constantly making sure that the voice of the customer’s understood at all levels within those departments working together.
Adrian Tennant: Now, with your background in SCRUM, how are you using agile or lean practices in your day-to-day operations to get through the crisis?
John Crutchfield: I think communication, commitment, transparency – those are values and principles within agile, within SCRUM. Those three I think we’re drawing on most right now. Over the past couple of years, our system teams, they’ve done a great job getting the entire company rolled out with more collaboration tools. So Slack, Chime, G-Suite, Azure DevOps. Again, this lets us all be in constant communication, which is key. That ensures again we’re not operating in silos. And then with agile and SCRUM we now have the visibility to see what everyone has committed to and with our daily standups across the company, everybody’s on the same page. So it really helps with no duplication of efforts at the same time as well.
Adrian Tennant: Your team has embraced remote working for many years, do you have any advice on how to make working from home, work?
John Crutchfield: Yeah, I think making sure you have the ability for everyone to communicate and then operationally, of course, ensuring you can track productivity. We all still have the business mindset also, but obviously, I highly recommend developing agile teams. And the productivity with that in place, the productivity will come naturally.
Adrian Tennant: How are ProfitSword’s customers responding to the challenges of COVID-19?
John Crutchfield: Oh, our clients, they’re awesome. Our hospitality clients, you know, they’re obviously in the same boat as people in the airline industry, restaurants, cruise, just to name a few. The pressure we all feel daily in this crisis that’s compounded for them by the reality of furloughs, temporary property closures. Then there’s those that are still working. But they had to take on the jobs of literally six or seven people. From our senior living clients, again, it’s a different kind of pressure added on top of what we may be feeling. They’re faced with caring for people that are the most affected by the crisis, and they had to literally deal with life and death situations every day. Quarantines. Of course, long hours. So I, in short, I think our clients are heroes.
Adrian Tennant: How can clients translate operational insights into opportunities?
John Crutchfield: Well, I think every success and every failure is an opportunity. So both are going to provide you with insights. If you have that mindset of continuous improvement, you’re going to win either way in the long run. Um, to me it really comes down to sort of culture and execution. So this starts with agreed-upon goals and then you align resources and capabilities to achieve those things, those goals. So if you look holistically, you will notice gaps in efficiency or effectiveness. And then when you address those with that organizational goal in mind, any opportunities at the department or kind of an individual process level though inherently be addressed.
Adrian Tennant: So turning that lens upon yourselves, are there any ways that the current situation has presented either new problems to solve or prompted your teams to innovate in some way?
John Crutchfield: It has, I think innovation is, it’s at our core. Going back to kind of operational insights, we saw a need for a new product that addressed just the need more for more in-depth visualizations, kind of real-time notifications, mobile compatibility. So our latest product, ProfitAbility addresses all of those. So what we did is we went beyond that. We took a look at all our products including ProfitAbility and asked ourselves, “you know, how can we use our own products to make us more capable and again satisfy our customers?” So we’ve since developed dashboarding within our product ProfitAbility to streamline a lot of our own internal monitoring processes. So, this allows us to kind of take the burden off of our clients to monitor things like, “is my data being imported?” “Are different parts of the system being used?” “When’s the last time people logged in at the different property levels?” “Is anything out of balance from an accounting perspective?” So having this visibility sort of from a global perspective has really allowed us to find issues proactively and help our clients focus on business continuity. It will focus on helping, keeping, keeping, monitoring, making sure everything’s up and running for them.
Adrian Tennant: Have any software features scheduled for development been accelerated in response to the current situation?
John Crutchfield: We have prioritized some things that were further down the backlog at the time. They weren’t as important to our clients kind of pre-pandemic. A good example is business interruption reporting. So developing this kind of functionality has moved from the original thought of hurricanes or natural disasters and to also now account for things like the pandemic and moving it up to get that done faster. So it makes it easier for our clients that they need to if they need to quickly report out on the extent of business interruption to a number of people: management, ownership, insurance, government agencies. So we have moved up, things like that.
Adrian Tennant: What are some of the ways that agile practices could help other companies meet the demands of the current moment?
John Crutchfield: I think satisfying the customer, welcoming change, and working together. As you know, they’re key principles of agile and focusing on these all, among others, but it’s put us in a great position to meet the current demands we’re facing now.
Adrian Tennant: Are there any ProfitSword clients that you feel are making a real difference for their teams, the industry, all local communities during the pandemic?
John Crutchfield: Well, in their own way, I think they’re all doing great things. One of my favorite examples that I’ve heard from several clients, they’re opening up their properties to traveling healthcare workers, to the National Guard. And especially in kind of those hotspots around the country and in, you know, in the hopes of helping contain the virus. So it’s pretty inspiring stuff.
Paul Bennie: Hi, I’m Paul Bennie and my role at ProfitSword is the Director of Business Development. My role at ProfitSword currently is, is really all of the selling and the marketing as it relates to profit, sort. The front-facing of all of what ProfitSword is going out to either somebody that doesn’t know who we are, or even going out to our current customers as it relates to any opportunities that there may be to help them with our products.
Adrian Tennant: So Paul, in what kinds of ways, if any, has your client or prospect outreach strategy changed during COVID-19?
Paul Bennie: Oh, you know, that’s such a good question. It’s almost like we talk about this every week about what our is to people and it has literally changed this. This whole epidemic has changed everything on a weekly or day-to-day basis. We’ve had to adjust. And so, right now the message to those that are out there, both in the hospitality industry and senior living, our message today is to really offer help. Everybody’s in survival mode and when you’re in survival mode, right, you don’t go out and look for things that you don’t need. You don’t do that in your own home versus your business. And so our message really is in the format of trying to help them and help them understand that we can actually be part of helping them in a survival setting. And we can, and we are, and our clients are, you know, a testimony to that. They are using us day-to-day to help manage the situation. So we’re trying our messages really to try to help them understand that we are in a position to help them. And we’re trying to be as creative as we can with our products to help them get started with it in a time when it’s difficult to do that. But that the message literally is “we’re here to help and our products can help you actually fill a need today, right. Help you be better, help create efficiencies, help when you don’t have the staff to make an improvement in your processes, and look at your information in a more efficient or better format than what you have today.” So that’s the message and it’s a little different in the different industries that we’re addressing because their pain points and their needs are different. But generally speaking, we’re trying to fit into the survival mode needs right that they have and share that message with people.
Adrian Tennant: Do you have any examples of ways in which clients or prospects are innovating their way through this crisis?
Paul Bennie: I think our clients, they’ve come to us and because we help them with their data today and we give them tools to use, they’ve come to us and they said, “Hey, we’ve never had to look at our business this way before. If you can help us with this, this, and this…” Right? “Get us this data,” or, you know, “Set up a report that looks like this,” or “Can we do this analysis?” Or, “We’d really like a dashboard so that we can see what’s going on because we can’t keep track.” Those are the kinds of things that we’re getting from our current customers. And so it’s almost like they’re looking at their business in a different way because they have to, everything’s changed, right?
Adrian Tennant: In general, do your clients anticipate the economic impact of COVID-19 being relatively short-lived, or are you hearing that many foresee it now taking a relatively long time for the markets to return to pre-COVID-19 levels?
Paul Bennie: When we look at the data that our clients are forecasting and they are projecting with our system and planning ahead. And so as we look at the information on a high level, what we are seeing is the curve begins to angle up as we get here midway through the summer. So we’re talking about it’s taking the turn here is we’re bottoming out now and it’s starting to turn up here as we get to May and June. And then they are suggesting – again, this is very high level, so not specific by any market or anything – they are suggesting that as we get into the Fall closer to Q4 they are projecting that it’s going to come back to what they had budgeted or close to what they had budgeted initially. So that would be the pre-COVID-19 levels. Now that’s very generic and general because I think every market’s going to be different. And even by hotel, it might be different. We can see what our clients are suggesting may happen and that’s the curve is going to come up here as we get in towards the end of the summer, it’s going to start really angling up big and then it’s going to, you know, September, October timeframe, it’s going to get back to where they budgeted originally.
Adrian Tennant: Now, that’s hospitality. How do things look different for senior living facilities?
Paul Bennie: It is very, very different. On the senior living side, they are more of a month-to-month type of revenue collection if you want to look at it that way, like rent for example. However, the concerns in their environment are significantly different, right? Their concerns are mostly for that health and wellbeing and the care of the residents. That’s where their concerns are. And so their projections in their forecasting is done a lot differently. In fact, I would even suggest that in the past it has been very much like create a budget for the year and then you work through that and there’s going to be variances a little bit month by month. Well, I know in the situation that we’re in now their forecasting is probably shifting and changing because the budgets that they originally had, which you know, I would say don’t go up and down a whole lot, in the past normal day-to-day, that’s happening a lot more. Even things like their supplies and keeping track of the things that they’re now having to provide to their residents that have all changed their business models have shifted a little bit. And labor, of course, is a concern for them, a big concern for them. It’s just a different kind of labor concern for them, but it’s still a huge concern. I mean, you know, even things like people coming and going from senior living facilities, you can’t really do that very much. So, what do you do for staffing? That’s a big concern for them, to care for the residents. So they still have their business. They just have to adjust to being able to take care of those residents and keep things running smoothly in a strange environment.
Adrian Tennant: In the past, ProfitSword’s marketing strategy has typically involved attendance at trade shows and industry events this year. Of course, many of those events have either been canceled or postponed. In what ways have you changed your strategy in light of the current situation?
Paul Bennie: Yeah. Again, you know, That’s like every week, right? Where we’re seeing things change and we’re trying to address them. We probably won’t have an event like our normal events that you mentioned until we get into the fall. We’re talking August, September, October, November. We have those, you know, they’ve shifted. So we see them out there, but normally we would have already had some or be attending them as we speak. ‘Cause a lot of stuff would have been in the Spring. So some of the things that we’ve done is we’ve gone ahead and looked at what print publications that we’ve had and which ones still make sense and adjusting some of those, doing digital ads and trying to keep electronic social media out there and have it be active and relevant and fun. I think another focus has turned into creating some video content, a webinar-type content that could be recorded. So that we can present that for people, and participate in some of these, we’ll call it virtual type meetings, where we can participate, comment, or add content. So we’re looking for those and trying to participate in those. I mean even this was one of those, right? So, we’re trying to get ourselves in front of people and trying to get content in front of them, trying to put together white papers and press releases that make sense, that are relevant to now, that either present good news, or present helpful information, helpful content. So those are some of the things that we’ve shifted from a marketing perspective, trying to focus on some of the things that can be used and are more applicable and what they’re accepting to do by people. That people don’t want to be sold to directly necessarily, but they might be interested in looking at some really good, helpful content. So that’s where we’ve shifted, I think.
Adrian Tennant: Going forward, do you think marketing to verticals that have been so acutely impacted by COVID-19 will need to change in some way?
Paul Bennie: Yeah, I think everything’s going to change. Every time the economy is adjusted in a big way, right? And you as a business have to adjust. You start doing your business differently, you start thinking differently and your needs change. We just had a conversation about how so many companies have been forced to shift to work from home and that is a huge change for companies, right? So, what does that mean? Well, that means that they have to have tools and processes in place to be able to be functional in a remote virtual environment. Our system has been set up for the last 20 years for that exact thing. Right? That’s exactly what we do. We help people, you know, get their data, no matter where they’re at and um, make that possible. So I think that there are industries even that are going to start shifting and we will then be able to, and other people will also be able to shift how they look at their current business, or if they literally have to say, “Hey, our business model needs to have something else in it because now people aren’t doing this and they need this. And so we can provide that. If we were to do these three things and now we have a nice product or an addition to our product that can fulfill that particular need so we can change our marketing and our position to be in front of them and help them with that and fulfill that pain point or that need.” So I think this whole COVID-19 thing is really going to change how everybody ends up looking at what they have to do to be able to present themselves, market themselves and sell themselves.
Adrian Tennant: What advice do Maureen, John, and Paul have for other businesses currently facing significant challenges or disruptions as a consequence of COVID-19?
Maureen Allen: Again, hang in there. Keep the communication open at all times. It’s so important, the communication between us, between your companies, your employees. We’re here to help them. We are here to help them in any way possible as I mentioned, and, maintain your day-to-day challenges. You know, anything that we can help you with, we can certainly do that.
John Crutchfield: Whether you were prepared for something like this or not, which none of us really were fully prepared to the extent, but using it as a learning experience and then again, turn that into an opportunity. So if you don’t have the avenues for communication in place, start there. Consider going to agile and devoting resources to helping you get there. I think we’re all waiting to see again what the new normal will be, but with those two things, you’ll at least be in a good position to adapt quickly in the future.
Paul Bennie: I think that if in your sales and marketing efforts, if you were to try to find how it is that you fit into the pain points and the needs that exist, or if you can project what they all will be and if you can help instruct them and teach them, then I think that your marketing and sales will be successful. If people are aware that you are in a good position to help them and when they’re able to start working with you or circle back to discussions that you started with them, you will probably come out of this from a marketing perspective doing really well. Because you’ve been working on the problem – right? – while the problem exists and not waiting for the problem to get better. ‘Cause it’s gonna get better, but you don’t want to be on the back end of it getting better and not having done anything about it.
Maureen Allen: We are all in this together and we love our clients, our company, our employees, and we’re very happy that we’re all able to do what we can do.
Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guests this week: ProfitSword’s President, Maureen Allen, Chief Operating Officer, John Crutchfield, and Director of Business Development, Paul Bennie. My thanks also to ProfitSword’s Senior Marketing and Brand Specialist Michele Mott for helping put together this special episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. You can learn more about ProfitSword’s business intelligence and data management solutions at profitsword.com. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.