Many organisations have played around with Business Intelligence tools (BI) over the past 20 years – and more than a few still bear the scars.
Traditional BI, while incredibly useful when correctly implemented, required a lot of technical support, excellent data understanding and rigorous user training. Add in a serious hardware investment and, more often than not, a dedicated data warehouse to ensure transactional systems did not grind to a halt every time the FD ran a report, and the cost/value equation for BI has not always added up.
Times, however, have changed fundamentally. Today’s BI tools are highly visual, run in real time and, critically, exploit powerful hardware to enable near continual refresh of even the most complex reports. Even the out of the box reporting offered by ERP and CRM systems has improved measurably and when combined with these Visual Analytics tools that can work in real time across multiple data sources, the quality and depth of information now available is a world away from the previous generations of BI.
So what does this mean for businesses? Essentially the model has evolved from information reporting to information delivery, enabling organisations to empower individuals at every level of the business with vital insight to support day to day activity in real time.
For example, by removing the need to spend time hand crafting reports, the finance team can instead consider in real time a range of business critical issues such as: how far creditors’ days can be stretched and what might that mean for cash flow; the implication of offering debtors 28 days to pay instead of 60 or the impact on staff costs of business growth.
Similarly, with no time spent consolidating multiple spreadsheets from the sales team, a Sales Manager can see immediately the win/loss sales ratio over the past month; the deals in the pipeline; and the performance by product, region, and sales person.
In addition to providing fast, accurate data to the traditional business information consumers, new BI can also transform operational performance. Take a typical Service Centre environment where performance dashboards can be displayed on wall boards, providing all staff with an at a glance view of outstanding cases, average time to resolution as well as individual agent performance. For managers, this insight can also support improvements in resource utilisation, identify repeat issues and proactively address problems.
The most important factor is that this new BI model is achievable. There is no need for a dedicated data warehouse and users can be up and running incredibly quickly with minimal training. BI has changed and, as a result, the information landscape has improved significantly for organisations of every size.