We're seeing a big wave in the emerging and mid-market areas for companies needing business intelligence capabilities," says Lisa Davis, the CEO and founder of Analytics Partners, a Jacksonville, Fla. based supplier of business intelligence solutions. "These companies are finding that it is critically important for them to know their customers, to know what they're spending, to know which customers are profitable and which aren't. Conceptually, businesses of all sizes should have real insight into their operations and their customers — to do planning, forecasting, modeling and adjusting based" on data that is current, accurate, accessible, and flexible.
These fundamental notions are at the core of today's expanding Business Intelligence (BI) market. Indeed, it is these very notions that drive the very real passion for meaningful BI for the success-minded business owner and manager.
Touting the values of BI, however, is only a part of the total picture. Without a solid understanding and well-formed strategic approach to BI, a vendor can appear to the buyer as nothing more than a charmer hyping the latest and greatest.
What Is Strategic Business Intelligence?
Every company needs a clear set of goals and objectives to achieve maximum benefits from its BI strategy. Optimally, these goals will include:
- Company-wide access to a concise, trusted aggregate of corporate information for making decisions based on fact, not instinct,
- Easy-to-use reporting and analysis tools that can help business users gain better business insights to uncover issues and spot trends quickly.
- The ability to respond with speed and agility to changing business conditions using effective, corresponding actions.
Articulating these goals is essential. Yet a company must do more than state its goals to achieve its BI. It needs a working framework that provides a blueprint for success; a framework that integrates and strategically aligns its people, processes, and technologies.
For growing companies, a BI framework must, first and foremost, be practical. It may draw on the conceptual framework used in larger companies, yet it must be scaled to a smaller company with fewer resources. Growing companies need a solution that provides essential reporting, planning, and analysis capabilities without requiring extensive resources. Formulating and implementing a comprehensive design strategy will maximize company resources while simultaneously keeping costs minimized. As with all vendor-directed initiatives, it is imperative to keep in mind that it is the responsibility of the vendor to regularly demonstrate the return on investment for implementing a business intelligence strategy.
Form resides in the function
If the vendor hopes to deliver a BI strategy that is effective as well as functional, the BI capabilities need to include the following functional minimums:
- Customizable Dashboard style interface for rapid, concise, and comprehensive information gathering and appraisal
- Clearly defined and simple scheduler commands that can be plugged in to any scheduler to allow reports to be automatically run at predefined intervals
- Report auto-emailing to easily maintainable distribution lists
- HTML report output to an organization's intranet or the Internet
- GUI driven output captured to a predetermined file server or location
- Full connectivity and interface capabilities with industry standard data management apps such as Microsoft Excel, SQL database engines, etc.
Also, for security considerations, each functional module should follow best practice policies for all levels of user interaction.In short, a company needs a set of functional tools such that executives and managers can spend more time focusing on information analysis and interpretation and less time pulling the data together, interfacing data between discrete systems or platforms, or maintaining systems components.
Finally, as vendors, it can be very profitable to provide our customers with a strategic approach to business intelligence, thereby delivering a new set of extremely powerful tools for rendering valuable information from data, and with this information, our customers can reach new heights of success in today's challenging and competitive marketplace.
Robert Eugene Miller is an information technology consultant and President of Horizon Technologys (www.HorizonTks.com). Horizon provides Business Intelligence Deployment, Systems Security Assessments, and Website Development consulting services to a national clientele.