BI for Beginners

The AlchemistBusiness Intelligence, Business Process Review, Project Management

Business Intelligence.iStock_000020970740XSmall

Everyone seems to be talking about it, telling you why you need it, how you should use it and how much money you’re potentially losing by not having “information at your fingertips”. It all sounds good in principle, but what does it really mean? And how what will it add to your business?

When you bring it back to basics, Business Intelligence is the means for you to report on your data to gain insights into your business. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need a fancy, expensive “business intelligence” specific tool in order to do it, but having an employee key data into an Excel spreadsheet is not business intelligence!

Business Intelligence, in very simple terms, is a software tool that can help you to collect, manage and analyse the reams of data and information generated your business. Generally, it is used to understand what we call “structured data”, that is, data that comes from whatever enterprise or business software you use. Structured data makes it easier for you to create consistent reporting rules and therefore get meaningful results. For eg, you might want to report on which of your product ranges sell well in specific regions – in order to do this you would expect the products to be defined, captured consistently as sales, and recorded as sales by region. Your Business Intelligence tool can then take this data and automatically produce the report for you on demand, allowing you to “slice and dice” the report, focusing in on specific products, or specific locations. All of this is possible provided, of course, that you’ve captured the data in this way to begin with!

Before you get too caught up in investigations of different BI solutions, there are two things you need to do. Firstly, check if your current ERP solution has any BI capabilities. It’s going to be a simpler and cheaper option if you do your analysis from within your current system rather than plugging something into it. If not, take a quick look at Microsoft Excel. Microsoft introduced an add-in called PowerPivot to Excel 2010/2013. PowerPivot combines the strengths of SQL Server Analysis Services, Excel and Sharepoint to provide a self-serve business analytics tool. It’s an effective way for a small to mid sized business to take advantage of data from multiple business sources and produce some impressive looking reports.

So what if neither of those options work for you? Welcome to the big, variety-filled world of BI solutions, ranging from the big boys (IBM Cognos, InfoBuilders), to the many online reporting options. Before you get too carried away with what’s on offer, there are a few points you need to be clear on:

  • Know some of what you want before you select a product. Know most of what you want before the project starts. Don’t pay for the privilege of your vendor throwing lots of options at you until something sticks and you find something that might work.
  • Clean your data and make sure it’s real. An analysis tool implemented on crappy data is going to give you crappy analysis. Your vendor will encourage you to move forward with the project and tell you “the beauty of BI is that it will highlight the problems for you”. Yes, it will. It will also cause delays in your project and lead to constant changes to your BI reporting in order to compensate for the issues. Which, of course, leads to more services time for the vendor and more cost for you. If your data isn’t clean, how do you know if what you’re asking for will work? Or if you’re just heading down a spiral of the BI money pit.

Consistent and reliable can bring many ongoing benefits to a business, but only if you’re using the right tool for your business and you have data clean enough to analyse. Don’t get seduced by all the big promises out there…..

Your selected BI tool will only report on your data so the more structured and clean it is the greater value you will gain from your investment. There are a lot of bells and whistles solutions in the market so be clear on what BI is to deliver and what decisions are to be made or influenced by the BI reporting. Its not rocket science, just good use of technology to analyse what has happened in your business.

Do you need some assistance to discover the best BI option for your business? Contact Business System Alchemy for more information by clicking here.

MP900321217The Alchemist comes to your courtesy of Ruxana D’Vine and Michael Meryment, specialists in matching business needs back to technology.

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