Business Intelligence (BI) and the Case for Change!

THE CUBEAs the economy recovers and businesses plan for cautious growth, companies must invest in solutions and platforms that enable a better understanding of their business, customers, channels and partners.  They need to anticipate demand and business process needs while responding to new trends and emerging opportunities rapidly.  Business decision-makers, sponsors and process owners need up-to-date, relevant information at their fingertips, anytime and anywhere. While clearly understanding the benefits of doing so, many companies are unable to present an integrated view of critical information to all information consumers within the business.  Consider some common problems:

>> Data often resides in legacy systems (typically disparate data sources across the business or across acquired business entities) to which most business process owners have limited access. It is nearly impossible to obtain actionable, relevant information in a timely fashion to drive the decision-making process.  Information is typically not timely and is most likely focused on the "past" vs. expected future.

>> Existing processes for requesting data, consolidating data and analyzing the information is typically filled with frustrating time lags and gaps as BI tools are not integrated and require multiple steps to pull and manage data.

>> With data residing in multiple locations and systems, critical information is frequently not shared across functional boundaries, business units, operational entities and business process groups.  This occurs despite the fact that business decisions need to be made across these same boundaries. Data source owners and data consumers find themselves in a circular argument over data validity, accuracy, format and meaning limiting time that could be spent making decisions and moving the business forward.

>> Analysts face a somewhat daunting challenge of having to master complicated analytical tools (more capability does not necessarily mean more power), with different security and access and often with a different tool for each information source.

>> While analysts may be able to dig for information across multiple locations and systems, business managers and executives typically do not have the time to do so as well. These business leaders need relevant information proactively presented to them on a timely basis, and struggle to find new and different ways to access business data.

>> Some organizations develop painstaking, ad-hoc processes to assemble data from multiple information sources into a presentable format on a periodic basis. By the time these reports are presented to decision makers, the data therein is already out-of-date. As a result, the reports are not actionable and remain untouched until they are replaced with the next version.  Often times, the data analysts have created their own individual Access and / or Excel solutions to pull together data in large volumes and form into meaningful insights for the business.  This process can take hours, days and sometimes week.

These and other challenges ultimately lead to ill-informed decisions and threaten an organization's competitiveness - and thus, the case for change and investment in Business Intelligence.

Businesses need an integrated view of customer sales data, of performance data, of supply chain and operational data in order to make key business decisions.  The business case for BI investments involves hard benefits (e.g. shutting down old systems, replacing existing processes) and soft benefits (e.g. time saved running reports, processing data, creating insights).

"The immediate availability of accurate information changes strategic thinking from a separate, stand-alone activity to an ongoing process integrated with regular business activities...  The winners will be the ones who develop a world-class digital nervous system so that information can easily flow through their companies for maximum and constant learning."

-Bill Gates, Business @ the Speed of Thought