Insights to Action: Business Intelligence in 2010

BI2010Performance Management. ABC/M. Balanced Scorecard. KPI's. Dashboarding. Scorecarding. Reporting and analysis. Business Intelligence. Data Mining. Demand-Driven Value Chain. Six Sigma. Lean. I look back over the last 10 years and it quickly becomes apparent that business performance management (the use of performance metrics to drive business decisions) is and always will be a priority for organizations large and small.

Business decisions require facts to make decisions. Facts are based on data and information. Technology enables the collection, management and harmonization of data and transforms that data into information that can be reported and acted upon by Business Intelligence tools and capabilities. Business processes then leverage information to drive decisions.

Fact: Business Intelligence capabilities are becoming more accessible as web technologies continue to evolve.  Many companies are starting to utilize Cloud computing architectures and software-as-a-service models to manage and scale business performance management frameworks and serve up insights via portal technology. 

Perspective: Mobile data and information is fast-becoming the priority for organizations as they struggle to keep up with the evolving Smartphone and Tablet market. With Apple leading the way in distributing application-rich environments that are also user-loved, BI vendors must adapt solutions to fit the "new way" of getting to data and information. The combination of Smartphone capability and ability to leverage data such as GPS coordinate data makes mobile solutions powerful in executing programs. Organizations that "decide" to not invest in this space will quickly be left behind - especially in industries known to be technology slow-movers - and their supply chain, marketing and sales functions will struggle while other more nimble service and product suppliers will differentiate on service based on better, faster, cheaper access to information to make decisions. The strategy of being a "slow-mover" or "late to the game intentionally" will not be a differentiating strategy in this space.

Couple of thoughts to consider:

1) Ease of Access.  Data, information and insights are the drivers behind business decision-making. Many firms have continued to invest in Business Intelligence technology enablers (especially during the economic ups-and-downs of the last 12 months) as insights are becoming more and more important in driving strategic and operational business decisions. Many BI tools offer solid user interfaces but the key to successful "access" is educating the business user on how to make sense of large volumes of data, how to manipulate the data to answer business scenario questions, and how to create documents to communicate insights in a meaningful way.

2) BI Self-Service.  There is no doubt that most companies have moved out of the "request report from IT" mode to self-service business intelligence. The entry cost for BI is relatively low especially when considering the Business Intelligence software solution landscape. Some more complex BI solutions still command high per-seat user costs but many niche players are able to implement and provide insights in weeks depending on the size of the data warehouse / data mart. Companies that fail to invest in BI will be left behind by the competition who are using insights for planning and execution purposes.

3) Into The Cloud. There is finally an alternative to large capex investments in hardware to support data warehouse, analytics, data mining and any number of other technology solutions. There are plenty of articles on the trade-offs with Cloud capabilities so I won't cover them here. The biggest upside is the opportunity to avoid up-front hardware purchase capex outlays vs. subscribing to "just" the amount of storage or capability needed to enable business processes. This is especially helpful in an environment where there are periodic or standard fluctuations in data storage requirements or capability utilization.

4) Reporting to Analysis. Most BI tools are good data-dumping tools. Analysts continue to utilize their Excel spreadsheets and Access databases and they utilize the BI tool to "dump" data into their local "spreadmarts" (as my colleague Steve Czajkowski likes to refer to them). Upstart BI capability providers are moving to action-oriented capabilities - enabling access to key analytics quickly and easily through different mediums and access points (including Mobile). They are also doing this at a much lower price point vs. the "Gartner BI quadrant BI leaders." The challenge is they often lack the credibility, references, relationships, or scale to handle different BI implementation permutations.

5) Business Ownership (vs. IT).  There are several reasons why companies fail to invest or draw out decisions to invest in BI capability. First is business readiness. The business must "own" the solution and for many companies, IT finds itself leading business intelligence projects and therefore, success rate is not high. In this same category is fear of providing too much data to business decision-makers that are often struggling to keep up with day-to-day customer / business activities and are challenged to make sense of data that exists today - let alone adding more data or tools to the mix. Second is access to capital. Depending on the size of the business user base (and master data set), the cost to deploy an enterprise-wide BI solution can be significant. In the current economic environment, capital is not readily available and therefore many BI projects are delayed. Finally, existing infrastructure. Many companies have made significant investments in technologies and architecture to support outdated systems. Change comes with a price and may require other complementary system changes.

Business Intelligence will always be a good investment as long as actionable insights enable business decisions...and of course, this requires clean data.