Business intelligence on a growth curve
Several signs are pointing to the increased uptake of business intelligence (BI) in 2011. Technological advances, social networking, self-service BI and tablet-based devices such as the iPad are taking BI to front-line operational management.
This is the view of Sean Paine, chief operating officer of data management and BI solutions provider, EnterpriseWorx. “For years, BI has remained at the 20% usage level in most organisations. It’s generally stuck at a low-level of analysis, with some slicing-and-dicing carried out to achieve a basic view of the business’ key indicators,” he says.
Recent technological developments by vendors such as QlikView are making BI more intuitive, faster, easier to use and more predictive, with advanced analytics that seem set to popularise the tool.
However, for BI to become pervasive throughout the organisation, a change in thinking is required. In the first place, says Paine, social interaction needs to take place. “We are used to making collective decisions in our personal lives, and are influenced by our friends, for example in regard to our purchasing decisions,” he says.
“This framework has not yet been established in the corporate world. We will get more out of BI if we bring social collaboration and analysis of social relationships into the process so that, for example, the operations manager knows what the merchandiser is thinking and they work together to make a collective decision.
“This is starting to happen as we see the emergence in the workplace of the millennium generation, those born after 1980 – the generation that popularised social networking. They are now becoming corporate decision makers and will have an impact on the way BI is conducted.”
In addition, Paine believes it is necessary to create a culture where people throughout the organisation are eager to analyse information and come up with answers based on hard facts, instead of making gut-feel decisions. “It’s about embracing an ethos where information is not used in isolation, but where business users are delving into their information. Tools like QlikView enable users to help themselves.
Such self-service BI allows business managers to identify their problems and execute on strategy. It’s not just about providing exception reporting and making sure stock is at the right levels.”
“Where traditional BI was too slow, with tools like QlikView, if you spot trouble in, say, the finance or marketing department, you can gain access to the data immediately and rectify the problem,” says Paine.
“The tablet revolution sparked by the iPad makes it possible to serve up BI quickly and in a variety of settings, using a mobile device that is less socially intrusive than a notebook or netbook when interacting with others.”
This supports the Gartner research group’s contention that computers and mobile devices along with improving connectivity are enabling a shift in how businesses support operational decisions. “It is becoming possible to run simulations or models to predict the future outcome, rather than to simply provide backward data about past interactions, and to do these predictions in real-time to support each individual business action,” according to Gartner’s Predicts 2011 report.
“To take advantage of the increasing scope of BI, it is important to move it out of the IT department, and get business managers to own it,” says Paine. “We need a two-pronged approach. We need a team of specialists – actuaries and statisticians – to dive deep into the data and scrutinise it. And we need to get information into the hands of end-users, and let them explore the data and uncover its hidden wisdom so that they can scrape off the top layer for potential revenue gains and cost savings.”
“As BI moves into the operational areas of the business, we are seeing vendors embedding and integrating BI with their CRM and ERP systems. In this way it becomes part of every line of business and impacts on more and more people.”