Business intelligence. Now more than ever you need to have your finger on the pulse of your business – to ensure that all department heads know how their sectors are performing, are able to identify problems as they arise and are in a position to put corrective action into place quickly and efficient. Businesses just can’t afford to waste time and effort on getting data out of their systems and then figuring out what to do about it.
The ability to identify fluctuating business conditions in real time, as they are happening, and then react accordingly can significantly affect a company’s overall performance. Business Intelligence needs to go beyond gathering of data. Corporations need to be able to set and monitor goals, build strategies and scenarios to address business needs as they arise, and turn these strategies into action items if necessary. They also need to gather data to assess the execution of plans on a financial and operational level.
There are plenty of BI solutions that can plug into your data and churn out reports, or that you can integrate with your existing corporate system. But ideally, you want a software solution that can not only manage your business, but provide you with a bird’s eye view of the information you need to make critical business decisions. A system that can help you build the plans and strategies for dealing with your operation. A system within which you can set parameters, and then examine your data from multiple angles.
ERP systems, in helping you to run your business, must be able to address this need. They should not only provide you with real-time data that can tell, for example, what product or campaign is performing best, in what region and even what store, but help you analyze why something is not performing as expected. In drilling down to the details of orders and analyzing trends, you can determine that selling snow shovels in Florida isn’t the most effective approach, and re-organize to allocate that stock to Maine. Or if sales for one particular store or salesperson have been outpacing all others, you need to figure out why and see if the same strategies can be effectively employed elsewhere in the organization. In manufacturing, managing and monitoring production or scrap materials can have a significant impact, as can tracking the efficiency of vendors and quality of raw materials. All these are key factors that can substantially impact the bottom line of any business.
When evaluating products that are designed to help you make sense of your data, beyond the cost of the software itself and integration with your existing system (if required), look for the following:
Timely data: Running analysis on data that is a week old won’t be very effective. Conversely, systems that can only provide you with a snapshot of where your data is holding at any given moment are limited in scope and usefulness. Look for solutions that can provide you with real-time and historical data.
Ease of use and rapid implementation: If you can’t figure out how to get the information you need out of a system, the fanciest and most expensive tool in the world won’t be much use. Look for solutions that have pre-defined reports and even dashboards for certain targeted groups or areas of operation (executives, sales/marketing managers, CFOs, HR, Projects etc.), which can be customized for an individual’s particular requirements. This will not only make it easier for your team to access the data they need, but will ultimately save countless hours in putting the pieces together.
Analysis, or “slicing and dicing”: Look for systems that can filter and sort data to identify potential problems before they snowball into bigger issues. Analysis of dimensional data through intuitive query and online analytical processing (OLAP) tools should let your users “slice and dice” data and drill down to as many levels as there are parameters. So you can sort and analyze data by region, store and even sales rep. Or flip the data and look by item sold, then region. Different angles can reveal different trends, so make sure you can see as many as possible within the data.
Visualization: Try to find a solution that will help you understand key trends and patterns at a glance and display data in familiar forms, such as graphs and charts. Dashboards and key performance indicator (KPI) dials are particularly effective tools. The visualizations will enable users to track and monitor the metrics they are responsible for, compare actual performance to predefined targets and trigger alerts when performance strays too much from goals.
Access to data: Seeing data in real-time is crucial, but what if you want to analyze that data off-line as well? Make sure your data can be accessed when you are online and offline for maximum ROI.
As a rule, but especially now in this time of belt-tightening across the board, every company should be looking for ways to streamline operations and expenses. Make the most of the software you have and see what kind of BI information you can get out of it. Go one step further and ask your software representative or consultant what they can do to help you mine your business data and make sense of it. All too often, complicated BI tools make it too hard to find the data you are looking for, and too easy to get confused by what you find. Integration can be a problem with stand-alone BI systems. Try to look for software that can pull all your data together, help you set up targets in the form of KPIs, set business rules for alerts when KPIs are missed or met, and of course display the information in a simple and intuitive interface.
By Rebecca Haviv