Business intelligence (BI) solutions have been available in many forms for years, with vendors promising customers the ability to extract data gems from what once was a mishmash of corporate information. In spite of these promises, however, gaining effective intelligence that business can act on still remains an elusive goal for many companies in South Africa.
John Olsson, sales and marketing director at Ability Solutions says few organisations gain real value from BI investments because not many have embraced the knowledge-worker concept.
"BI will only deliver value when valuable information is delivered to every level of the organisation, in a format appropriate to each user," explains Olsson. "In other words, operational staff need specific data presented to them in a certain way to assist them in doing their jobs effectively, while executives need different information presented in a way that makes sense to them."
An operational user may need information on the current availability of a certain stock item, for example, while an executive would be more interested in the volumes of that item sold in the past month, the profit made and the number of faulty products returned. An effective BI solution will deliver the information in the right format to each person, as needed.
"The process of implementing a BI system that delivers value in this way does not start with a company buying a product, but by clearly defining what BI means for that organisation," adds Olsson. "Using the appropriate tools is important, but is only one aspect of the total solution. The most important part of a BI project is creating a BI strategy that addresses the company's strategic, tactical and operational information requirements."
Olsson adds that BI encompasses more than simply providing stock figures or profit and loss statements. Real BI sorts through the mountains of data every company has and delivers intelligence designed to help the company drive down costs and increase sales - or preferably both. It turns information into knowledge and improved knowledge means better control.
For example, instead of providing an executive with the volumes of a stock item sold and the profit made, an effective BI strategy would ensure the intelligence also provided information on who bought the item and what else they bought in the past. This will allow management to develop cross- and up-selling opportunities while streamlining the company's supply chain and providing better customer service.
Effective BI therefore delivers a return on investment (ROI) because it is proactive in helping companies improve their businesses by supplying information with which management is able to make quantifiable decisions. If, in the strategy planning stage, an organisation can not envisage what returns its BI will deliver, it should simply stop the project.
"And it is always worth remembering that usability is paramount if the BI system is to deliver value," says Olsson. "BI only delivers information, the company still needs to make use of its management's intellectual capital to manipulate and interpret the intelligence and react appropriately."
For more information contact John Olsson, marketing director, Ability Solutions, +27 (0) 11 319 5600.