COMPUTER BUSINESS REVIEW

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Issue Date: October 2007

BI - shaken or stirred?

1 October 2007
Boetie Swanepoel, CEO at e.com institute

The benefits of BI make it a must have for organisations looking for competitive advantage.
The proven benefits of business intelligence (BI), which include enhanced decision-making and improved performance management, are making it a must-have for organisations that hope to remain competitive and meet new regulatory and governance requirements. However, with a range of BI solutions to choose from (each delivering different cost and functionality benefits) organisations need to ensure they know what they want – and what they are getting.
The ideal BI solution will provide the business with information that is accurate, can be extracted across the enterprise, is delivered timeously and in a format that does not continuously need to be challenged – ie, contextualised information. Information without ‘intelligence’ is limiting and prevents executives from having an insight into the business.
Businesses have three options: they can make extensive use of generic reporting tools such as Excel or Crystal Reports; implement and leverage the BI functionality built into their ERP suites; or choose a standalone BI solution like Cognos or Business Objects.
The information needs of a company will determine what type of BI solution is required. Establishing the basic requirements is hugely important.
Although a simple solution might be adequate, the advantages of richer functionality and analytical capabilities can be far reaching. Combining BI with analytics, planning, measuring and monitoring delivers the platform for performance management – the key ingredient for a successful business.
Usually, if static operational reporting is all that is needed, a specialised solution is regarded as overkill. A generic solution like Excel may do the trick. However, few organisations can make use of spreadsheets alone. No matter how powerful, spreadsheets are complex, time consuming and often error ridden. Excel creates a ‘departmental’ mindset which is restrictive. Data that is extracted across the enterprise delivers far better information that leads to improved decision making. These fundamental challenges have driven the development of BI systems.
Most organisations start slowly, making use of generic reporting solutions and then leveraging the BI functionality built into their ERP suites. These BI solutions are usually only good for static operational reports, however, and pivot tables in Excel are often used for analysis. It is only when these organisations realise that they require analysis across different business systems, that the value of standalone specialised BI solutions become apparent.
These systems are often technologically advanced and offer a better visual interface, such as dashboards. However, at this level of BI, it advisable to have a data store (or data warehouse) for integration and to extend BI functionality across disparate systems.
The BI solutions that are part of an ERP suite are, nonetheless, giving standalone solutions a run for their money. Architected on the same platform as the transactional systems and purpose-designed to extract information directly from them – in realtime – implementation and setup are fast.
However, no organisation wants to go with a specialised product until they know what they want. Cognos, Business Objects, Oracle and SAP, for example, all offer different advantages. Many have differentiated themselves by serving certain market sectors, such as manufacturing, retail, banking, etc, particularly well. To maintain their advantage, they have built the intellectual property they have gained into specialised product ‘set ups’ or templates for these specific business environments. Since the setup is predefined, it makes deployment of the solution simpler, easier and less expensive, and since it is tailored for specific industry sectors it allows these companies to extract immediate benefits from the solution.
For any business a BI solution is vital. What is certain is that the company, as it grows, will need greater access to information and data to remain competitive. In selecting a BI strategy and solution businesses should not be distracted by the hype. Avoid generalisations when assessing products. There is very little vendor lock-in anymore as most ICT applications are built on open systems. Also, the value derived from building a data warehouse extends beyond just its use by a standalone BI solution. Cleansing data is critical to ensure a single layer of accurate information is available to the whole organisation for decision-making.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to BI. Build your strategy to meet your information, budget and growth requirements and you cannot go wrong.
Boetie Swanepoel, CEO at e.com institute
Boetie Swanepoel, CEO at e.com institute
For more information contact Boetie Swanepoel, CEO, e.com institute, +27 (0)11 262 4262, boetie@ecominstitute.com


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