At a time when the need for business insights has never been greater, most organizations — whether they realize it or not — practice business intelligence on a daily basis in some form or another.

Simply put, BI generates new insight into how a business runs and how it can function more effectively when users better understand data and use it to make smarter, business-critical decisions. Every company that has yet to successfully address its BI challenges experiences some form of information access pains. 

Retrieving and analyzing business data is an increasingly essential part of successful operations, with access extended across the enterprise instead of being limited to a select few. When evaluating tools to solve BI needs, most companies raise similar questions: Where does BI fit in my organization? How does it fit with enterprise resource planning? Should ERP be implemented first? How is it deployed? What do you deploy? What metrics should be considered? 

While these questions are all very important, businesses need to take a holistic approach to BI to find the right solutions. The key is not to make your business fit to BI, but to make BI fit to your business. 

The Evolving Use of Business Data

With today’s overwhelming data demands, it is no longer the question of the need for BI, but how BI helps meet the demands of business.

Many decision-making processes have changed in recent years. In the past, executives’ judgments were based mainly on experience and tribal knowledge. As BI took hold, data became more valuable and analysis empowered executives to use data inputs and ERP solutions  to engage in smarter business decisions. However, as more technology was implemented, more enhancements were made, and more data was seamlessly integrated, executives began to overlook the full potential of BI. Many times they see solutions simply as reporting tools, missing how day-to-day activity and responsibilities align with enterprise goals and strategies.

In most cases, businesses already have the data needed, but it is disjointed. Executives focus on limited data sets with no view of how their efforts affect other areas of the business. This leads to the operational silos that hamper intra-enterprise collaboration. As a result, business leaders often find it difficult to coordinate activity across departments and synchronize effort and resources to meet strategic goals.

To realize the full value of BI, businesses need to acknowledge how a solution fits with key business processes. The goal is to equip business users with consistent and specific information throughout all levels of the organization so each group or business unit can best understand and apply the information. The full spectrum of users—from the executive team to line-of-business managers—can use solutions that are relevant to their day-to-day responsibilities.

More than Simply Visualizing Enterprise Information

BI helps different business units, managers and leaders access the same information and see how their efforts align with their enterprise’s strategic direction.

This is where a true BI strategy comes in, laying it on top or mapping the data to run the business. This is essentially ERP amplified for maximum efficiency and value, working as a system of outputs to improve the business with better decision-making. However, it isn’t just about visualizing enterprise information. It’s also about extracting and transforming information from disparate systems, matching and cleansing data fields and records, and handling data loading and error recovery for applications and databases.

By mapping core business decision-making processes and aligning them with tailored BI processes, companies can visualize and think about BI the right way — as a true, value-added solution to solving problems, not just a data aggregating tool. 

Connecting Users with BI

Large or small, within any enterprises there can be a significant disconnect between the strategic goals established by members of the C-suite and the daily activities of employees.

While robust BI solutions can help set up key performance indicators to communicate strategy through the organization to improve decision-making, the right data must be accessible to the right people at the right times. If business users can’t use data sets to meet analytical needs, it becomes nearly impossible to isolate key trends and insights by channel, business unit, department, location, product, supplier and time frame.

Because business decisions can be made faster and by more informed leaders (who no longer rely on IT but can access data and analytics themselves), providing a user-friendly experience is key to success. User engagement must be high, because much of the back office work, including the utilization of more business data, is being transferred through the enterprise to sectors like the sales force or customer service representatives.

At the same time, functionality is required. Users must be able to do what they want without the need for specialized IT support. Systems must be secure, reliable and dependable and, most importantly, perform at a high level. Software as a service has become a popular topic in this space. Solutions that can be provided in the cloud can be mixed, matched and tied together with enterprise applications to provide a solution that meets individual needs.

Enlisting the Future of BI

As mentioned above, whether companies have already implemented BI or are looking to enhance current systems, they must take a holistic approach. Organizations on this path are more focused on best practices.

BI solutions must offer choices that respect both the business needs and capabilities while empowering users with analytical tools that they can actually use each day to generate new insights and perspectives. Solutions can range from prepackaged data marts, with features such as prebuilt business enterprise solution integration, to highly customized BI processes that are designed to meet specific analytic and reporting needs, while considering myriad combinations across that spectrum. 

Regardless of how large a business is, all enterprises have large data sets. BI generates new insight into how a business runs and how it can run more effectively. As more organizations look at performance and ways to sift through data quickly, the key to success is to establish a BI program  that factors in where you are, where you are going and the best route for how to get there.

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