People, not technology, are the decision-makers in a business. Therefore, business intelligence (BI) technology should make it possible for people - the actual end users - to acquire role-specific data upon which business decisions can be based.
As stated in a recent white paper, Businesses dont garner insights or make decisions. Businesses dont close deals, invent new products, or find new efficiencies. People do. Companies excel when they empower their people to drive the business forward. Strategies, organization, motivation, and leadership all set the stage for business success. But to see results, you also have to give your people the right tools, information, and opportunities -because success ultimately comes down to your people.1
BI technology should enable users to make good decisions by providing role-based solutions that meet the unique needs of the end user (decision-makers and individual sales, marketing and operations professionals) and facilitate collaboration across traditional functional boundaries. Role-specific data can help small and midsized business executives turn their data into knowledge they can act on. One way to do this is by allowing users to answer their own questions independent of the IT department. It used to be that BI providers equipped the IT department with the tools to serve their in-house clients. But this way of doing business was costly, time-consuming and didnt keep pace with business needs. A better way is to provide decision-makers with the tools to create their own reports and do their own analysis is through the creation of single-version-of-the-truth data sets, which can be used in their entirety by senior users and equally as focused subsets of the whole by other users.
Technically this can be done with the use of multidimensional data cubes. Bringing diverse data sources together and restructuring them into a single, comprehensive data mart has traditionally been a major undertaking and only for organizations large enough to afford multiple-month reporting projects. But with new, rapid data mart, cube creation software and out-of-the-box solutions for common enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, sophisticated data analysis is now easily within reach. These new systems can allow users to incorporate their own custom business logic into the process, enabling analysis of data in unique ways.
However, tools are only effective when people can deploy them quickly and easily. Traditional BI solutions are costly, geared toward large companies and entail lengthy deployment time frames. Todays savvy BI providers are focusing on rapidly deployed, business-ready solutions that are available for organizations of any size, with a particular focus on providing affordable and useful technology to small and midsized businesses.
To enable people - whether executives or employees - to make accurate and responsible decisions regarding their area of expertise within an organization, ensure that they are able to access role-specific data via rapidly-deployed technology with minimal training. Preferably the system should be easy to use, and the end user should be able to ask and answer their own questions independent of the IT department. Low acquisition cost, rapid deployment and no training expenses are required traits of role-based BI software and will facilitate use.
Some systems provide a replicable, less costly solution that caters to the specific information and technical requirements of small and midsized businesses. Though these role-based BI capabilities provide a range of perspectives for analyzing business data across common organizational roles, they often dont provide the same flexibility as the systems that allow a user to create his or her own detailed analytical reports.
A few years ago, in Computer Weekly, Arif Mohamed wrote, As Microsoft prepares to drive business intelligence down the business food chain, users are facing the issue of whether to abandon established business intelligence tools and go the Microsoft route. Other business intelligence suppliers, such as Cognos, SAS and Hyperion, are also focusing on making business tools available to more employees through role-based tools and interfaces that are easier to use. SAS, for example, has outlined a strategy called BI for the Masses." 2
In the same article, Clive Longbottom, service director at analyst firm Quocirca, expressed an opposing view, Making business intelligence available to the entire workforce may come at a cost to businesses. He believes that many business managers do not have the expertise to use BI systems effectively. "The highly skilled will understand, but the marketing campaign manager or sales director may come up with something that meets their agenda and beat people over the head with the data. Unfettered use of BI may not help a company," he said. Longbottom added that role-based BI tools may hold the answer to this problem, because they can limit what data employees can access. "By making it role-based, you can give best practice templates to staff," he said.3
The fear that too much information may not be helpful is reminiscent of some of the Founding Fathers fear of too much democracy. But they established a republic anyway, recognizing that the excesses of a few is not justification enough to offset the value for all. As the Microsoft white paper observed: People make decisions. People will make better decisions if they are armed with real-time, accurate data that is within provided within the parameters that best suit their role in an organization.
- Microsoft Dynamics. Software Designed For Your People. Roles-based Business Productivity, May 16th, 2006.
- Arif Mohamed. Taking business intelligence to the masses. ComputerWeekly.com, November 8, 2005.
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