The Full Promise of Business Intelligence
It’s clear that there’s an information crisis in business today. Despite significant investments in information technology, most companies admit that employees are making decisions without the benefit of timely, accurate information. For example, a recent Accenture survey found that:
- Managers waste two hours a day searching for information.
- More than 50 percent of managers use the wrong information at least once a week.
- More than 50 percent of the information that managers receive is perceived as having no value.
To make better business decisions, business users need to see relevant information in ways that are most meaningful to them and easy to understand. They need to see the big picture and, when necessary, the detail. They don’t want to drown in irrelevant information.
Many organizations worldwide have demonstrated that business intelligence can address these issues – it improves the decision-making process and directly boosts the bottom line. These organizations have also shown that the value of BI increases as more decision-makers gain access to complete, consistent and trustworthy information. Yet, these same smart companies often find BI adoption lagging among business users.
Why? Business intelligence epitomizes the classic struggle between IT and business: Business users will not embrace BI until they can get it on their own terms. They protest that they can’t wait for IT and need direct access to information. Yet they say they need to see things their own way, which may lead them to say BI is too hard to use, and they prefer a different interface.
Still, IT has an important job to do. IT delivers the platform that secures information, integrates data sources, provides a foundation for masking the complexity of heterogeneous data sources and provides complete, consistent access to information throughout the enterprise. Only IT can ensure the security, availability and reliability of business intelligence.
Bridging this gap between business and IT is what enables successful companies to realize the full promise of business intelligence. Business users need simple user interfaces that provide answers to their specific business questions. IT needs the simplicity of a BI solution that fits with both key infrastructure and architecture while enabling them to cost-effectively scale. They also need to know that the platform aligns with strategic plans for enterprise architecture.
The Right BI Platform – Underpinning the BI Value to Your Standards
The challenge for IT is to seamlessly integrate information, technology and processes. When assessing the platform and architecture of BI solutions, IT needs to consider the wide range of required capabilities, the number of users and communities involved, size and variation of data sources, and the complexity of enterprise infrastructures.
In working to deliver BI solutions, IT considerations can be summarized with three key questions:
- How does IT gain everyone’s trust and provide the same view of data across the organization?
- How do you scale IT to support mission-critical deployments and minimize strain?
- How does IT gain value from existing investments while maintaining the flexibility to respond to new demands?
Having a solid foundation in place to address today’s requirements and support an organization’s performance management journey is critical to ensuring long-term, successful BI implementations. Getting the proper platform in place not only provides a common foundation for data access, system management and information delivery, but also allows change and growth without an extra burden on IT as the organization’s needs evolve – with new capabilities, new users, new data sources and new technology environments.
With the proper BI platform, IT professionals and the entire organization will benefit from:
- Flexible and optimized access to all data;
- Complete, consistent access to information the business can understand, own and trust;
- Broad system control for IT to deploy, manage and scale service commitments with confidence;
- Modern service-oriented architecture to leverage your infrastructure, adapt to change and embrace open standards for long-term use and growth.
Making Data Available and Easy to Understand
Organizations are accumulating massive amounts of data. Data comes from ERP systems, data warehouses, operational data stores, customer-facing systems and a wide array of other sources. Data resides in numerous locations, often in different formats and isolated silos. Managed effectively, this data becomes information that enables people at all levels of an organization to gain a clear understanding of how they are performing, why they are performing that way, and what they need to improve. The result can be an organization where processes and people are aligned, driving higher performance and building competitive advantage.
Information must be delivered in terms users can immediately use -- without any prior SQL knowledge or technical savvy,-- and in a way that insulates them from the underlying physical complexity of data sources. It must be multilingual so that information need not be duplicated for different countries or user communities, as that introduces risk of errors. And it must be published so that each user receives only the information they need, no more and no less, with a shared view that is easily consumable. In this way, IT is freed from the business demands of explaining the data, duplicating data for different views or languages, or creating specific reports for users because the information isn’t in a form they can use and trust.
In order for information to be in terms the business understands and can use, data modelers need to translate the physical source, massage the information and make it digestible. And they must consistently deliver that information to all business users so everyone works from the same information, and yet avoid overwhelming them by delivering only what is relevant. Lastly, they must do this efficiently so information is made available to business users before they decide to create an information set for themselves in a spreadsheet.
Applying Predictive Analytics to Business Intelligence
Applying predictive analytics is fast becoming a key differentiating factor for organizations striving to remain competitive in their marketplace. Organizations need greater agility to adapt to market dynamics, so insight into where their business is heading is critical. The sheer growth in volume and variety of data means organizations can no longer rely solely on the human eye to identify patterns – algorithms must be applied to uncover patterns the human eye may not discern, and BI’s job is to deliver that insight to the user.
In the past, organizations have relied on key performance indicators to determine if their business is on track. These KPIs have been driven from historical transactional actuals compared to a benchmark, threshold or plan to indicate relative performance. Predictive analytics delivers KPPs, or key performance predictors, to help organizations combine their historical view in the “rear view mirror” of what has happened with a forward looking view through “the windshield” to answer “what is likely to happen?”
Predictive analytics can no longer be restricted to the world of people in white lab coats. Today it’s possible to put the power of predictive analytics into the hands of the business and financial analyst, and the value of the predictive results into the hands of decision-makers. Now a loan officer using BI can decide to approve a loan based on the likelihood this person defaults, and a sales executive can gain early visibility into their likelihood of making quarter and adjust operating plans to ensure they meet their target.
The critical success of BI systems is to deliver all relevant information to inform decisions – predictive is fast becoming as critical a key data source as the data warehouse.
IT Confidence - Trust the Solution
Technology hurdles can also dampen business and IT enthusiasm for new applications and solutions, such as BI. Users without access, users accessing the wrong information, poor performance and random system errors can all shake business confidence and reduce the user community’s willingness to adopt the solution. Even worse, these hurdles can undermine IT’s confidence in the technology itself.
IT managers need to trust the technology and know it’s capable of meeting their required service level commitments, providing proper access to all users and minimizing the risk of additional strain on IT staff. This confidence needs to exist at the time of initial deployment, and it needs to be able to grow as the solution extends across the business.
An enterprise-scalable BI platform provides for broad system management with a complete view of system activity and the ability to streamline environment changes. For IT managers with the capacity to plan, it provides the required resources for a deployed solution. It offers built-in fault tolerance, predictable linear response, and the ability to implement comprehensive security – all without client-side installations or downloads for end users.
In a single, intuitive interface, BI system administration provides users with improved visibility into BI system activity, and the flexibility and control needed to manage the system proactively. At a glance, system managers can see all relevant system metrics, quickly spot those flagged as potential problems, drill down to find the causes and take steps to identify problems before they happen.
The right BI solution helps you manage environment change in a visual way. Administrators can test, compare and summarize report results between two application environments to identify and quantify issues during the upgrade process, ensuring faster and more streamlined upgrades.
When organizations choose new IT applications, IT managers must address important technology requirements. IT managers and architects need to know that technology solutions support broader enterprise standards, such as portals, the Web, security and operating systems. They must also consider the solution’s flexibility for future requirements. With these criteria in mind, IT managers can seek solutions that are easy for the users to adopt and for IT to build.
Decision-makers will adopt BI when it is easy to use, timely and relevant. The full promise of business intelligence will be met when all users are able to access the data, understand what happened and why, and determine what action they should take to help the organization succeed.