Do you need to search for Business Intelligence (BI)? Are you planning to drag your company from the data-dark ages, into the brave new world of data discovery? Here are some thoughts to guide you.
In the old days, companies were often operating half blind, without free and easy access to the sort of business-critical data that they needed – not just at the very top of an organisation, but across all of the different company strata.
The other familiar sight was the mountain of various reports issued daily by the old-fashioned report-generation packages. The reasons behind the creation of many of these reports were frequently lost in the mists of time. Others simply generated reams of data without revealing the critical truths that were really needed.
But now you've decided to move on to a more enlightened future, so what to do? Many have tried, and lots have fallen by the wayside, so here are a few hints and tips that will help you in your search for a business intelligence tool.
Where to start looking for Business Intelligence?
The place most people start at is one of the authoritative surveys of Business Intelligence (BI) solutions. There are two main ones to look at here: BARC Research (World's largest BI survey) and Gartner. These highly respected research organisations publish annual comprehensive surveys of the world's main providers of business analytical tools. The vendors covered include both the enormous billion dollar suppliers of (very) high ticket solutions to more affordable offerings available from a wide spectrum of suppliers.
These surveys cover many aspects of the BI issue which you may want to consider when looking out for suitable options to pick from. These include product usability, time to implement, project success and how well recommended a solution is.
What other outside sources should I ask?
Getting good advice from somebody who knows is a great idea.
There are numerous places to go looking for that advice. High on the list must be other similar companies. These might include your company's suppliers or customers. The same applies to sister/group companies. These contacts probably have a good idea about your company's character and so will be well placed to give advice about their experiences with BI.
You may want to ask your contacts about the really crucial issues that determine whether the project is going to succeed. First amongst these is how widely and regularly their staff use their BI tool: if it's not used, then it's not paying its way. Key to this may be whether it is a proper self-service tool: the best BI solutions on the market truly are self-service.
Secondly, you may want to make sure about the delivery of your BI project. Just how long did it take for your contact's BI to roll-out, actually?
And thirdly, what do that company's own people say about it? After all, they are the ones that use it. Does it make their lives easier and more efficient?
What about my ERP supplier?
Many companies make their ERP/accounting software supplier the first port-of-call when considering BI: after all, it's a logical place to go.
Indeed, many ERP suppliers claim to offer BI. Often though, these supposedly all-encompassing solutions amount to little more than report generation tools combined with a suite of dashboards. This is because ERP and BI, whilst complementary, are very distinct packages designed for entirely different functionality. ERP suppliers' attention is generally focussed elsewhere. Check out our BI vs ERP blog posted earlier this year.
Evidence for this is the fact that almost every major-selling BI solution available (see BARC and Gartner above) originated outside of an ERP company, although some BI vendors were subsequently bought out by big ERP Technology companies.
Worries about issues of BI compatibility with your ERP/accounting software are addressed by a simple question: is the BI tool I'm looking at compatible with any ERP/accounting package? The best ones are fully compatible.
Which colleagues should I involve?
In the old days, the only staff members who would be involved in the search for software solutions would be the IT Manager (for the technical issues), the Chief Financial Officer (for the money) and the Chief Exec (for the project blessing).
These people are all vital to a BI project of course, and for the same reasons. But BI lives or dies by who uses it and how widely. Early incarnations of BI were often skewed towards Sales use and still today, the sales function is key in BI. But so nowadays are other departments such as Marketing, HR, Commercial, Accounts and Inventory. It is vitally important then, that these departments are considered and/or consulted on the issue.
A good, modern BI solution will enable you to address all of these areas and derive the maximum possible benefit from the tool you roll out.
What other issues might come up?
Well, one of the most frequently encountered issues that can arise is possible internal resistance to the idea of (especially higher quality self-service type) BI. After all, access to the powerful magic of company data has, in many companies historically been tightly controlled by a very privileged group. The idea of throwing open the gates of data to all and sundry sometimes goes against the grain. But as discussed above, unless the data is being used regularly and by the widest number of users, the whole exercise is a waste of time and money. The most common answer to this issue is to make BI Champions of key drivers of your BI project: staff who rather than restricting data and doling it out in miserly quantities can take company plaudits and recognition for freeing up the data cogs of a firm and really delivering tangible benefit.
The difference that a well-planned BI introduction can make to a company is enormous and a few simple steps in that planning can give the project a flying start. Good luck with your search.
If you want a good place to start check out a short demo of Phocas Software so you can see for yourself one of the leading tools in the market today.