Heard of BI?

So you’ve heard the term BI, Business Intelligence. You think, expense, high cost, and poor return on investment. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re wrong. Business intelligence isn’t the preserve of the large overbearing corporate entities, the emergence of analytics software can support smaller SME, and that does include those non-technical companies.

According to Gartner, the worldwide market for BI platform, analytic applications and performance management software generated revenues of $12.2bn in 2011. That’s 16% up on 2010, making BI the second fastest growing sector in the overall worldwide enterprise software market. More vendors than you can shake a stick at are appearing in the market with tools that can enable your businesses BI.

This growth could be attributed to a number of sources. Cloud, mobile and social media are all enablers for companies, leveraging and analysing the outputs and availabilities of these sources are often more difficult. How many companies have we seen with there own Facebook & Linkedin page? Do you use Twitter?

Why are these factors helping BI implementation, its down to targeting users and markets. BI tools often enable you to do more than write reports on your finance system. They often aren’t vendor or application specific.

SME’s as small, often market specific channels are in excellent positions to quickly move and understand these market shifts, they can leverage “Cloud” and SaaS principles to expand functions quickly to accommodate new trends. But spotting and understanding the trends is often more luck than insight.

So you’re an SME (or even large organisation) just starting out on the BI path. Where do you go what are your first moves?

Firstly, understand your data estate and processes. I can’t stress this enough, systems and technology in business are your businesses lifeblood. Seriously how much of your business works without technology? How many of your processes depend on users, customers or stakeholders utilising your technology? Understanding where technology is used, what data it depends on and the mediums it users are essential.

Secondly, many of your current systems have some kind of reports as well as a presentation layer? Establish what your users do with the data? Are they extracting it to publish, doing lookups or validation to non-linked data sets?

Thirdly, and this might be difficult, decide what your business strategy is? Can’t, haven’t or don’t have one? Well, tell me what you want to improve, become faster leaner or more focused? Do you have lots of customers and marketing data, do you understand relationships

4th (Fourthly didn’t sound right), leverage and evaluate what you have, map and out your data, relationships and (potential) linkages. Relate information to external markets and indexes.

5th, understand your users and capabilities, there is no point buying a Global Corporate grade BI solution if you can’t use it. Remember, its child, it will grow, start small and targeted, grow your own skills and capabilities. Understand where contractors can be applied to initially setup the basics.

6th choose your platform, if you’ve evaluated your current applications and providers offerings which are normally the quickest to implement. Generally they also offer a close match to your budget too. If that doesn’t suit your going to have to examine the market and approach providers who understand the technologies you need. Normally, if your in the cheap seats, move people head for Crystal Reporting type products for there high scalability, and downright cheap price point for capabilities. You can often find developers of many flavours who can use it. Even many jumped up junior programmers can use it, as its built-in with many MS Visual Studio installs for the last few generations.

7th, the mash up. You’ve got your data, you’ve got some super tools. You know need to get a little creative. Experiment, relate data together, look for correlations and patterns. The greatest part of the BI toolset is the interpretation engine that you the user has. Your wetware is the key to unlocking the valuable information behind your reports.

In conclusion, buying a BI product isn’t the end, you will learn, you will want to explore more, you stop, your business stops learning. BI is like a educating a child, as it grows, it becomes more powerful, sometimes you will have to change schools for it to specialize in new areas, sometimes you have to get a tutor and sometimes you simply have to let it make mistakes. Each is a new experience.

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