Business Intelligence: What is it and what can it do for my business?

For a long time, business intelligence and analytics tools seemed out of the reach of mid-market and smaller users. The systems were complex and costly, and they required hardware, software, licensing, and special skills that were well beyond the budgets of most mid-sized companies.

Nowadays, with the advances in technology, vendors offering lighter versions of their products and the rise of software-as-a-service (Saas), Business Intelligence has become accessible to companies that previously might not have been able to afford it.

Firstly, let’s talk about what business intelligence really means.

According to technology research firm Gartner:

“Business intelligence (BI) is an umbrella term that includes the applications, infrastructure and tools, and best practices that enable access to and analysis of information to improve and optimise decisions and performance.”

So in everyday terms, it’s really about making better business decisions through the analysis of information. Usually taking the form of a database or other software which collates facts and figures from various parts of your business to produces charts, reports and other insights. These systems allow a company to gather, store, access and analyse corporate data to aid in decision making.

You can use BI to analyse any aspect of your company – monitor the effectiveness of your sales efforts, or the efficiency of your factory operations, the performance of different staff members, and much more.

BI is made up of several related activities, including data mining, online analytical processing, querying and reporting. With the BI tools that are available today, businesses can jump in and start analysing data themselves, rather than wait for an IT team to run complex reports.

Right, so now that we understand the concept of it, what can it actually do for your business?

Depending on the system you decide to implement BI systems can be quite expensive, so it’s a good idea to know what benefits you will be receiving from making such a big change in your company. The main reason that a business uses BI is for better decision-making. Better decision-making leads to:

  • Growth in revenue
  • Increased competitive advantage
  • Improved operational efficiency
  • Enhanced customer service

BI helps see the hard number, the evidence behind business decisions that would otherwise have been based only on gut feelings. Using the information already on hand, BI makes it easy to read and understand, which in turn gives you the visibility you require to make better decisions.

“When done properly, the analytics can provide insights into trend analysis that otherwise can’t be seen,” said Dan Linstedt, president of Empowered Holdings in Saint Albans, Vermont, in an Inc Magazine article. “BI can also provide insights into the cost of acquiring new customers over time, and how those costs are related to ‘customer gain or loss.’”

Business intelligence has been used to identify cost-cutting ideas, uncover business opportunities, roll ERP data into accessible reports, react quickly to retail demand and optimize prices.

What benefits are other businesses seeing from using BI?

  • Increased Sales – customers are the lifeblood of any business and a business intelligence system can help you to understand them better. BI can help you to create better content, or to use better sales techniques or channels.
  • Better control over inventory – controlling inventory is an important way to makes your business more efficient, improving cash flows and profits. By bringing intelligence and visibility into your inventory management you will see substantial cost savings and significant increases in profits.
  • Simpler analysis of web traffic – Some business intelligence systems are simple and well-known, and you’re probably using them already. Google offers lots of analysis of your website visitors through free services like Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, and taking the time to use them effectively can help you attract more customers and optimise your website to encourage them to buy.
  • Better customer service – business intelligence tools allow you to actively track and manage your customers, through software platforms that your employees can access anywhere with Internet access, allowing them to keep on top of their clients and leave a better impression.

This all sounds good. Now what?

Here are some questions to ask yourself before jumping all in:

What are you hoping to achieve?

BI is an umbrella term for a very large variety of solutions, from customer relationship management to operational efficiency. So what’s your priority?

You need to be very clear about your priorities and the long-term plan for your business, then consider how BI can help you reach your goals.

What information are you collecting now, and what could you easily collect with the right systems in place?

By now, you know that one of the main functions of BI is to pull together data from different parts of your business and analyse it; so consider the kind of data you already have available that you can feed through, as this is what will drive results.

What do you need?

You’ve now figured out your area of focus and identified what you have, now you need to make a more specific decision on what you need.

Hypothetical situation: Your focus is workforce efficiency, and you already have data on staff attendance records, work hours, performance appraisals and computer usage. Now, consider what your chosen system would ideally do to help you.

Do you want:

  • Something that integrates all your existing data and produces charts and reports showing you who’s performing the best?
  • To identify new data sources and better ways of measuring staff performance?
  • To buy a simple, out-of-the-box software program or have something customised created for you?
  • A cloud-based system, software-as-a-service, or a software package that you install and run yourself?
  • Something that is compatible with your existing systems, or something that replaces what you already have?

Want to find out more about BI?

Once you’ve got clear answers to all these questions, you can start shopping around for what will suit your goals the best. Contact our team and we will help to answer any of your questions, and assist you in moving your business forward to become a more efficient, intelligent version of itself.

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