What’s Lacking in Today’s Business Intelligence SoftwareNovember 11, 2011
Business intelligence, or BI, is a term that refers to software tools for extracting, analyzing and displaying business data such as sales, marketing, inventory and costs. These BI tools are expected to help users identify patterns and provide information in order to help make fact-based decisions. Unfortunately, I think most BI tools in the market fail to benefit the company directly (for reasons we’ll explore below).
If used in the right manner, BI tools can answer various marketing and business questions. These tools are expected to help make business decisions based on analysis of integrated data – with the end result of improved return on investment (ROI). This ROI comes from optimal inventory management, increases in customer loyalty, more profitable marketing campaigns and lowered cost of customer acquisitions.
Common Pain Points of Business Intelligence
There are still various issues that continue to plague organizations and their attempt at taming the data. Some of the common issues that have been observed across BI users include:
- Data integration – While there has been constant effort to streamline various data platforms, the fact is that there is still too much data available in various formats and on different platforms that do not interface with each other. Most BI tools are unable to integrate data from all sources in order to provide integrated reports that can be correlated and used for more meaningful analysis.
- Delivery needs – The delivery needs of different users vary depending on the level and function that the individual is handling. At one level is the difference in data formatting preferences, and at the other level, there is a fair amount of difference in the information needs of people working in different departments or regions. While a sales manager in Arizona may need drilled down data pertaining to his region, the national sales manager would obviously need to see the larger picture that includes sales data from all regions.
- Too complicated – Here again, while it is believed that BI tools need to be used by the end user, most of the tools available today are relatively complex and require some level of programming knowledge to process. This often means addition of personnel that needs to be trained on the software. No doubt the entire exercise becomes extremely time-consuming and tedious.
- Lack of action – Most BI tools are only good to deliver charts and reports without providing any level of predictive data or alerts with regards to trends or events that need to be looked into. The amount of data that has been integrated and analyzed only leads to a situation where the task of finding the “nuggets” becomes almost impossible. BI tools need to be able to send alerts when there is some event that seems out of the ordinary. Low sales in the first week of the month, reduced revenue from a customer, and change in purchasing pattern in a region or outlet are some examples of alerts that business tools should send out to the concerned people so that adequate action can be taken.
- Too expensive – Last but not the least, most of the BI software tools that do offer solutions to the issues mentioned above are extremely expensive. These solutions are particularly difficult for small and medium-sized companies to purchase and use.
More BI Solutions Needed For Small & Mid-Sized Businesses
Clearly, there is a need to provide meaningful solutions for small and medium-sized businesses. Many of the affordable BI tools are most likely to be simple analysis tools that churn out report after report – and take too much time to evaluate.
For BI tools to fully, and effectively, percolate into the organization, they need to be far more user friendly. Most small businesses use spreadsheets to assess the market situation. At most they are likely to have some special tools that allow them to run slightly more sophisticated analysis. However, these businesses are not likely to have data integration across data platforms or web-based tools that send out alerts when action needs to be taken.
Some ideas with regards to how business intelligence tools can be improved include the following:
- Less expensive – BI tools need to be affordable for companies in order to adopt them. Most companies refrain from purchasing these tools because they are not perceived to be a good investment for the kind of analysis and data they provide. This is probably the largest block that exists with respect to higher levels of adoption and usage.
- Easy to set up and use – The full potential of the tool is never unearthed unless it is easy to set up and use. While some tools need to be installed on each computer system individually, there are others that need to be uploaded on to the company server for specific access. Both these require the involvement of an IT professional and therefore are time consuming. Web-based tools are much easier to set up since there is nothing to install. It only takes a few steps for the online application to connect to the data and one should start seeing the benefits in the outset.
- Automatic integration – Small businesses are unable to connect their data from various sources like the point-of-sale data, sales data and customer feedback information. Combining this data is a daunting task for an IT professional, if it is ever undertaken. An effective BI tool allows for seamless integration of data across data sources by integrating easily with existing CRM, accounting, and point-of-sale software.
- Focused solutions for users – BI users should understand that end users are not likely to be able to program their needs. Focused solutions for various industries need to be prepared as modules that can be subscribed to for specific tasks, such as marketing effectiveness, business performance, finance management and customer engagement.
- Predictive of future outcomes – It is easy to dissect previous data and state what happened in the marketplace. What is challenging and also a need for the industry are business intelligence tools that can use past data to predict the likely occurrences of the future.
- Deliver real-time alerts – With the use of technology, BI tools should send out immediate alerts that are real time when strange data is observed. This can help take action that results in prevention of drastic occurrences like losing customers, stock outs and more.
- Action oriented – Finally, BI needs to be action-oriented. Some of the more advanced BI tools include action buttons to react to specific types of data. Some examples of the types of communication that can be sent include: emails to customers likely to leave, text messages to logistics managers as soon as stocks drop below a certain level, and tweets to sales managers when sales in the first half of the month are not in sync.
What do you think is working well and what’s missing in today’s BI toolkit? Be sure to leave your comments below.
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