Harnessing the Power of Business Intelligence

Business intelligence software can translate masses of data into insights that drive better decisions—if you do it right.

November 12 2013 by CJ Prince

Another client, a consumer-product company, had the goal of globalizing as quickly as possible. Their primary metric for evaluating new market opportunities was GDP; high-growth countries were first priority to penetrate, and India was at the top of that list. But when they drilled down to look at other variables, such as market access, political dynamics and regulatory environment, “that painted a very different picture,” says Simmons. “The highest growth markets were the most expensive to go into and operate in. That fundamentally altered their strategy.” After all the analysis, Colombia came out near the top of the list, where previously it had not been on the radar screen at all.

Done right, BI can conceivably provide every person in the organization, from C-suite to front line, with information that makes it easier for each to make better decisions on the job. A customer service rep, for example, can pull up a customer’s entire purchase history, favorite products, most recent orders and complaints and be armed with that data when speaking with that customer—ideally leading to better service and retention. There are a host of other potential applications. Comcast, for example, rolled out an interactive reports application for call center reps to do what-if scenarios, designed by OpenSymmetry. The reps were able to view, in real time, how many services they’d sold in a month, and how many more they’d need to reach a certain threshold for reward. “It gives the initiative to the people who otherwise wouldn’t know what they’re going to make. Now they know that if they sell these two additional items, they’ll be eligible to get X,” says Todd LeBaron, CEO of OpenSymmetry.

Although the opportunity to have useful information remains the ideal, in practice, the actual number of employees getting their hands on BI, or opting to use it, is still quite low across companies, says Gartner’s Sallam. “Despite companies’ spending [collectively] $14.4 million on these tools, when we actually survey companies about what percentage of [their] people use the tools, that percentage is below 30 percent. So the challenge is, how do we get analytics in the hands of more and more users?”

To reach that goal, large vendors, such as SAP, Oracle, IBM and MicroStrategy have to adapt their enterprise solutions to be more flexible and accessible, and smaller players like Birst, Tableau and Tibco need to continue building their brands as providers of user-friendly interactive data exploration applications at a price point even small firms can afford. In the meantime, it seems that no CEO can afford to ignore the BI wave, regardless of company size or industry. As Peters points out, those who recognized data as a competitive weapon a decade ago are reaping rewards today. “There is no way Walmart would be what it is today if it had not embraced data warehousing the way it did back then. The ones able to get their fingers on the right information to tweak and manage business to a level of performance that takes them above their peers over time—they win.”

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