BI software gets smart

BI software gets smart

Business intelligence is an oxymoron at some companies. But others are finally getting the tools that deliver decision-critical data to the right people in the right way.

Traditional business intelligence (BI) users depend on relational data sources or applications such as ERP, CRM or supply chain management systems. However, with the changes afoot in reporting and online analytical processing (OLAP) technology, as well as trends in scorecards and dashboards, useful BI tools can reach more end users, which should change your BI operations strategy.

BI vendors such as SAS Institute Inc., Business Objects SA, SAP AG and Cognos Inc. are responding with suites that they claim are easier to deploy. For example, most of these suites can perform multiple functions for different applications while accessing various databases, so you don't need to force-fit the links between them. Investments in extract, transform and load technology for BI support are paying off, too. It's now possible to blend real-time information from data warehouses with enterprise applications like ERP and CRM.

Connections, whether via a relational database management system or an OLAP engine, are routine for these new types of BI suites. The reasons are clear. Decision-makers need to do ad hoc queries on relational and OLAP databases. They also need to perform calculations and create metrics to be displayed across the enterprise. And they won't jump from app to app to do it. So enterprise portals with dashboards running modeling and business-performance tools are also part of new BI offerings.

But does all that technology make BI useful? I think so. First, it helps to identify and track customer profitability and retention. Second, reductions in operational costs by rationalizing suppliers are more easily accomplished with BI. Third, companies need better financial transparency, given our current atmosphere of shareholder and regulatory scrutiny. BI can help here.

Finally, senior management no longer lets lines of business run their own shows, relying only on quarterly reports. Top managers are digging deeper into daily operations. They need access to information to make decisions before decisions are made for them. This will push companies to standardize on BI systems that offer comprehensive views of the enterprise without sacrificing or compromising data sources, reporting structures or time frames.

Smart businesses know that their data is valuable. Smarter ones are investing in the new tools so they can better make informed decisions throughout their organizations.

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