by Christophe Primault
Published on 9 August 2010
Business intelligence (BI) is an umbrella term used to encompass the processes, methods, measurements and systems businesses use to more easily view, analyze and understand information relevant to the history, current performance or future projections for a business. Other terms that people often use to describe BI include business analytics, decision support and executive decision support. The goal of BI is to help decision-makers make more informed and better decisions to guide the business. Business intelligence software and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions accomplish this by making it simpler to aggregate, see, and slice-and-dice the data. In turn, this makes it easier to identify trends and issues, uncover new insights, and fine-tune operations to meet business goals. BI solutions can be very comprehensive, or they can focus on specific functions, such as corporate performance management, spend analysis, sales pipeline analysis and sales compensation analysis.
Results from the SMB Group's recently released survey, 2010 SMB Routes to Market Study reveal that SMBs view "getting better insights out of the data they already have" as their top technology challenge. BI solutions can solve this problem by providing a framework and tools to measure and manage business goals and conduct "what-if" scenarios to evaluate different courses of action.
In very small companies, spreadsheets and other ad hoc tools are often enough to get the job done. But as companies grow, the amount of data decision makers need to understand grows: new products and services, new markets and opportunities, investments in operations, sales, marketing and other systems to support growth.
As a result, more people have to be part of the data collection and analysis process, and different people in the organization (sales, marketing, finance, etc.) need to look at data in different ways. Typical problems with the spreadsheet approach include:
Business intelligence solutions give businesses a way to streamline and unify the data collection, analysis and reporting process. BI solutions are built on a unified database, so everyone involved in the process gets a single, real-time view of the data. Many BI solutions feature self-service dashboards and reporting tools that make it easier and less time consuming to contribute to and manage the process.
Until recently, BI solutions have typically been too expensive and complicated for many SMBs to use and manage. But more recently, vendors have made strides to make BI solutions more tailored, accessible and affordable. For example:
Today, there are more BI choices geared for SMB needs and budgets than ever. However, vendors characterize and target the SMB market differently, and these differences are reflected in pricing, solution capabilities and complexity. Start with a thorough assessment of our internal needs, and then carefully investigate and evaluate how different offerings map to your organizational requirements and constraints. Many vendors provide access to free trials, pilots, demonstrations, etc. to help you get a better idea of whether a specific solution will fit your needs. By taking more time upfront to assess, evaluate and compare your alternatives, you'll greatly increase the odds of selecting a solution that will meet, but not exceed your needs and budget.
(Originally published by Laurie McCabe on July 30, 2010 in Small Business Computing)