Business Intelligence (BI) is not just about providing a means to present business information; it is an enabler that improves the power of individuals to make knowledgeable decisions. In order to unleash this power, BI needs to move beyond data and reporting, and become more integrated into the processes that actually run the business. BI should be extended to focus on individual needs, providing simple and proactive tools that can be called upon at any time and used to enhance business collaboration throughout the company. A number of key trends will drive companies to move Beyond Business Intelligence over the coming years:
Driving Performance Management from inside the Business
Enterprise Performance Management is a set of processes that help organizations optimize their business performance. It is a framework for organizing, automating and analyzing business methodologies, metrics, processes and systems that drive business performance. Over the next 5 years, Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) will begin to supersede traditional Business Intelligence. More emphasis will be placed on how organisations define, develop, communicate and deliver strategies and plans, and how these are managed, monitored and assessed as they are executed. Organisations will need to change attitudes of both executives and staff to create a culture willing to listen, learn and innovate. With this willingness to share ideas and adapt quickly to change, the organisation will be able to create an environment where freedom of information, collaboration of individuals and traceability of governance are core business values.
Linking Budgeting, Planning and Execution
With the current downturn in the global economy reducing budgets, the need to adequately forecast both the budget and overall outcome of strategies and plans is becoming critical. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study of US companies showed that 65 per cent of respondents indicated that their budgeting and forecasting needed to be more relevant, while 44 per cent saw the link between strategy and planning as requiring the most improvement. Utilising historical and external information, executives can predict the results of strategies and/or plans, allowing them to construct feasible business strategies with obtainable objectives, and support the development of achievable plans with realistic budgets.
Utilising Real-time Information
Decision making will begin to be disseminated throughout the organisation moving from back-office to front-office staff (i.e. sales, call centre). Management will begin to work to identify key attributes that affect decisions and feed these to the front-office staff, allowing for decisions to be made that realistically affect the overall business. Having the most up to date information is critical to making better decisions. As information moves closer to the front-office and impacts decisions made there, the latency of information must be reduced.
Creating simpler ways to get knowledge
As BI becomes more integrated into the operational processes of an organisation, the methods required to retrieve the information need to be simplified so that the natural process of decision making is not interrupted. Solutions need to provide simple and engaging mechanisms for users to retrieve the relevant information at the right point of the process. Technology that provides flexible reporting will need to be “fronted” with pre-built focused and personalised solutions that are applicable to the step of the process and the role of the individual interacting with it. Providing these types of solutions will enable organisations to reduce the skills necessary to access the information and speed up the process of decision making.
Utilising Unstructured data
BI has historically been based on structured data gathered from applications and databases utilising a small amount of the actual information within the organisation. Typically, 80 percent of business information is unstructured, held within documents, email communications and other formats. New techniques for harvesting this information will continue to be developed including enhancements in text mining and analysis, the ongoing development of the Semantic Web and the increased use of Natural Language Processing (NLP). These developments will allow organisations to include new data into their analysis (i.e. call centre communications, customer complaints, and email communications), improving knowledge of their customers and lead to more innovative sales, marketing and retention strategies.
Delivering Knowledge at decision points
Execution is a result of thousands of decisions being made by employees acting on information they have and their prior experiences. In order to execute more effectively, companies need to take advantage of the skills of their resources, and the in-built inclination of people to improve business performance. By defining who is accountable for each decision, the company can empower its employees and focus management on identifying decision making patterns that can represent best practice. This best practice can be disseminated throughout the organisation so that continuous improvements in decision making can be seen in the future. To support employees, management needs to ensure that the relevant information is available at the various decision points, enabling the employees to move forward with the confidence that the decision is correct.
Bridging the gap between business and technology
One of the key problems that affect every company is the struggle that they have when business and technical people are in the same room. The technologists are frustrated that the business does not understand why IT is critical to their success and how it can help the business move forward. The business is frustrated that IT never seems to understand what they want and complains when they want to make changes just before the project is delivered.
This gap is one of the most common problems facing companies trying to implement BI solutions (but this problem is not limited internally). Many management consultancies provide strategic business advice on how to improve business performance, build strategic initiatives and change the operations of the business, with little or no regard to how this will be implemented. Technology vendors build applications and data warehouses that do much more than the business desires, and sometimes require the business to change key processes.
Acting in isolation business and technology can be driven down different directions; communication is the key to bridging the gap. By developing and utilising a common and consistent language that both the business and IT can understand, requirements defined, delivered and measured throughout the lifecycle of the solution.
As these trends show, in the future more emphasis will be put on the integration of information into everyday tasks and how business improvements can be made. Technology will still enable the solutions and continue to drive many of the opportunities available to the business, but the focus of solution definition and design will move to the business and be based on five core values
- FOCUS – Providing personalised and tailored guidance and information to people within the organisation allowing them to make the right decisions
- ACTION – Allowing the organisation to move away from a “question and answer” model to one which provides “actionable information” to all people, allowing them to integrate information into the natural flow of their business activities.
- COLLABORATION – Using information to allow individuals to share ideas and inform them of their impact to the overall goals of the business
- INTEGRATION – Combining multiple sources of structured and unstructured data allowing companies to extend their knowledge network and open up previously unexplored information repositories
- TRACEABILITY – Using information during the process of strategy definition and planning. Information can be made available throughout the organisation, allowing both management and operational resources to understand the impact of their contribution to the business
Whilst focusing on these core values, companies will utilise more Advanced Analysis techniques (i.e. Predictive models for forecasting, complex attribute generation, What-if Models) to turn the information available into valuable knowledge. Distributing this knowledge throughout the organisation to people at all levels of the business in focused, personalised and easily usable solutions will be the key to moving Beyond Business Intelligence.
The journey will not be complete overnight, it is a commitment that needs to be made by the company, but the long-term benefits will positively affect all aspects of the companies business. The company will be more proactive in the way it manages itself, able to effectively utilise the skills of its resources, and continually improve business performance.
Many of the building blocks exist today; companies can leverage what they have already implemented and add value in improved reporting and information analysis, plugging the gap between the day-to-day operational and financial systems that run the business and the top-level strategic reviews that show whether it’s on course. By measuring themselves against the core business values, companies can identify areas of improvement where immediate benefits can be realised.