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Are you a back seat business driver?

By Andrew Connold

Reacting only to what you see in your rear-view mirror is no longer good enough and reacting to back seat drivers is not much better.

Business intelligence (BI) needs to be based more on current information – and decisions taken by those in the driving seat are becoming as important as those taken in the boardroom.

Companies need to be doing some hard thinking about how they can take some of the uncertainty out of the future. They have to start figuring out how to avoid being surprised when the unexpected happens – and happen it most certainly will.

The old days – maybe not so old – of analysts and their what-if spreadsheets, populated with some dubious, manually imported, data, are gone. Similarly, having data mining specialists spending weeks working out trends is no longer justifiable for day-to-day decision taking. Managers can no longer afford to wait around with bated breath.

Even standard query and reporting tools will not give companies all the leverage they need to respond to rapidly evolving markets and changing customer dynamics. Today and certainly tomorrow, business executives in the intelligent enterprise need to be able to quickly take advantage of changing conditions, be it introducing new products and services to meet customer needs on the one hand or to respond to competitive challenges, on the other.

Just those two actions alone need a wealth of BI support. For example, you need to know what the customer wants or what the competition is doing and be able to determine whether the business is capable of responding in terms of production, development costs, cash flow, resources etc. Then there are all the other drivers that managers need to consider and respond to – falling sales, customer churn, out of stock situations, bad debts and the myriad of other issues that need prompt attention.

To accomplish such intelligence has become a tall order, where time has become the critical consideration. Companies must constantly improve their ability to identify, classify, and intelligently analyse all available information. But, as we continue to Web-enable our enterprises, the volumes of data that BI has to analyse today are becoming more vast with each click of a computer mouse.

Of course, allowing analysts to review historical and current data over time will eventually produce enough trend information to feed statistical models that let trained users predict events and trends. But decision makers no longer have the luxury of time. Business managers need to be alerted before a problem occurs so that some proactive action can be taken, not after the event.

Managers today cannot drive an enterprise by looking in the rear-view mirror. They need to keep their eyes on the road ahead to see the hazards ahead. Only then can they really strategise on how to reach that outcome.

BI vendors are doing their best to spread analytic applications throughout the enterprise by making them easier to use. The aim is to make analytics more attractive and effective for a new range of users by uniting the silos of information that exist throughout the enterprise and delivering both functional and cross-functional views of a business.

Packaged analytic applications are a viable option for companies seeking to build integrated, high-performance analysis and reporting solutions that deliver meaningful business insights while significantly reducing time-to-deployment.

But, in the future, analytics will also need to be deployed at a higher level with greater intelligence built into the analysis tools. Critical information and analytical information about the state of the business must be distributed automatically, efficiently, and appropriately to those people and departments that need to make key decisions.

The advanced analytic tools emerging today are already capable of suggesting very appropriate actions to projected situations virtually on the fly. They allow companies to make business forecasts and optimise resources in real time. Such tools are moving to deliver a BI infrastructure where compiling data, monitoring near-real-time business events, and converting that data via data-mining and other advanced techniques will let companies respond almost immediately to perceived or predicted changes in market conditions.

As they progress, such tools will also really be able to meet the business analytics challenge of capturing suitable external data from sources previously thought extraneous. Another evolution in BI tools will be interactive analytics with users, rather than analysts, able to slice and dice data and also carry out what-if scenarios, again on a more timeous basis.

Will all these promises of a BI Nirvana be dispelled by the current gloomy economic climate with IT spend said to be the first casualty? While IT spend is taking a knock, market researcher Forester, is confident that the one area where companies will continue to invest will be BI. This is because in an increasingly competitive environment BI is going to make the difference between survival and collapse. To date, BI tools have been able to deliver the goods and a healthy return on investment.

Andrew Connold is Managing Director of Synergy Computing, the Business Intelligence specialists. He can be contacted on 011 8074861

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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