How did you choose your Business Intelligence software? Rock, Paper, Scissors? Though not literally, but as organisations go through the purchase evaluation process, more often that not, they reach a stage when it almost seems like they did play rock, paper, scissors.

In the world of Business Intelligence, every single individual starting from the accountant to the CFO is shopping for timely and quality information. In fact, they are all shopping for the right data management and analysis tool. In most cases, in the absence of an organisation wide BI tool, these individuals seek out and find their own data analysis solutions. If they can’t do it themselves, they’ll eventually find someone who can do it for them.

In the myriad of solutions available today, choosing the right BI solution has become an increasingly overwhelming task. It almost seems like the best option would be to simply rely on the ERP or the Accounting system’s native reporting solutions. At best, employ someone who knows Excel really well and get some analysis and dashboards done. However, the reality is that the market place today has become a global competition and round the clock race for success. The need for Business Intelligence software tools have already made their way into the CAPEX budget of most organisations. They are no longer a subject of discussion or debate.

The discussions and debate have moved a step higher.

Should we go with Cloud or On-Premise?  That’s the new debate. In reality, relying on pure cloud or strictly on premise; both alike have become increasingly restrictive for executives, sales professionals and finance managers. The criticality is no longer timely access to data alone, but access to “decision making” data.

The discussions you and your team should be having about is how to gain access to “decision-making” data irrespective of where you are, how to collaborate with the team irrespective of how spread out they might be and streamlining business processes that involve multiple moving parts. So which ever BI tool you end up choosing, ensure they serve these three areas adequately.

Accessibility

Most BI tools are quite easy to use these days, since most of them are geared around the DIY model. But besides the ease of use, the other key thing to look for in a BI tool is “Flexibility”. Flexibility to address your organisation’s needs today and in the years ahead. How flexible is your BI tool? The flexibility to access critical data stored in various transaction systems is extremely important in order to make strategic business decisions that have a direct impact on the vision and goal of your company and to ensure it remains competitive in today’s global consumer driven market. The business demands have steered some best of breed software vendors into answering the need for flexibility and accessibility.

Today, checking on the health of your company from an airport lobby or even from the back of a taxi is no longer a pipe dream. Yes, there are still lots of organisations that rely on BI tools that only offer an on premise experience of access, restricted to being in office. That’s just not a cool solution anymore for most corporate decision makers.

Try these pointers if you are looking for flexible access in a BI tool:

  • Can the BI tool run LIVE on your ERP system AND also integrate data to a Data Warehouse?
  • Does it offer you the familiarity and power of Excel (or similar) to enable standard users to develop their own financial statements, sub-ledger reports, consolidations of entities and any type of operational reports?
  • Can the reports be designed on a familiar tool such as Excel (without having to learn a new software all together) AND yet be accessed via the web from anywhere?
  • Does the BI tool allow you to access all reports and dashboards on your mobile device or a tablet?

Data Integration

There are many products that normally rely on exclusively one data integration route. This could be either live from your ERP or from a data warehouse. However, there are some other products that allow you to choose what works best for you. Typically, smaller organisations tend to prefer a BI tool connecting live direct to their ERP system, whilst larger corporations tend to go with a central repository or a data warehouse.  But then there are other organisations that probably need a live connection to their ERP as well as access to a data warehouse. I’ve come across situations when the CFO wanted access live to his ERP to access Actuals and Budget data from a particular entity that wasn’t meant to be brought into the data warehouse whilst still needing access to the data warehouse for sales data from the CRM system and HR data from the payroll system. Try and avoid getting into trenches of software shopping and ensure your choice of BI tools allows you this flexibility of access both to your ERP system as well as to a Data Warehouse if and when required.

In addition, ensure that the user interface is something users can easily adapt to. Ideal if there is no new learning curve. Most end users are familiar with using Microsoft Excel. So if your BI tool front end is Excel based or at the least gives you an Excel type interface, there is a much higher chance of user adoption and therefore a much faster ROI.

Finally, as you are aware, the Web and mobile is an integral part of business these days. BI tools that provide the hybrid experience of Excel familiarity and web and mobile access are considered the epitome of flexibility. Access to decision making data should be from anywhere there is an internet connection. Many a time you are only armed with your mobile phone, but urgent tasks and deadlines arise anyway. Since you rarely go anywhere without your mobile, why shouldn’t you have access to decision making data at the click of an app? And you can! There are a few BI products available that offer fantastic flexibility. Not all do though.

The normal trend

This is typical scenario. An organisation needs just a reporting solution right now. So they narrow their search to stand alone reporting BI softwares and procure one best suited to them. Now the company grows with time because of the better informed decisions made from data driven reports. Suddenly the team realizes that performing manual budgets in Excel is just not manageable anymore. And the budgets are sitting silo from the actual data. Comparisons and variance reports have become extra work. Now, they begin to search for a budgeting and forecasting solution. In most cases, they end up with a totally different software tool for budgeting that ALSO does reporting. They have two BI tools now, one of which is redundant. As time goes by, they now have a need for a central data repository or a data warehouse. After significant investment in a data warehouse, they realize there is a need to access reports and budgets on the web and then possibly on their mobile and tablets.

The decision to go with standalone pieces as and when the need arises means that you are going to end up with an organisational BI toolbox with software’s from several vendors. That also means, several different consultants, different partners and support plans. It always pays to think ahead and plan for the successful organisation you INTEND to be and then consider all aspects before investing in a Business Intelligence tool.

Collaboration

With all the flexibility in accessing the decision making data, it would be unwise to ignore collaboration. The huge impact social networking has had on the global community and the overall structure of business today simply emphasises the need for collaboration all the more. Remote meeting hosting platforms such as GoToAssist, Zoom Conference and many others are just a testimony to the demand for collaboration and team work. So also, Business Intelligence best of breed vendors have taken notice of the demand for collaboration, no matter how spread out users maybe, both functionally and geographically. When you consider corporate decision making, collaboration in BI becomes extremely critical and can potentially be very beneficial for efficiency gain and effective running of the organisation.

Therefore, I recommend you look for an alignment of all required BI functionality on a single platform to encourage collaboration. These include strategic and budget discussions, project specific discussions, real time data analysis, KPIs, dashboards, collaborative decision making and more. Rather than dig through the staggering amount of emails in your inbox to find out the last decision made regarding a specific task, a good BI collaboration tool offers topic specific conversation spaces that showcase the trail of communications. This can be very helpful when new members are added on to an existing project, so they can see the history of decisions taken. Not to mention, good collaboration allows for users to access financial reports, sales dashboards, KPIs, etc that empower them to analyse critical data at the click of a button and make a collaborative decision just in time. Investing in a BI tool with modern collaboration functionality with the best of breed fully integrated modules for reporting, budgeting, dashboards, data warehousing and web/mobile access is an investment wisely made, both for you and your team.

Do feel free to write to me at santoshc@olympic.co.nz for any questions, advise or assistance with implementing a BI360 solution.