By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 27 May 2011

The volume of data being generated worldwide is estimated to have grown 10-fold over the past five years, and with more human beings creating more daily volumes will continue to escalate. “In 1962 there were 3.5 billion people in the world and since then that figure has doubled,” says Simon Carpenter, director of strategic initiatives at SAP.

People need to sift through all this data that is being created, make sense of it, and determine what information is useful and relevant. He says business intelligence software tools in conjunction with other technologies provide a means of gathering data from different sources, cleaning it up, for example to take out any duplications, checking that it is valid and accurate, storing it somewhere and analysing it.

Information management has become an even bigger issue since the introduction of ongoing legislation and governance guidelines that requires companies to report on their underlying data, says Carpenter. He says with globalisation, information is more dispersed than ever and it is more difficult for companies to gather and analyse it quickly to respond to changing market conditions.

“There are huge backlogs in reporting.” In many companies business users still rely on their IT department for the gathering and delivery of information. Users then get frustrated and individual departments implement their own business intelligence tools so they can analyse their own data.

Companies then wind up with different versions reports and different data sets all over the organisation, says Carpenter. “It is then impossible to know which version is correct.”  He says the task of establishing where data is coming from, gathering it and analysing it should be a joint effort between the business users and the IT department.

But the information should be owned by the business. One of the challenges of data management is that an increasing percentage of the data that needs to be analysed comes from external sources. These include analysts reports, customers’ opinions posted on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, competitors’ annual reports and documents that are given out at conferences, says Carpenter.

Business software tools are available that can be used to analyse the text in scanned documents and to search the internet for specific types of content based on key words.
Tools are also available that will monitor business processes and trigger alerts when events such as specified thresholds or limits have been reached or other criteria are met.

He says today business intelligence tools can be used on a pay per use basis instead of buying and installing them in-house. Another trend is the move away from storing information on hard disk to storing it on solid state memory devices.

“We have examples of data being stored and retrieved 350 times faster and at one thirtieth of the cost using solid state memory,” says Carpenter. This opens up new possibilities such as identifying and chasing delinquent debtors much quicker.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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