By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 5 May 2011

The original goal of business intelligence was to ensure that the right information was delivered to the right people, in the right format, at the right time, and at the right cost. “Traditionally business intelligence focused on unlocking value in transactional systems, but today it needs to extend much further,” says Bill Hoggarth, divisional director, CQS Performance Solutions.

This includes analysing information in newspapers and other published media, that which is hidden in emails and document management systems, and any other raw data ingredients that can be used to make better decisions. He says individuals are becoming more familiar with using tools to search for information and highlight trends and exceptions.

They are also used to searching for trends on the internet, using Twitter, searching for the top tweets, and following comments, easily. “So they are going to expect a similar level of interactivity and response when they use business intelligence systems in the workplace,” says Hoggarth.

He says similar technologies to internet search engines are freely available for analysing email content, word documents, sales proposals, and voice logs from call centre interactions. They can also be used in conjunction with business intelligence tools to extend the reach across multiple information sources, says Hoggarth.

He says this is why business intelligence software suppliers are trying to incorporate query technologies, other than just SQL, into their products. Pieter Potgieter, presales manager at Software AG says companies need to have a high level of insight into current events so they can do something about it, and most are not achieving this.

He says the first step is to build a traditional business intelligence foundation and structure
and then adopt a process intelligence or operational intelligence approach, which focuses on drawing information from internal processes, such as those in the supply chain. Operational intelligence allows companies to track specific customer orders and look at aggregate views of what needs to be ship

Potgieter says large organisations are doing this to varying degrees, but many are being held back because they still have a mix of automated and manual processes. “There is often so much manual intervention between processes that by the time the information is captured it is history.”

CEOs are going to have to take operational intelligence seriously because their performance will be increasingly measured over shorter time periods, says Potgieter. Estelle de Beer, director of the BI Practice division at Sybase says users need to be able to access company information while they are working, for example to monitor fraudulent transactions, stock levels, and key performance indicators in real time.

“But they want to be able to access information like this while they are moving around inside the company premises or out on the road,” says de Beer. She says the escalating demand for this functionality has coincided with the advent of more intelligent smart phones and other mobile devices and better wireless and mobile data connectivity equipment and services.

“With the latest tablet devices the potential of mobile business intelligence is even greater.”
However, she says, to accommodate mobile use, business intelligence tools need to be able to identify what type of device the user is connecting to back office systems with and deliver information according to the specifications and limitations of the device.

Companies also need to have a secure and robust back office infrastructure that can cope with fluctuating volumes of requests for information. De Beer says a lot of leading business intelligence tool suppliers are already changing the way their software operates to push information to different types of mobile devices.

“Suppliers are putting out the message that their business intelligence tools are mobile ready,” she says. Steven Cohen, MD of Pastel Software says there is a gold mine of valuable information hidden in accounting systems and business intelligence applications are available that will allow it to be drawn out and analysed.

He says the volumes of data being generated by medium sized businesses do not justify a powerful expensive system to do this. But simpler and more affordable solutions are available for those that want more than the static reports they are getting out of their accounting systems.

He says medium sized companies that have a substantial spread of customers can benefit considerably from being able to look at information on the screen and easily change the parameters to see different views of the data. “Those with more than 500 customers that are buying reasonably often and have more than 500 stock items are ideal candidates for a business intelligence solution.”

This will enable these companies to plan their inventory holdings, analyse stock movements against different criteria and target the right markets in the right locations. It will also allow them to analyse thousands of lines of data at the touch of the button to make better sense of it, and monitor customer behaviour.

They will be able to identify trends, manage their supply chain better and focus their energies and resources in the right area based on buying trends, says Cohen. This type of business intelligence application should enable a company to manipulate and report on any information that is in its accounting system, be easy to use and enable information to be drawn into a spreadsheet and manipulated, says Cohen.

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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