Can business intelligence (BI) solutions, software that helps organizations mine and analyze big data and small, help your company improve its bottom line? To find out, CIO.com asked dozens of BI experts and IT executives. Here are their eight top suggestions regarding how you can get a positive return on your BI software investment.
1. Get fast answers to critical business questions. "Business intelligence provides data at the moment of value to a company," says Jason Cook, chief architect & CTO, U.S. & Canada and Consumer Packaged Goods, BT Global Services. "With a [BI solution] in place, companies can extract crucial facts from a large amount of data at a rapid speed."
"With quick access to your internal data, you can more efficiently use your time to analyze internal information and make decisions," says Ryan Mulholland, president, Connotate, a provider of Web data monitoring and extraction solutions. For example, "as president of my company, I can look at all trends in our sales cycle and see which are going to affect our business," he says. "Then I can decide our course of action much more quickly and efficiently."
2. Align business activities with corporate strategy. "Companies incur a huge direct cost as well as opportunity cost when people, and even entire departments, focus on things that are not aligned with the company's strategy," says Myron Weber, founder of Northwood Advisors, a BI and decision systems advisory firm.
"Establishing metrics and key performance indicators aligned with strategy, then using BI software to provide visibility and drive accountability, brings alignment of activities and outcomes with the desired strategic objectives," Weber says.
3. Empower employees. "The more people who have access to data, the greater value organizations will derive as a result," says Rado Kotorov, Chief Innovation Officer at Information Builders, a provider of business software solutions. "BI software allows businesses to maximize information capital and turn every employee into a decision maker. Armed with relevant, real-time information, individuals can make data-driven, informed decisions that impact the company's bottom line."
4. Reduce time spent on data entry and manipulation. "A strong BI system, if well-configured, can help eliminate the time spent copying and pasting data and performing calculations," says Max Dufour, principal, Harmeda LLC, an enterprise solutions advisory to Fortune 500 and private equity firms.
That's because with business intelligence software, workers can quickly "generate reports where most of the leg work has already been performed behind the scenes," Dufour says. "And the time saved preparing the report can be reallocated to analyze the outcome and drive better, more profitable decisions."
5. Gain insights into customers. "BI software allows companies to discover patterns within customer behaviors, offering greater visibility into what customers want, when they want it and how they want it," explains Cook. "This inside knowledge can turn into direct profit for a company by leveraging existing data on consumer habits and maintaining valuable customers."
You can also "apply customer insights from BI to understand who your best customers are, where to find more like them, and, in some cases, which customers to fire," says Weber.
6. Benchmark sales channel partners. BI software can also reveal information about your sales channel partners, "enabling your sales team to triage top and bottom performers," says Bill Stark, head of Corporate Intelligence & Analytics at Clean Power Finance, an online SaaS platform that creates a virtual marketplace for institutional investors and the solar industry.
7. Identify areas for cost cutting. "Your BI software investment can pay for itself over and over by helping decision-makers identify areas for cost savings," says Dwight deVera, senior vice president at Arcplan, a provider of BI and planning solutions.
"Cutting excessive inventory -- and thereby the cost to maintain it -- is one of the easiest changes a company can make to immediately affect its bottom line," deVera says. And a BI solution with a good dashboard, "that provides retailers better visibility into inventory, enables them to make better decisions about what to order and when so goods don't sit idly on warehouse shelves."
BI software can also help manufacturers control and/or cut costs by analyzing manufacturing processes, "allowing them to access and collect the data necessary to measure all major productivity and production influencing factors, as well as maximize production efficiency from the supply chain, the factory floor to the distribution network," says Wolfgang Seybold, CEO of Cubeware, a BI software solution provider.
8. Boost productivity (by monitoring employees' use of the network/Internet). "Use business intelligence to see all the traffic happening on a network and how much time [employees are spending] on non-work activities," says Tom Lambotte, president of business solutions provider GlobalMac IT.
"This can be very insightful," Lambotte says. "One of our clients learned a new intern downloaded 24GB of Netflix in one month. Netflix was then blocked completely, ensuring she was focused on her work. To monetize the impact, 10 users at $20/hr, at one hour/week doing non-work adds up to $10,000 in lost productivity. Most [organizations] have no idea this is even going on."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.