The BI Inflexion Point

Information is a right, not a privilege

First published: June 2007

by Martin Atherton and Dale Vile

Business Intelligence (BI) has historically been associated with the delivery of business performance information to a privileged few senior managers and analysts residing in large organisations. A recent study exploring information needs and availability at the operational end of the business, however, uncovered some pretty clear results, some of which challenge traditional assumptions head on.

KEY FINDINGS

Information is key to running a business, but accuracy, timeliness and accessibility are dire
The challenge is universal. Across sales, marketing, operations and HR, and all size bands of organisation, it is apparent that while timely access to relevant and accurate information is of significant importance to the effective running of a business, the majority of organisations just do not have this kind of access in place. The evidence is clear that fragmentation of systems and information is a big contributor to the issues, but there are other factors too.

Audience focus is a major part of the problem, with many workers left to fend for themselves
While BI has traditionally focused on the needs of a select few business managers and analysts, this is no longer good enough. Business dynamics and the pursuit of competitive edge through worker empowerment are broadening the requirements for information across the workforce in general. The trouble is that BI capability is not keeping up, leaving many out in the cold.

Any type of data needed to run the business falls into BI’s remit. This is changing the game.
As organisations look to deal with the issues, another shift comes into sharp focus. The majority now acknowledge that unstructured data has to fall within the remit of their BI activities. This view makes absolute sense. Looked at from a pure business perspective, the type and format of information is not something users should have to worry about – all they want is convenient access to whatever information is relevant to getting the job done. The upshot is a shake-up of traditional definitions and mindsets, with the scope of BI extending beyond traditional hard core number crunching solutions to an inclusive approach embracing ‘familiar and friendly’ options such as office tools and portals.

Fragmented activity and budgets hamper change. Solving issues one at a time won’t fix things
The acknowledgment of the problem is there. Some activity by forward thinking organisations is delivering benefits, and investment in BI related activities is increasing. However, a significant amount of fragmented activity (actions and budgets) threatens to render efforts ineffectual, as piecemeal investment to tackle problems in isolation, while in the right spirit, compounds the problem.

Aligning need and ability is achievable, but get on the right side of the expanding gap
A gap has already opened up between those organisations that get the ‘new’, broader need and remit of BI, and those that do not, something that is reflected in both investment activity and business performance. While those that don’t act move backwards in relative terms, organisations that grasp the nettle and deal with the practicalities of providing ‘BI for the masses’ will continue to pull away.


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