Does Business Intelligence make sense for SMEs?

Business intelligence has come a long way from just being applicable for mega-corporations trying to beef up their margins. It’s now accessible to practically any corporation that wants to invest in it, no matter their size.

Some SMEs have already caught on to this fact, and have begun investing. According to McCabe

  • 33% of medium-sized companies adopted some kind of BI solution. 
  • 28% of medium-sized companies planned to take advantage of a BI solution. 
  • 32% of smaller organisations have either adopted a BI solution or are in the process of implementing one.

If you haven’t yet invested in business intelligence, not only are you missing out on opportunities to improve and expand your business, but you’re also falling behind competitors that have. With business intelligence software, you get a full-blown overview on how your business ran in the past, how it’s running now, and how it can run in the future.

More SMEs than ever before are delving into the world of BI, and they aren’t leaving any time soon. In this article, we’ll be covering why that is, and how you should approach introducing BI to your operation.

A Brief History of Business Intelligence

Since the 1980s, which was labelled the birth of the Data Warehouse, technology has made huge improvements in how companies approach Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence (BI) solutions.

Historically, businesses had to invest heavily in hardware to store the vast amounts of data collected through their operational systems. They also needed to duplicate that data to ensure fail safe and disaster recovery was taken care of, which further added to the cost. BI applications were booming, and tools like Crystal Reports and MicroStrategy grew into an unmissable part of driving insightful business strategies. 

In the earliest stages of its development, business intelligence came at a huge cost for businesses, and because of this, it was reserved for only the select few who could afford it. Despite the high price tag, big corporations already understood the value that business intelligence brought their corporations and adapted it as one of their key strategic pillars with the ultimate goal of delivering intelligence that businesses could rely on to make critical decisions.

Business Intelligence Today

This goal has remained largely the same since the start of business intelligence as a field. However, from a technology, accessibility, and cost perspective, business intelligence has changed drastically. 

The biggest change is that BI tools have become more accessible and more affordable. The added benefit of flexible cloud computing services means that small to medium enterprises can now also invest in business intelligence, driving BI solution adaptation in the market. Small to medium enterprises are starting to fully understand the benefits, and are largely driven by the need to grow their revenues, improve their decision-making, and increase their competitive edge.

Today’s tools allow a greater measure of control over data, something that previous business intelligence tools lacked. Additionally, with the right partner to help you identify what key metrics are crucial to your business, you’ll find there are multiple ways to approach a business intelligence project. Tools have become increasingly more flexible, and allow for a greater opportunity to trial and test-run what you want your software to do for you.

Starting with Business Intelligence 

A common mistake businesses make when starting a business intelligence project is to focus only on replacing their existing operational reports – normally spreadsheets or something similar – with an automated two dimensional report. A two dimensional report is a non-interactive report, as opposed to a multidimensional, or interactive report with dashboards that can showcase their business progression against their selected KPIs.

Two-dimensional reports, or operational reports, give you one view of the data and typically answers one question. Multidimensional reports can showcase different viewpoints of data without compromising data integrity. Multidimensionality, or the ability to view business intelligence data in multiple ways, allows for business analysis against set KPIs, but also identifies the what if, why, and what next scenarios. This is where the real value lies within BI.

What can you measure with BI?

Every business must have an overall goal that defines their existence: why they’re doing what they do and what they want to achieve. These questions can help define the first KPIs that that business should look at. It is imperative to have these KPIs defined for any business as this is ultimately what will help the business measure success. Business intelligence’s ultimate aim is to help businesses measure these KPIs, and to provide critical insights as to how well their business is really performing.

Normally, those KPIs are developed by their executive and management team, however it’s also common for firms to hire outsiders to help them identify their KPIs. Some of the most commonly measured KPIs are: 

Once KPIs are agreed on, business intelligence comes into play. Corporations go to their data treasure chest and start measuring their performance using data produced over years of operation.

This data can be sourced from any operational system, which is structured data, or from standardised excel spreadsheets, website forms, and other similar methods, known as unstructured data. Ultimately, however, the type of data available is normally irrelevant, as practically any data in whatever format can be leveraged for use in BI software. Both sources are accurate, though structured data is easier to parse through.

The flexibility of business intelligence tools allow you to take a phased approach to processing the data from the source to the visual end product, such as interactive reports and dashboards.

How do I see benefits from business intelligence?

Business intelligence traditionally used to be a long game, requiring an extensive set-up. Today benefits through business intelligence can be seen relatively early on, if you focus on the most pressing questions and KPIs for your business. 

Businesses that use Agile methodology can likely see more prominent results faster, and can even start laying the foundations for a data warehouse that can deliver benefits for years to follow. By focusing on smaller batches of usable data, continuous inspection, and collaboration, the benefits of business intelligence can be seen far quicker.

What benefits do I get from using business intelligence software?

The value that you get from business intelligence is parallel to the effort you put in – however, most firms see multiple benefits from business intelligence. In our opinion, the most valuable asset you can get from business intelligence software is the capacity to look at your company performance from every angle, and to analyse your data in multidimensions and create scenarios to think about the future. 

Other benefits include: 

  • Better, smarter decision-making 
  • Time savings
  • Easy to understand visuals
  • Powerful, actionable insights
  • Predictive analytics
  • Know what’s working and what’s not
  • Empowered employees
  • Transparent collaboration

The right BI strategy will cover all your business units, the executive team will have insights across all functions at their fingertips, and management will have a top-down view of how well their departments are performing and what they contribute to the overall business performance. Besides the obvious improvement to productivity, it helps to boost morale and gives upper management the control and opportunity to  make the critical decisions to drive the business growth collaboratively focusing on the same goals.

Conclusion

BI has become hugely accessible to most companies that never thought they could afford such an essential tool for their business. With a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and with a bite size approach that delivers almost immediate value, there’s no reason for any company today not to invest in business intelligence. They sit on a treasure trove of data just waiting to tell a story. 

At Cleverbit Software we can support you through every step of the journey. Our focus is to help you make sense of all your data, plot a clear path to achieving the most value out of your investment, and deliver a solution that will change the way you think of how to drive business growth. 

Talk to us so we can see how we can help you best.

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