Putting data to work

Summary:It is not new technology, but business intelligence platforms are now understood well enough by customers to drive real business change. David Braue catches up with some BI trend-setters.

From upstart to cornerstone
Paradise by the dashboard
Towards the future
10 ways to better BI
Case study: NT Police put on the map

10 ways to better BI
Business intelligence is no longer a black art -- for most of us. Here are a few tips you can use to help make sure your spell works.

  1. BI is not an IT project. Too many companies forgot this one in the first wave of BI, creating miniature turf wars as managers clung to their data and IT tries to introduce a new world order. Forget all that: BI is an operational tool that should be supported and used by business managers to support their requirements.

  2. Recognise different user needs. Not everyone needs a full-featured user interface; most employees may be more than happy with a few well-chosen dashboards to tell them what they need to know. Pumping BI through a user-customised portal is a great way to shed complexity.

  3. You work in real time; so should your data. Reporting after the fact is good for writing annual reports, but not for managing the business. Focus your BI system on gathering and analysing operational data in real time, so you can get the most benefit.
  4. Establish a context. Even the best business information can lose value in a contextual void. If information about customers, geographical details or even tide charts are relevant to your business, build them into your model.
  5. Empower customer service agents. If anybody needs real-time information, it's your customer service representatives. If they can get relevant historical information -- extrapolated to projections about possible customer churn and other future outcomes -- they will be able to work more proactively to service and keep customers that might otherwise switch to your competitors.

  6. Scrub your data. Business intelligence isn't worth anything if it's generated from unclean data -- often a symptom of system proliferation during the late 1990s. Centralise and clean your data regularly -- and redesign application screens to minimise errors -- so that you know all intelligence coming from the system is trustworthy.

  7. Customers and partners love BI. If you're spending too much time servicing enquiries from customers and partners, consider giving them limited access to your BI platform so they can get access to real-time reports themselves.

  8. Be proactive. BI is great for telling you what has happened to your business in the past, but it's even better for predicting -- and managing -- the future. If your BI system detects an impending problem with supply, help customers understand how to work around it in advance. Helping customers solve their own problems is a great way to keep them on your side.

  9. You may already be there. Early BI tools required integration of many disparate data sources with a standalone BI application. These days, however, ERP vendors have taken significant strides forward -- and, since an ERP system by definition has all the data in the one place, it can be relatively simple to add BI to your environment.

  10. Think laterally. Your business operates in the real world, and so should your BI system. Look for external data sources -- such as tenders published online -- that can be integrated with your own information to give your salespeople, customers, partners, and managers a context for BI.

Topics: Big Data, Enterprise Software


As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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