Business intelligence (BI) has long been touted as the saviour of the modern business, the best way to gain a competitive edge, manage performance and make sound fact-based decisions on strategy and the way forward.

These benefits and more are all possible with a good BI solution, but the fact is that a traditional BI architecture works best in a mature organisation and requires significant capital expenditure to implement effectively.
This is according to Max Ottavini, director at Cortell Corporate Performance Management.
However, businesses in Africa face a unique challenge. To compete in the global market against the multinational giants, they need BI.
Yet the BI solutions that work best for large, mature multinational corporations do not necessarily fit this emerging market, both because businesses in Africa mostly do not have the budgets for such solutions and because their requirements are different being an emerging market with well known infrastructure issues.
Some of the most useful aspects of a BI solution that would be of benefit to organisations in Africa include budgeting, forecasting and reporting tools, as these form the most important components of a financial performance management (FPM) system.
Aside from being able to make better financial and business decisions, these tools would help such organisations to comply with the ever increasing number of regulations and laws around financial management, both in their countries and overseas.
The ability to conduct collaborative, top-down budgeting and have faster consolidation of reporting would enable these organisations to be more agile and adapt better to change, something which, given the volatility of the market in Africa, would provide a significant source of competitive advantage.
The same factors that affect more mature Western businesses affect those in Africa as well and tools such as OLAP, planning, analysis and reporting would deliver the same benefits across the board.
However, the cost of many full blown BI solutions is prohibitive for these businesses and this, combined with limited connectivity and bandwidth and a lack of skilled BI resources in many African countries, means that taking advantage of the benefits of BI has traditionally been a challenge.
A slightly different approach to BI is needed for the African market, and open source based tools delivered via the web using intuitive interfaces (that do not require much training) is fast being recognised as the solution.
The global trend towards greater acceptance of open source tools and the resultant greater availability of these types of solutions, including in the BI market, has meant that BI is now a viable tool that businesses in emerging markets such as Africa can take full advantage of.
In order to harness the potential of planning, analysis and reporting, many organisations turn to Excel spreadsheets.
However, the inherent limitations of this tool, such as multiple dimensions of corporate data, can be problematic.
Using an Excel front end on a more powerful tool that combines an OLAP Server Database with a plug-in to Excel can help to solve this problem and ensure that all relevant dimensions of corporate data can be viewed in a format that is comfortable and familiar to users and requires little additional training.
For organisations that need more applications there are also open source based tools available that deliver the Excel type front end for reporting and analysis along with tools such as OLAP and ETL, using an intuitive web interface that can be accessed easily.
These powerful applications can be combined into a comprehensive and customisable BI platform, and because they are open source-based, come in at a much lower price point than traditional systems.
One example of such a tool that is currently available on the market is Jedox Palo. Palo has two product offerings, Palo for Excel and Palo Suite, which are both available as Community or Premium versions depending on the level of service required and the BI components needed.
It is an open source based solution meaning that it delivers greater agility and flexibility, and users can select the components and service levels based on budget.
A free 30 day trial download of full featured components of the Palo Premium tools is also available so that users see how BI can benefit their business without spending money at the outset.
In today's competitive world, BI is no longer only for the "big guns". In order to be successful, agile and flexible enough to adapt to fast paced change, organisations of all sizes across the globe need to be able to plan, analyse, report and forecast. And thanks to tools such as Palo, this has now become a reality.