Business intelligence (BI) is becoming an integration platform for the various application systems within organisations.
This is according to Andrew Brown, BI manager in the Computer Science Corporation’s South African operation, who adds: “It’s becoming an operational tool because it pulls together data from the customer relationship, enterprise resource management and numerous other systems, and presenting these in a meaningful way to management for real-time analysis.”
But this valuable analytical tool is being sabotaged by the poor quality of data contained in corporate databases.
“The most common example of the dirty data issue was first uncovered on a large scale after customer relationship management (CRM) drives highlighted how often clients have multiple addresses – pulled from the different systems – and the chance is that none of them is current,” says Brown.
“Before the innovative features and functionality of BI tools can be used to their full potential the data cleansing issue needs to be addressed. Data is the foundation of the business and the foundation of any BI initiative. The success of this exercise is bound up in the quality and understanding of the data.
“Never before have we had a tool that has been able to show us so clearly the inadequate state of the data that management has to work with. Systematically cleaning up the data will lay the foundation for a dynamic realtime management tool that can save the company a lot of money.
“Often portrayed as a suite of tools in the end user’s hands, it is important that strong software disciplines be adopted from the commencement of any BI implementation and development exercise.”
There needs to be a clear understanding that BI is not a silver bullet – or a standalone tool, Brown explains.
It’s about giving users the tools to gather and analyse information, and applications to track the organisation’s key performance indicators by providing a unified view of organizational performance data and options, integrated in near-realtime.
BI has proven its value as a tool that can track budgeted costs and volumes, and compare against actual performance.
“Once you’ve built a model that can be applied across a division or area of business, it then makes it straightforward to compare apples with apples and confidently make decisions,” Brown says.
Initially seen as a strategic management tool, BI is increasingly being used to help with day-to-day operational issues. It has been used successfully to improve the quality of productions lines by identifying, reporting and investigating problems. It identifies bottlenecks in the process more quickly than has been the case before.
“It helps in day-to-day decision making. Call centre co-ordinators and sales-force supervisors are gaining a clearer understanding of what is happening at the point of impact in their operations and are able to rapidly respond to emerging trends.”
BI is proving to be a valuable bridge that integrates systems – such as enterprise resource planning, CRM, supply chain management and sales force automation – across the enterprise, into one interface portal. In a nutshell, Brown adds, BI is helping companies to make better, timelier decisions.
Brown led an EMEA-wide BI team that successfully developed a Cognos-based BI system that is being used by a multinational corporation across its Europe, Middle East and African operation.
This project, he says, demonstrated that success depends on the active involvement of business people who understand their business processes and where to the business needs to go and the IT professionals who provide the necessary application design and development expertise within a disciplined framework that enables system stability, sustainability, scalability and flexibility.
CSC’s local BI team includes the important software development disciplines of data, application and report analysis, design and development. In addition to working closely with the business team, the development team also ensures that application support staff are involved early in the cycle, maximising knowledge transfer to smooth the transition to production.