The perception among businesses is that enterprise reporting or business intelligence (BI) systems are only for large organisations.

However, every organisation needs enterprise reporting to create new operational efficiencies such as improving customer, supplier and employee relations, and making better decisions faster, writes Denita Lawrence, product manager: business intelligence solutions at Fujitsu Services.

Organisations that do make an investment in BI realise ROI more speedily than any other IT investment. Self-service style business intelligence frees IT from having to generate reports, and receiving a report via e-mail or opening a web browser is faster than any other means of report delivery.

Every area of business can benefit from enterprise reporting. Quantifiable measurements of an organisation’s operations received in a format used every day such as Excel, Word, Acrobat, e-mail or the Web, makes information available to more users and faster.

But BI solutions are more than just Excel spreadsheets.  These inevitably lead to separately maintained versions of the same file, replete with manual data-entry or calculation errors. Research has shown that between 20% and 40% of spreadsheets contain errors.

The more spreadsheets floating around a company, the greater the chance that inaccurate information is used. To ensure that critical data and applications are properly maintained, so that the organisation can effectively collaborate and share the data with consistent formatting, definitions and standards are vital. Executive buy-in is the only way to fully embrace BI.

Executives who take ownership of business intelligence solutions in an organisation have to understand the changes their organisation will encounter. Focusing on where to start is crucial for success. It is a good idea to start with a single application and then roll it slowly into other areas of the business.

From small start-up companies with a few employees, growing businesses, mid-size publicly-traded organisations to state and local government agencies, all will benefit from BI tools.

Organisations implement BI solutions for a wide variety of reasons. Some do so when facing a specific problem or inefficiency such as controlling inventory costs.  Others want to use their vendors more effectively or improve the effectiveness of their sales and marketing efforts.

Others turn to BI to solve strategic issues such as facilitating the coordination of group efforts, improving customer retention or increasing revenues and profits.

Even before considering a business intelligence solution, one needs to take the corporate temperature. Ask your line-of-business staff, sales representatives, customers, vendors and partners what they need to know and which databases they access.

Find out where the information is needed. It is then possible to plan and implement a solution that addresses their needs in a timely fashion with measurable results.

Data is among an organisation’s most valuable resources. Every transaction means more data about sales, customers, employees, partners, vendors etc. The data may reside in a multitude of applications and databases throughout the enterprise. How an organisation effectively interprets and uses this disparate data can make or break the organisation.

It is crucial to understand why customers purchase – or don’t purchase – goods and services, and what factors influence their decisions. It is important to have sales data such as price, quantity and lifetime usage. Having this knowledge can help an organisation increases sales as well as determine how much customers are willing to pay.

Employee information helps calculate how personnel contribute to, or detract from, the bottom line. Knowing turnover rates and levels of training also affects the manufacturing and distribution process. Business intelligence solutions must efficiently and effectively access and integrate data, from wherever it may reside in the organisation.

Implementing a solution of this sort can also provide users with the tools needed to analyse all aspects of the business, enabling the decision-making to grow the business.

It can impact business decisions immediately. By examining information from many perspectives – sales, marketing, executive and customer satisfaction – it is possible to gain a more complete picture of operations and plan for the future more accurately.

But effective enterprise reporting and analysis requires commitment from top management. Having the information is one thing, but knowing what to do with it to shape the organisation takes leadership.

As with any IT initiative, the project needs to be planned and expectations and goals set. Since BI initiatives are generally linked to both strategic and tactical goals, it is important to fully understand all the ways in which a proposed BI initiative may affect a particular organisation.

New applications of BI technologies actually help companies more accurately measure the results.  For example, applications that support activity-based costing efforts give companies a more accurate view of the cost of the numerous processes behind their operations. This helps organisations understand more clearly what the savings will be when those processes are made more efficient.

By Denita Lawrence, product manager
Business Intelligence Solutions, Fujitsu Services