Keith Fenner, vice-president: strategic sales at Softline Accpac, says that considering that virtually all small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) crave better information – the kind of information typically provided by a Business Intelligence (BI) tool – the real question is how much of this technology constitutes a good investment?

He says many vendors want SMEs to believe that in order to make the best possible business decisions, their company needs a full-fledged cube-based On-Line Analytical Processing (OLAP) BI solution that delivers real-time, up-to-the-nanosecond data. This makes perfect sense for large companies with numerous divisions and databases and highly complex reporting requirements. And, of course, those with lots of money to spend on trying out different BI solutions that will take a long time to implement and much more time to learn and use.
“We know that a cube-based OLAP tool does enable end-users to slice and dice their data, perform multi-dimensional analysis, present information in graphs and charts, and more. I believe the best approach to BI for SMEs lies somewhere between using a cube-based OLAP tool and a simple reporting tool. A cube-based system, while offering high returns, is typically a high-cost and maintenance-intensive investment. Conversely, simple reporting tools offer, at best, tactical solutions and typically don’t scale to serve long term BI needs.”
According to Fenner, SMEs contemplating a cost-effective BI solution should make sure that the integrated software delivers most, if not all, of the functions listed below at a price that fits their budget:
* Alerts. Alerts provide crucial monitoring, proactive notification, and automation capabilities that help your company adapt to changing conditions and avoid alarming scenarios pertaining to payables, receivables, budgets, sales, and inventory.
* Inquiry. Having an easy-to-use inquiry tool enables you to drill down into a specific area and quickly extract data that is essential to your business. For example, if you need to locate the top 10 bestselling items for the last month, this type of BI tool will serve you well.
* Multi-dimensional analysis tool. SMEs want the ability to bring in data from multiple locations and still be able to see a unified macro view of the entire enterprise. Analysis software should help you achieve this goal, providing a quick snapshot of your business and enabling you to drill down into sales and purchasing trends, as well as perform budget analysis.
* Dashboards. An effective dashboard is a graphical snapshot of your business’s health that is easy to understand. Some common categories of data feeding the dashboard are revenues by period, product sales by category, and expenses by category, just to name a few.
“We recognise that most SMEs need little more than their MS Office Suite and a mix of affordable, easy-to-use BI tools. These tools can help you drill down to the key performance indicators which identify your strengths and weaknesses in operational performance, marketing, and sales – the key components to optimising efficiency and profitability.
"Equally important, the BI tools you implement must be easy to use and learn and must be able to present data in a way that everyone can understand. If you have access to BI tools that can convert all of your key performance data into easy-to-understand terms that management can fully grasp, you have a tremendous opportunity to boost bottom-line performance and overall profitability,” Fenner concludes.