Knowledge is power, and managers need to be able to make decisions for an organisation based on information that is comprehensive, current, and accurate, writes David McWilliam, regional manager: A & PM, IBM Software Group: sub-Sahara Africa, IBM South Africa.

The challenge, however, is that most managers simply do not have access to all the information they need, when and how they need it. Despite huge ICT investments to improve the situation, many businesses still remain unable to unlock the power of their information and optimise their business processes to drive better performance.
Effective business intelligence (BI) and performance management (PM) deployments should deliver sophisticated functionality to help organisations deal with these very issues. However in order for BI to drive better performance, it needs to be pervasive across the organisation, enabling users as diverse as casual business users, financial managers, and executives access to the right information in a convenient format to make the best decisions.
BI solutions should ensure automated delivery of relevant information to relevant people along with the flexibility to independently explore, analyse, and share this information. Solutions should also be adaptable and map to the employee's chosen environment so IT can deliver the same quality content and key business information regardless of location or environment. Role-based interfaces simplify the process by matching capabilities to distinct user communities to maximise employee adoption and success.
Simplified for executives
Executives need highly summarised and relevant information, and managed dashboards offering an at-a-glance view of business performance can provide a summarized view of key metrics, key reports, alerts, and more, with drill through to associated reports for deeper insights.
Simplified for business managers
Business managers need both a high level view and an ability to delve into operational details, as well as continuous and immediate visibility into data with operational or transactional reporting capabilities. These employees need to go beyond basic reporting, explore the data and take advantage of deep, comparative analytic capabilities to quickly perform both simple and complex analysis. With BI analysis software that can be used with a spreadsheet, financial and business analysts can conduct self-service drag-and-drop exploration against sanctioned data sets.
Simplified for advanced users
Today's reporting software enables express authoring capabilities to help financial and business analysts create statement-style reports. Reporting and analysis toolsets let professional report authors improve productivity by enabling them to create more sophisticated reports and analyses like crosstabs. Business analysts can also take advantage of analysis capabilities to capitalise on user-defined sets of data across the organisation for improved workgroup productivity and collaboration. Employees familiar with desktop productivity tools can control linking prompted reports together and using saved report outputs within a word processing environment.
Simplified for casual users
Most casual users need little of the rich features and interactivity provided by most BI applications. Instead, they need easy access to regularly distributed reports and other core BI content. Rather than force casual users to struggle with complex data hierarchies, BI products need to use simple business terms and present information clearly, and tools such as web-based interfaces and integrated search engines to simplify the process. This helps users understand what is happening within their sphere of responsibility so they can make the right decisions. With role-based BI software, casual users are not confused by an overload of reports and information; rather they receive targeted information and reports that are pertinent to their role.
Role-based simplicity
Serving all these roles and functions helps better align employees with company strategy and enables them to be aware of events as they happen so they respond effectively to changing business conditions. With a consistent source of trusted information for the entire organisation, employees collaborate more effectively and make business decisions with more confidence.
For IT, this means that true self-service information management is at hand across the majority of employee roles. This self-service capability means IT can reduce the resources committed to providing reports, analysis, and data visualisations, while providing faster results for the business manager. Making BI simple for even novice employees in an organisation helps IT focus on delivering true business value versus being relegated to report creators and distributors.
With this role-based simplicity, information is presented in simple business terms and in a way that best reflects the employees' role and information needs. With easy, flexible access to information they get the answers they need regardless of location or environment. Finally, with a guided experience and information in context, they can find, share, and act on information when needed.
BI and performance management have long been aligned with the promise of delivering real-world planning, reporting, analysis and visualisation to employees in every corner of the organisation. Adopting a role-based approach to BI is the most effective way of capitalising on this promise.