A solid foundation for business requires solid decision making that is based on relevant and hard-hitting facts. The answer lies in business intelligence (BI) that presents the platform for seamless and transparent access to relevant information, without having to gaze into a crystal ball, hoping to catch a glimpse of what the future may hold.
Hubert Wentzel, the divisional director for EOH Technology Consulting, says that BI is a programme that comprises of a well-defined process to help decision makers excavate the information they need to make an informed decision.
“It is, however, crucial to be very specific in terms of what you want BI to deliver in order to meet expectations,” warns Wentzel. South Africa lags from an international perspective in terms of its adoption and use of BI.
“We are however much more creative in our implementations, because we adapt to the environment by tailoring solutions that will meet specific needs, and not merely allowing the vendor to dictate. In order to create value for the customer you need to fit their needs. Some multinationals are only starting to change their approach, whereas South Africa has a wealth of experience in the field.”
Wentzel says the success of BI implementation depends on a person or business function taking ownership of the process.
“The IT department should operate the technology, but the strategy needs to be determined by the business and/or the channels. The owner can range from being the CEO to the finance manager, depending on the objectives and the industry.” However, times are tough and service providers are increasingly under pressure to do more with less.
“For that reason, BI needs to break the mould, allowing it to disseminate the process by giving clients access to specific solutions that they need, such as data mining or advanced analytics for example. More and more ’affordable’ BI products are becoming mainstream in SA. The adoption may not necessarily be driven by a well-defined strategy or stated objective though and more likely fulfils a reporting or basic analytical role.”
Another emerging trend sees the utilisation of BI solutions as a pay per use, software as a service (SaaS) based model.
“Software packages are quite a hefty investment and we have found quite a few customers that need a specific aspect of the solution, such as data mining, without wanting to invest in the entire package. More and more vendors are making this option available purely because it opens the market up to smaller players that would not be in the market for the software traditionally.”
Wentzel says the key lies in how the vendor licenses their product, which determines the viability of a cloud model around BI.
“Cloud is the main topic of discussion at the moment, but the industry in general is still sceptical in terms of security, access and privacy, which explains why the adoption of public cloud-based offerings remain slow.”
Many companies sit on a wealth of information that is securely locked up in their database and business processes that serve no purpose.
BI in principle is the same as unleashing an intelligence agency into your business with the purpose of extracting information and disseminating it into constructive segments that is presented in such a way that it is informative, current and a true reflection of the current state of the business.
It is crucial for an organisation to be specific about their requirements in order to find the best BI fit, says Wentzel.
“Building a long term relationship with the vendor is important. It is however to your advantage to ascertain whether your solution will be supported locally for peace of mind.
"The return on investment of the product is also a factor to consider. How well the product integrates with the company’s existing strategy and enterprise is a key consideration as it will need to integrate with existing systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.”
BI technologies provide historical, current and predictive views of business operations. It is important for the service provider to understand the burning platforms that exist for that specific business and to optimise the information extracted from the business operations to achieve relevance and purpose.
Unlocking the full potential of the software depends on how narrowly it can be aligned with business strategy and processes in order to optimise performance.