The typical enterprise resource planning solution of today has matured to such an extent that most come with some form of analytics built-in. But does that constitute business intelligence? Not necessarily; "true" BI achieves considerably more than the relatively low-level analysis typical of built-in solutions, writes Kevin Clarke, sales director, Afresh Consult.

While users should not write off the value which is added by integrated analytics, it does not compare to a fully-fledged BI solution. For a starters, from a technological point of view, such analysis tools tend to run outside of memory (that is, on historical data) and cannot achieve the same level of performance as a dedicated BI solution can.
And as a standalone product with dedicated product development, the advances which are being made by BI software vendors in terms of capabilities, features and performance simply can’t be matched by the integrated analytics solutions.
That’s not the only area where performance receives a boost in the purpose designed BI solution. Probably even more important than features and capabilities is the accessibility of the solution to the people who use it.
Change management is recognised as one of the major challenges in the implementation of any new product or solution. By making BI not only easy to use, but demonstrably beneficial to the productivity of those who use it, best of breed solutions are pushing away the barriers to adoption.
Specifically, a good BI solution will allow for a lot of work to be done in a familiar environment – and what could be more familiar than the much loved, but limited, spreadsheet?
Does this mean BI should be somehow separate from the ERP solution? By absolutely no means. Indeed, it is the very maturity of ERP which makes today’s purpose designed BI far more capable and far more powerful than ever before. Together with a lot more information which is contained in the ERP solution, there is also workflow which interconnects applications, adding further context to information.
With maturity comes affordability, too. It takes less time and much less money today to implement an advanced, purpose-built BI solution than it did ten years ago. BI really is ready for the masses.
But are the masses ready for BI? Not necessarily; organisational maturity is also necessary before looking to implement a purpose-built BI solution.
If the end result is pulling the same sort of reports which can be delivered from built-in analytics, nothing will be achieved; all the user will have is a pretty picture to put on the wall or present to directors.
True BI goes beyond that. It finds new patterns, it identifies new opportunities or provides new insights beyond those which are already in place. It informs new ways of thinking about the business and its direction.
BI has come of age. Getting more from information has gone from talk to reality not just for the big company, but for the midrange and small organisation, too. The ability to access and process terabytes of information in seconds to gain new insights is available now. Are businesses ready for it?