How to get Business Intelligence into the Hands that Need It

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The Empowered Executive

Mark, President of a Corporate Services company, arrives early on Monday morning, as he knows he needs to get a head start on the week since they operate in multiple countries and time zones.  Providing services in many areas of international business for law firms, accountants, individuals, trusts and banks; the company depends on high-level data reporting.

As soon as Mark turns on his computer, he is presented with his customized KPI (Key Performance Indicators) dashboard, which helps him keep track of the pulse of the business. He first checks to see if any of his offices have flagged any areas of concern. Clicking on the highlighted flag for the India office, he reads the message left by the Client Manager, alerting Mark to a temporary power issue in the region.

Clicking the sales funnel icon, Mark drills down into the sales department’s new business report. This three-dimensional graph called a cube, shows him what volumes of business by service line are in the various stages of the sales cycle. Drilling down further into the detail for the 75% and above close probability opportunities, Mark finds five opportunities that he thinks can be closed in the next 48 hours. He accesses the proposal file for each of these five opportunities to view the details of the potential clients.

Mark opens his email window to send a message to the sales executive, Joan, to take a look at the potential clients on her own dashboard. He also “encourages” Joan to take aggressive action to close the five ‘hot’ opportunities.

Next, Mark looks at the cash flow meter on his dashboard. He is concerned that the cash balances are a little low. Drilling down into the open receivables, he checks on who has significant payments due. Correspondence files are attached to the records, so that Mark can see what letters or emails have been sent about payments. Mark sends an email to his Vice President of Finance asking her to follow up on a couple of accounts.

The customer satisfaction meter on Mark’s dashboard has dropped since he checked the same meter on his smartphone last night. Drilling down into the detail to determine what happened, Mark finds that a frustrated customer logged a complaint about response time in the India office. Mark sends a personal reply to the customer apologizing and explains the temporary power issue, and arranges for another office to respond.

The Reality

Your company has ERP and sales automation systems. You know the data you need is in there somewhere. You just can’t get to it. When you go to your IT department, they spend weeks or months and a big chunk of your budget to prepare a special report for you…if they even have time to do it in the first place. Or, you spend hours culling through reams of standard ERP data dumps to get the numbers you need and then reenter them into a spreadsheet that you spend more hours to build. Does it really have to be so hard to get the information you need?

The fundamental capability which enables Mark’s dashboard and his ability to drill down into the details is data integration…a special kind of data integration that is normally very hard to achieve because the information comes from diverse and incompatible sources. For effective executive dashboards, the underlying data might reside in the accounting system (cash balances, accounts receivables), sales force automation files (sales funnel, CRM), email and word processing files (correspondence, customer proposals), spreadsheets or custom databases (quality control information, customer requirements).

Imagine the programming effort to integrate this information to produce the management reports in the many required formats. Further, imagine how hard it would be to replicate and customize the information and reports across the breadth of accounting, ERP and CRM systems in use in today’s businesses, worldwide. Further complexity is added when users want the information in their preferred format, such as graphs, tables, cubes, and so on.

Now add the requirement for this data to be updated in real-time for timely decision making, and demand that all this information be accessible on the Internet and under strict security protocols.

For these and other reasons, the ad hoc reporting and management dashboards implied by this scenario are considered to be expensive wish-list projects for many executives. Aren’t these reasonable requests and real needs for informed management? Most would say yes, and the good news is that they exist today, and can be implemented quickly without high cost.

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