Business Intelligence, Big Investment?

As a consulting firm who works with small and medium-sized companies (SMBs), we have been reviewing how our clients and prospects would view this ‘Brave New World’ of Business Intelligence. Would they truly consider it a way of gaining a competitive edge, or would they hold back because they equated the term Business Intelligence with a substantial investment of time and money?

Businesses who follow the industry trends continue to see information flooding across the internet purporting that 2012 will be the year of “Big Data”. This generates more FUD in SMBs as to exactly what is Big Data, how it will affect them, and if it does what they need to do to manage it. Hand-in-hand with Big Data there is Business Intelligence solutions and inevitably, the costs of implementing and maintaining a BI solution becomes the number one concern. Vendors are telling you that you need one, but solutions targeted at large corporations are unrealistic for smaller businesses to afford and implement. Luckily, more options are becoming available to help you gain the competitive edge.

So first, what is Big Data? It can be defined as datasets that have grown so large they become difficult to work with using traditional database management tools. In the smaller company, from a volume perspective, this may mean you still export accounting data to a spreadsheet, but that mergers and acquisitions has made this unmanageable, and your business processes have not kept up with the growth. You are spending more time than you would like to combine multiple entity reports, and this time-crunch factor is limiting your ability to analyze the data in other ways.

Volume is one way to define Big Data, but from different perspective can we consider Big Data to be the one report that enables a company to reduce their cost of sales, and increase their future revenue? To them, the ability to analyze the data they do have, regardless of how many mega- or gigabytes it may be, and to turn that information into business knowledge that empowers strategic decisions, is the El Dorado they seek.

So, is it reality to suggest that companies can implement BI solutions with a minimum investment? The title of this blog suggests they can, when we consider the dollar cost to obtain the BI tool of choice. A new wave of BI products is making it cost-effective for companies of all sizes to implement tools with sophisticated functionality that enables employees at many levels to take advantage of business insight.

As we noted in a previous blog entry, finding ROI on the investment is difficult. It is really the business value, a ‘soft’ benefit that sells the system. A recent WSJ  MarketWatch article cited an average benefit of over $10 for every dollar spent on business analytics applications including BI tools. Now that’s what we call an intelligent investment.

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