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Using Business Intelligence Software

Posted by: Rod Kurtz on October 26, 2009

How can small businesses ensure they are giving employees access to information that lets them make decisions quickly, easily, and intuitively? Today, business intelligence software—long used by Global 1000 organizations—is being adopted by many small businesses to help meet these needs. However, while BI software may be useful to many small businesses, it’s important to take budget constraints, appropriate features, and support requirements into consideration. Here are a few practical tips that will help you get what you want without breaking the bank:

1. Enable your users to help themselves. Traditional BI tools were built with an ecosystem in mind for IT administrators, developers, and business analysts to use in configuring and writing reports. Small businesses rarely possess dedicated staff to fill these positions, so a solution that requires a technical person to create or modify reports is going to lead to end-user frustration and low adoption rates. Look for a solution that doesn’t require technical backgrounds to learn and use, but rather one that users themselves can drive.

2. Bigger and broader isn’t necessarily better. Products that claim to do everything sound great if you plan to exploit all of the product’s features and functionality. But that can be cost-prohibitive and can take months or years to implement. Consider what features will be most important to your users and start there. Focusing solely on big brand-name platforms will likely lead to buying more than you need or will ever use.

3. Cheaper isn’t always better. Companies of all sizes want a deal, but just because a BI solution is cheaper doesn’t mean it will suit your unique business needs. For example, selecting a solution that has less expensive licensing costs, but is difficult for your employees to use or is relatively complicated to implement, can create more work for everyone and result in further costs down the line.

Mark Lorion
Vice-President of Marketing
TIBCO Spotfire
Somerville, Mass.

Reader Comments

Fernando Labastida

October 26, 2009 8:10 PM

Mark, great post! I would add one more point to your 3 points:

Providing the capability to suggest solutions to problems uncovered by front-line employees via these easy-to-use BI applications would be a 4th point we would make. Many times BI software, such as in a high-volume retail environment, requires instant decisions based on data that might show falling retail sales at certain locations. If we could provide tools to allow employees to see suggested possible courses of action, and not just the data that shows a problem, then that would be a functional BI solution!

Todd Lane

October 29, 2009 3:19 PM

Great post, Mark! Business intelligence is a high priority for many companies at this time.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) business intelligence (BI) products are great for businesses of any size, because they can be quickly implemented and rolled out to as many users as desired without heavy administrative and technical support (your first tip).

There are also many niche SaaS BI applications that are not bloated but provide excellent reporting and predictive analytics capabilities (your second tip).

SaaS BI is also cost-effective because it can easily scale the number of users up and down and requires little training and added services (your third tip).

Todd Lane

Mark Lorion

October 30, 2009 8:33 AM

You raise an excellent point, Fernando. I think you suggestion falls into my first category of “enable users to help themselves.” I didn’t originally get into what makes a product easy to use, but guiding a user along potential analysis paths, as you suggested, certainly would make the system easier and likely faster and more valuable to use. Other techniques we’ve seen work particularly well are the use of data visualization, which makes interesting insights and trends pop off the screen quickly, and rich interactivity that allows users to freely ask questions and get answers from their data instantly. We’ve focused much of our innovation efforts in these categories to make our user experience fast, easy and flexible for users.


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