How much business intelligence is just right for your business?

The term “Business Intelligence” and its acronym “BI” are so pervasive in today’s data-intensivelexicon that it’s a challenge to know just what to make of it. If you add in all the new trendy terminology such as business process management (BPM), data mining, data warehousing, business process automation, decision support systems, query and reporting systems,enterprise performance management, executive information systems (EIS), business activity monitoring (BAM), modeling and visualization, and so forth, your head can start spinning.

Here is a workable definition of BI that was provided in a Technology Evaluation report from a January 10, 2005, Technology Evaluation Centers article by Mukhles Zaman entitled,“Business Intelligence: Its Ins and Outs”: “BI is neither a product nor a system. It is an umbrella term that combines architectures, applications, and databases. It enables the real-time, interactive access, analysis, and manipulation of information, which provides the business community with easy access to business data. BI analyzes historical data-the data businessesgenerate through transactions or by other kinds of business activities -and helps businesses by analyzing the past and present business situations and performances. By giving this valuable insight, BI helps decision-makers make more informed decisions and supplies end-users with critical business information on their customers or partners, including information on behaviors and trends.”

To put it in simpler terms, BI makes the right information available in the right format to the right person at the right time. Given that virtually all small and midsized businesses (SMBs) crave better information, the kind of information typically provided by a BI tool, the real question is how much of this technology constitutes a good investment of time and energy? Most of the industrial-strength, BI-related tools cater more to the larger enterprises whose business structures are highly complex and whose budgets can accommodate the lofty implementation expenditures. While many of these vendors would like you to think that their pricey, high-end solutions are absolutely necessary for the SMB sector as well, our research indicates otherwise.

Based on the size of your company and budgetary constraints, your goal is to determine what BI tools you really need to drill down and extract the key performance data that will make your company more efficient and profitable.

To start, we recommend that you leverage your existing technology and find cost-effective,easy-to-use BI solutions that integrate with your Microsoft Office Suite. That should be quite sufficient to get you the intelligence you need to significantly boost your bottom line.

The real question is how much of BI technology constitutes a good investment of time and energy?

Tomorrow look for part two of this Tip Sheet that will deal with cutting through the hype of business intelligence.

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