Executive dashboards often add the "Wow!" factor to Enterprise Resource Planning systems. Those collections of colorful funnels and three-dimensional columns supposedly allow decision-makers to understand their company's key metrics in visual form. However, gorgeous graphs do not automatically equate to intelligent business decisions. True business intelligence (BI) capabilities must be thoughtfully designed and implemented, and the underlying technology must be versatile enough to make those pretty pictures come alive in dynamic and purposeful ways. Here is how smart businesses can leverage this incredible resource.
At its most basic level of functionality, business intelligence allows each user to generate dashboards, scorecards, KPIs, and analytical reports that deliver a deep understanding of key data from the perspective most useful to him/her. Typically, these visualizations are graphical displays of high-level information that provide an overview of key performance measures. They are usually accompanied with indicators (e.g. red/yellow/green) that call attention to situations outside of normal limits. The most robust business intelligence tools allow users to efficiently drill down into those overview images and see the next level of detail, and the next, and the next...until they arrive at the most finite and actionable levels of data that make up the information. In this way, business intelligence tailors information to the role and interests of the individual user for fact-based decision-making power.
How does it work?
Ideally, data in your ERP system - or any information system - is arranged for the most efficient storage and management possible. The data lives and evolves according to the logic of that particular system. Until recently, that also meant the information lived in isolation from information in your other systems. Business intelligence makes it possible to combine data from numerous independent sources - multiple ERP systems, non-integrated solutions, customer databases, spreadsheets - into a data warehouse, which is a separate storage facility designed to consolidate the data and arrange it specifically for analysis and reporting. In doing so, BI allows companies to free information from siloed systems and generate powerful associations that lead to insight and profitable action.
With modern, in-memory business intelligence tools, very large amounts of data can be gathered from different systems and organized, analyzed, and explored in combinations not available within any single system. Some tools, like Microsoft's Power BI, function as built-in engines behind certain ERP systems. Others, like BizNet's Suite, can be integrated into a number of existing ERP installations. Furthermore, by privileging self-service design elements, these data ecosystems allow each user to intuitively organize the analysis in a way that fits his/her specific role and business requirements. Through the lens of BI, related data is ultimately combined into meaningful metrics. Furthermore, a variety of data ranges and measures can also be applied to each analysis set in order to facilitate flexible and lightning-fast views of Finance, Sales, Purchasing, Accounts Payable, Inventory, Accounts Receivable, and/or Manufacturing. In its best forms, business intelligence empowers companies to work efficiently and reach their potential.
Beyond simple reporting
By combining data into flexible constellations of information, business intelligence goes beyond basic reporting to enable adaptive measurements, enhance analytical tools, and provide convenient access to features such as:
- details within summary indicators
- early detection of emerging issues before they become critical
- opportunities to anticipate customer needs
- consolidation of data from multiple systems without custom integration costs
In this world of Big Data, interactive analytical tools such as BI are increasingly essential to remaining competitive in the fast-moving marketplace.