In an effort to pin down specific ways business intelligence software can help businesses work smarter, we recently spoke with Brian Gentile, the CEO of open source business intelligence vendor Jaspersoft. And while no two organizations are exactly the same, Gentile says just about every mid-sized and large organization has something to gain from deploying business intelligence throughout the organization.
Herewith is Gentile's list of six areas where BI can help your business.
"A marketing department needs to find ways to help the company grow the top line," explained Gentile. More specifically, it needs the ability to analyze campaign returns, promotional yields, and fine-tune spending to get the biggest ROI. And business intelligence software, with its analytical capabilities, can provide your marketing team with the insights it needs to determine where marketing dollars are best spent. "Not only can a marketing team use it [BI software] to find the most effective campaigns and promotions and website activity," said Gentile, "but they can also use it to find the least effective areas" and adjust their spending accordingly, saving the company money and helping to drive growth.
With sales, business intelligence is all about process improvement, Gentile said, "analyzing the steps, time length or duration inside a broad number of customer opportunities within the sales funnel, then finding the best path and best practices." Without business intelligence software, managers are left guessing which sales techniques were the most effective in closing a deal quickly — or the least effective in the case of losing a sale. With the analytical tools that BI software provides, however, managers can gain specific insight into the sales pipeline and make adjustments accordingly. Put another way, with BI, "you can see at every step what's working best and what's not, and you can retarget your energy and dollars to those areas where the best yield occurs," he said.
Finance and Accounting
For Finance and Accounting departments, BI is all about process improvement, stated Gentile. A good accounting or finance department manages something called quote to cash, which looks at the sales funnel, and reasons, "here's a customer who we've actually given a firm proposal, and they're going to accept it. How long and what steps are required to go from that proposal or quote all the way through to cash collection? How many days expired during that time frame — and what do we need to do inside of our company using that data to improve the process, so that it's easier for customers to move from a firm quote or proposal all the way through to cash collection?" BI software lets you do that, said Gentile.
While most organizations don't tend to think of BI in terms of HR, human resources is actually another department that can really benefit from it, argued Gentile. Specifically, business intelligence software (analytics) can help your HR department track and manage things like employee turnover (voluntary versus involuntary) and which candidate pools tend to yield the best candidates. You can also analyze compensation. "We have a couple of customers — commercial ISVs — who embedded us into their HR application, which they resell," said Gentile. "So now they can deliver specific analytic and reporting insight along with the HR data that's being captured in their HR system. It's a lesser talked about area, but a very valuable one."
Inventory and Fulfillment
Many businesses already use some form of BI to monitor and automatically adjust inventory levels, noted Gentile. "There's something called complex and intelligent event management software, which when inventory is low triggers automatic reorders," he said. "And that's pretty much standard nowadays in any supply chain or inventory system." But you can also use BI to figure out "how fast is that inventory turning? How many times did the reorder point get triggered in the last 30 days? And is that on track for what I would expect for this product at this time of year?"
As Gentile is quick to point out, BI "brings people together, at first argumentatively, then later collaboratively." What he means by that is that companies that are not driven by metrics or analytics often argue about where problems lie, who or what department is responsible, and how to resolve them — often casting blame where it may not be due. With BI, which provides objective metrics and analytical data, everyone can look at the data and see where the trouble really lies and work together to resolve issues and improve business processes, a process Gentile referred to as "forming, storming, norming, and then performing."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to Enterprise Apps Today and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping small and mid-sized businesses.