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Business Intelligence

1 March 2012
Liron Rigal
man using touch screen

Traditional BI involves turning information into actionable and valuable knowledge that leads to the organization's most profitable and correct decisions at any given time. For the data to be accurate and up-to-date, most organizations bring it into an integrative environment (data warehouse) and leave the reports' planning and preparation to expert analysts. Naturally, transferring the information, and no less planning the reports and producing them by the analysts, creates bottlenecks; employees become dependent on the reports and information products of the analysts - and in a business environment where time equals money, this can lead to missed business opportunities and loss of profitability. One of the proposed solutions to this problem is to expand the accessibility of BI tools while adapting them to "non-expert" users at all levels of the organization.

Self-Service BI

Advantages of making BI accessible to the masses:

  1. Empowering the employee with business insights - Making relevant business information accessible to the employee will encourage "smarter" and "better" business decisions. Providing access to information for personal use will allow all users to receive, access, explore, analyze, and share critical information to achieve better business results. Personal use of information will reduce dependence on IT people and analysts and allow them to focus on projects of higher added value to the organization. Deploying tools that enable easy visualization, simplification, and analysis of information, such as Excel reports, pivot tables (which allow assembling information from different sources by custom slices), creating personalized dashboards, and more, provide opportunities to receive personal BI information that empowers the employee and the quality of their business decisions.

  2. Improving organizational effectiveness - Employees with access to information will be able to share it throughout the organization, teach and learn from peers about ways to make more effective business decisions, and use tools such as creating shared workspaces, creating "tag clouds" for documents, receiving alerts about new or updated information, and more.

The Challenge - Traditional BI Tools and Making Them Accessible to the Masses

Traditional BI tools serve the needs of analysts and managers and were built to serve this population. They are laden with information and challenge the non-expert user to decipher it. This creates two limitations in making these tools more widely accessible within the organization:

  1. Traditional BI tools are too complex for widespread use and require prior knowledge to find information.

  2. They require prior knowledge to extract insights from the data found.

For BI tools to be widely used in the company, a structural change is needed in three aspects:

  1. Creating a repository in a "natural" language that is understandable to non-expert users.

  2. Creating quick access to information.

  3. Increasing access to all information generated by BI tools.

Making Information Accessible Through Advanced Search Boxes

One of the tools that allows broad access to information in BI systems is creating a search engine that connects the employee's "natural" language with the information products in BI reports. Using a search box is a familiar concept known to everyone from web searches. In an advanced search box, the user can enter complex queries to receive personalized information, such as a cross-search of: "Current quarter revenue for products" and "Compare these revenues to last quarter's revenues" or further narrowing by adding the words "only in New York."... The user can request to receive the results in a chart, Excel sheet, and various displays that facilitate understanding of the data so that anyone in the company can ask questions and receive answers in seconds. This solution makes BI information accessible to everyone quickly and is simple to understand without requiring prior training in understanding data structures. The user can extensively use the info: save it, share it with colleagues, request the generation of a similar report at a scheduled time, or publish it in a repository for future use. This way, employees at all organizational levels can access business information conveniently and quickly. They can react much faster, thus increasing their contribution to the organization and enhancing organizational efficiency to increase profitability.

Along with the advantages, there are also risks to be taken into account when opening up the use of information to the entire organization. Employees may download incorrect information to their Excel reports or need to understand the relevance of the information. Therefore, companies must ensure employees understand how BI applications work to avoid creating flawed queries that could lead to misunderstood information.

To create a widespread "correct" use of BI tools, it is necessary to allow:

  1. Development of appropriate security tools to maintain the safety and integrity of the information.

  2. Explain to employees not only how to find information but also how to analyze and make sensible use of it.

  3. Provide access to data only to those employees who will benefit from the access.

  4. Evaluate the information products of BI tools to ensure that employees who are not statisticians can extract the most from them.

The bottom line: The technological development of search and tag clouds now allows business intelligence access to more employees with less training. We face several challenges as we implement this new approach, but these are not new challenges we have not yet encountered in the organization. It is certainly possible, and it is very worthwhile. Wisdom, as we have learned, lies among the masses, and there is a process of streamlining here, but no less, an opportunity for further achievements and exploiting opportunities that may currently be missed. It's worth it!

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