Feature article - Invest in information: Selecting the ideal business intelligence & analytics system
Mike Beason, EMEA distribution, director of automated data analytics supplier Anvizent, explores a series of factors to consider in order to make an informed decision when selecting an analytics system
The market is flooded with business intelligence and analytic systems, making the task of selecting the right one hard to navigate. While the right one will help businesses to use their data to drive competitive advantage, spending a company’s budget on the wrong business intelligence system can end up adversely impacting staff and production efficiency, ultimately harming the bottom line. Factors to be considered when investing in analytics include: savings on cost and time, flexibility and ease of use and, finally, looking to the future and exploring how artificial intelligence (AI) will shape business intelligence and analytics to provide the end user with predictive and prescriptive data.
Cutting down on costs
Systems that at first present themselves as low-cost often come with hidden fees. There is more to the cost than the initial software or per-user licence costs. Decision makers must consider the total cost of ownership (TCO), taking into consideration hardware, consulting, implementation, programming and ongoing maintenance, which many vendors do not disclose upfront.
Selecting a fully integrated end-to-end system, including software licensing, hardware, setup, initial implementation and maintenance, helps to avoid any hidden costs and ensure a lower TCO. By opting for a pre-built system, companies will save money by not having to employ a specialist or carry out extensive training to install the software and keep it running. This also eliminates any extra resourcing costs as it should only require conﬁguration and not customisation, while still being ﬂexible enough to grow with any business.
Spending time wisely
Time is a significant component to any business decision. An effective analytics system should be there to make the end users life easier and help save them time, allowing them to focus on other parts of their job role.
Businesses must consider what they want to achieve with their analytics system. More often than not, this will be a platform that offers systems straight out of the box, with the ability to extract data from all areas of a company, process and evaluate it, otherwise known as extract, transform, load (ETL).
Finding, cleansing and organising data can be a massive drain on resources, whereas selecting a system that can automate the ETL process will ensure faster reporting with fewer errors, and provide greater agility and business insight. Many of the products in the current market present themselves as end-to-end platforms when in reality they are visualisation and dashboarding tools.
Decision-makers must differentiate between the two as selecting a true end-to-end platform offers all the tools in one package and eliminates the complexity and risk that comes with integrating and managing multiple tools. This gives businesses access to their consolidated data immediately to start analysing performance using powerful, interactive dashboards.
Another way to save significant time is to opt for a system that offers real-time analytics. This allows users to create fully accurate strategies and business opportunities without any delays. This is vital for chemical manufacturers dealing with large quantity orders, who want to keep their competitive edge.
Ideally, accurate data should be displayed, in real-time, on screens in the ofﬁce or at any remote location, with no impact on the operational systems it is drawing the data from. Vendors should be open to speaking about real-time connectivity and the impact on the source systems as well as the systems capabilities for storing expanding data sets quickly, easily and at no extra cost.
With so much to consider, decision-makers can often overlook one of the most vital considerations: how easy is the software to use? Bringing a platform into a business that is over-complicated, fragmented and requires coding, can end up becoming a hindrance rather than a help. This is especially true for SMEs with limited budgets.
A system that is easy to use and requires fewer IT resources will not only save money but ensure faster reporting times – allowing the workforce to focus on other business priorities, such as budget efﬁciencies.
The chosen system should already be pre-integrated with popular ERP, MRP, CRM, procurement, HR and payroll packages. It should be straightforward and quick to add-on custom extensions to the software when required, as well as the ability to incorporate other systems or ﬂat data into its data set, providing a 360-degree view of the business.
Acquiring business data is not a straightforward process – it can be found in many elements of a company. From CRM and shopﬂoor systems to external systems or data on the internet, the more data a business can collect and process, the more successful its end strategy will be. This is why having a flexible, easy-to-use system is such a valuable asset.
Without bringing the data together, it becomes impossible to get a truly integrated and comprehensive view of the business. End-to-end systems have built-in automated ETL, enabling users to start applying analytics to their data almost immediately. Flexibility and ease of use should also apply to how end users access data.
Business is no longer conducted within four walls and the way that companies access data should be as simple as accessing any other information in the modern world. Sales teams often work remotely and their ability to access data could be the difference between winning or losing a sale. In order to gain full flexibility of a system, businesses should select one that is accessible at any time, location and from any device.
Self-service systems offer the end user an easy to navigate system. However, many that claim to be self-service only offer standardised reports. For a system to be truly self-service, it should offer users ad hoc dashboards and the ability to customise their own reports. Employees are more likely to incorporate an easy-to-use tool in their daily activities and businesses will begin to see the benefits.
If the tool is complicated and time-consuming to implement, it may only be accessible to one or two employees who are skilled in coding. This isolates the rest of the workforce and would make the tool harder to implement across the board.
It is clear that AI will be at the core of business intelligence. We are already beginning to see now how data is changing from descriptive to predictive. It is no longer enough to draw on data to evaluate past behaviours and patterns. AI gathers insights from complex data sets and is able not only point to real time behaviours, but also to predict and recommend the next action, all with little to no work from the user. Businesses that select a system without AI capabilities will eventually find themselves playing catch-up with their competitors.
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