“I Didn’t Know” is No Excuse in a Business
To succeed in your job, you make decisions every day based on your grasp and outlook for your business. Here are some typical examples: · You are in charge of sales; a competitor is doing wel...
To succeed in your job, you make decisions every day based on your grasp and outlook for your business. Here are some typical examples:
· You are in charge of sales; a competitor is doing well and your management wants you to deal with the problem.
· You are in charge of finance; the marketing department wants to spend money and you are asked to approve the request, based on your outlook for the company’s cash flow in the coming weeks.
· You are a regional sales manager who needs to reassign sales territories between the reps. Before you do, you want to know what the impact of the change will be on revenue, commissions, and travel expenses based on past performance.
In today’s difficult economic climate, if something goes wrong, saying “I didn’t know” is not a good excuse. To maximize your success you need good visibility into your business.
There Must be a Better Way
How many times have you found yourself faced with a decision and looking desperately for data that will help you make your choice easier?
If you are the sales director who was called to deal with a new competitor, you will want to look at your team’s win/loss record against that competitor. You will also want to know what discounts your sales team offered in those deals. And you will want to look at public data on the competitor’s financial performance to see how they are doing relative to your company and to your industry.
You can access your CRM system and get a list of sales prospects where the competitor was involved, along with the status (win/loss) of the deal, the sales region, and the date.
This information is helpful, but not enough. Missing, for competitive wins, are the amount that was actually booked and the discount that was given. To get this information, you go to your accounting system. But your accounting system doesn’t record competitive data, so you can’t simply generate a report that only lists wins against the competitor. What you end up doing is generating a list of all recent deals from your accounting system. You then look at the deals one at a time and try to match the deals in the report from your CRM system with those that appear in the report from the accounting system. Adding to your challenge is the fact that company names that appear in your CRM system don’t always match those in the accounting system. One system might list deals with “Coca Cola” and “IBM,” while the other system lists deals with “The Coca Cola Company” and “International Business Machines.”
You then have to resort to cutting and pasting data in Excel once again to compare your private company’s revenue performance to that of your competitor and the industry. You get the data on your industry and your competitor (a public company) from an industry analyst web site. You then combine it manually with your own company’s revenue data in Excel.
What should have taken you minutes ends up taking hours. The process was so tedious and labor intensive that it’s hard to avoid mistakes. And, if you decide to repeat the analysis a few days later, you’ll have to start from scratch, you can’t simply “refresh” the data. Some companies refer to this as “Excel hell.” Does it sound familiar?
Say Goodbye to Cutting and Pasting
If you need quick access to your company’s data, along with other information from the Internet, you now have a simple and affordable alternative to “Excel hell.” New software as a service (SaaS) business intelligence solutions deliver the answers you need on-demand. After a quick set-up, all you need to do is connect to the web and view the business analytics you need to be successful.
The sales operations director who was trying to combine data on competitive wins and losses from the CRM and accounting systems can now access a single, dynamic report that combines the current and historical information needed. All competitive wins and losses, along with revenue forecasted, revenue booked (for wins), and discount rates can be displayed, along with the relevant sales region and date.
Bringing in external data from the web is just as easy. The sales director can view a single report that compares the company’s internal (and confidential) revenue data against public data on the competitor and the industry.
To answer most questions, the sales director opens one of the prebuilt sales analytics. If the question is new and a report is not available, the sales director can easily create a new one without any technical help from others. The dynamic web reports combine data from different business applications, in this case from your CRM and accounting systems. The data is “cleansed” automatically before appearing in the reports to address inconsistencies between the different data sources (such as the IBM vs. International Business Machines issue).
But quick and simple access to data is not the only advantage of the on-demand business intelligence approach. SaaS analytic solutions are also designed to be simple to set-up, since all you need to do is connect to the “on-demand” service on the web. And last, but not least, SaaS business intelligence applications are simple to buy and affordable. In comparison, if your employer had decided to address this problem by building an on-premise business intelligence reporting and analysis solution in house, the acquisition and maintenance cost for all the pieces would easily reach a million dollars.
Business Visibility: Your Four Alternatives
Let’s review the alternatives that you have today to answer your business questions:
1. You can ignore the data, and just guess: You can ignore the unprecedented amount of transactional information that your company’s systems collect and just use your “gut” to guess what needs to be done. This is like keeping the lights off in your room and walking around in the dark. The data and business visibility is there for you if only you flip the switch on, but instead you can just choose to keep the lights out and ignore it.
2. You can continue to cut and paste data: You can continue to export data manually from each of your business applications to Excel and then waste your time cutting and pasting the information to combine it as you try to make some sense of your business. This is like walking around the dark room while holding a candle. You can make out individual objects. If you spend enough time you can even get a general sense of what is in the room; but you don’t get the full picture all at once. And if you’re not careful and make a mistake, you might get burned.
3. You can deploy an expensive BI solution: You can have your company design, procure, and maintain in house a traditional business intelligence reporting and analysis solution, assuming your company can afford it. But this is like installing a full electric power plant in your house just to light up your room. A BI solution implemented in house to generate multi-data source reports with cleansed and consistent data would require the following components: data extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) technology with connectors to your business applications, like Salesforce.com and Netsuite; data cleansing technology; a data warehouse stored in a database management system; OLAP analysis services; a query and reporting tool, like Business Objects or Cognos. Assembling all of the above, whether from proprietary or from open source software takes months to design and deploy and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and maintain.
4. You can get business visibility on demand – You can access the data that you need to be successful via the Internet and a SaaS business intelligence solution, on demand. This is equivalent to flipping on the light switch in your room. There’s no power plant in the house, the power is supplied by an electric utility company.
Which approach do you think makes the most sense for the future?
Business intelligence on demand: Why now?
You might ask: If on-demand business intelligence is such a great approach, then why wasn’t it available before? Traditional business intelligence solutions were designed for use inside the “four walls” of a company: They were built with the assumption that all users are full-time employees who access the business intelligence system inside the company’s secure network. The solutions also assumed that all the data that the users needed to see came from databases and applications sitting inside the company’s network.
In the past decade, all these “building assumptions” of traditional BI solutions changed: Many users, data, and applications now sit outside the company’s four walls. Just look at your own business today: How many of your contractors, partners, or even customers might benefit from viewing some of your business reports? To analyze your business and your market, how oft en do you access external data from the Internet? And how many on-demand business applications such as Salesforce.com or NetSuite do you use?
Traditional BI solutions did not anticipate these changes and their architectures cannot easily adapt to these new business realities. To get faster, more affordable, and simpler access to the data they need, with a solution that fits the new ways of doing business, employees are now shifting to SaaS business intelligence solutions. As with “on premise” solutions, the data is secure and users only have access to the information that they are authorized to see.
There is little doubt that future generations will look back and wonder why companies ever tried to configure full and costly BI suites of soft ware in house. For now employees simply wonder why it is so difficult to access the business information about their company that they need to be successful.But this about to change.
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