BI here, there….BI everywhere

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These days, it is pretty hard not to notice all the buzz around Business Intelligence (“BI”). If you go to the trade show floor at conferences such as Microsoft Convergence or World Wide Partner Conference, you will see more BI products than ever. While popular media have moved on to focus on Big Data to find the latest scoop about what the world thinks about your products, or mobile BI that lets you carry with you analytical information everywhere, most Microsoft Dynamics, Sage, Intacct, Netsuite, etc. customers are still trying to figure out more down-to-earth topics, such as whether to use the out-of-the box report writer that came with their ERP system or to invest in a best-of-breed Excel- or web-based reporting solution.
Every employee in the company will use a BI tool by 2020
Whether it is an accountant producing a profitability report with trend analysis, or one of the company’s truck drivers using his smart phone to review if he has hauled more metric tons of cargo this month compared to last month and compared to other drivers, self-service BI is quickly on the rise across the world.
A few months ago, Gartner Group presented in-depth research on where the BI market is going from now to 2020. Here are some key points:
• Of all software categories, BI software was ranked as the #1 investment priority for CIOs.
• While mega vendors like SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft still dominate the BI market with their “machine gun” approach of supplying a large number of tools, smaller best-of-breed players are growing in popularity.
•On the average, BI is today reaching about 25% of a company and the IT department is still heavily involved as an enabler (e.g. helping business users write SSRS reports, manage OLAP cubes, etc.). However, by 2014, BI will reach as many as 50% of users in the company and business users are taking control of the tools required to write reports, perform analysis, etc. By 2020, it is predicted that 100% of employees in an organization will have some sort of access to BI tools.
Now, we can ask ourselves where this tremendous growth in BI interest is coming from and why? Some of the answers lie in legacy reporting tools having survived for so many years as “the BI solution” because prices of high-end BI software and data warehouse projects have been out of reach for small and mid-sized companies. For example, for the typical Dynamics ERP customer, that means that they are still building row and column tables in FRx/Management reporter (MR), they are still calling their IT department or vendor when they need to build or change an SSRS report, or modify a SQL view or an OLAP cube. Meanwhile, almost every single business user of these tools will manually export their FRx/MR financial reports, SSRS reports and custom queries to Excel every day, week and month in order to work with- and analyze the data in an environment where they are comfortable on their own without having to ask for help. Is this process ideal for an organization operating in the competitive environment of 2013? Clearly not! That is why the BI software industry is on fire these days, and ERP and CRM customers are starting to find solutions that enable automation, analysis and self-service far beyond the classic BI solutions that come pre-packaged from their vendor.
A lot of noise and a lot of BI tools!
Once the finance and accounting department have started “smelling” the BI cookies and they follow the scent to the kitchen, they realize that there are a lot of cookies in the jar and that is when a sense of confusion and despair often sets in and they start asking themselves; What does BI really mean to my company? Do I need a report writer or a dashboard? What about automating my manual spreadsheet budgeting process? Do I need a data warehouse or is all the valuable data in the company coming from the ERP database?
There is no simple answer. Sometimes you see posts on Internet forums with questions like: “which BI tool is the best one?”. The answer is: It depends. What can you afford? What do you have time and skills to implement? In addition to your ERP and CRM data, what are your data sources? What type of presentation layer do your users need to perform their analysis and decision-making quickly and without technical assistance.
As the BI wave rolls forward, a few things are likely to happen:
1. ERP customers will start demanding best-of-breed self-service BI that they can take full ownership of and that will give their employees the information they require in a timely fashion and in a format that is conducive to efficient analysis.
2. ERP resellers and ISVs will increase their own investments in staff training to present and implement BI as part of their value proposition.
3. BI vendors will have to set price points that are affordable for wide-scale roll-outs and build solutions that are pre-integrated across ERP and CRM modules plus that allows for integration with other data sources as well. This will drive the need for affordable data warehousing solutions that can combine valuable data into single data silos for easy reporting, budgeting and analysis.
4. Finally, there is another revolution happening out there and that is the emergence of Enterprise Collaboration Portals, which provides a “social” forum for the whole company to discuss and retain important problems, projects, ideas and opportunities. Over the next few years, this technology will start facilitating the flow of “people communication” that relates to ERP, CRM and BI tools, to create searchable knowledge databases that significantly will improve decision-making and process improvement.
The best way to approach these trends is to get educated on what the available BI solutions have to offer, review internal needs and then sit down and come up with a multi-year BI strategy that starts with the most dire needs and then takes a cohesive but step-wise approach to fulfilling all the key BI requirements of the organization.
To learn more about how Solver is embracing these trends with its BI360 solution, please visit