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Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink! (An argument for Business Intelligence)

Working with multiple enterprise systems on a daily basis can feel like we are afloat on a sea of data without sustenance or a sense of direction. We are surrounded by disparate business processes, integrity issues and low-level operational reports. Chances are that we have no total visibility over these enterprise systems and no single source of truth. Customers, employees and products may not reconcile between systems and each system may tell a different story.

This is a common problem, but fortunately one that has methodology, skilled people and technology behind it to assist the journey through troubled waters.

Business Intelligence is the equaliser. It is unrealistic to expect these enterprise systems to ever go away, or be replaced with a supersystem that does everything we ever wanted (doubling revenue while cooking dinner and changing the baby). Business Intelligence aims to give us relevant and timely information that is easily consumed by the people who need it most. Business Intelligence is not picky; it does not exclude anyone because of their age, sex, technical understanding or role in the company. Strategic, tactical, operational and personal reporting needs can all be met using different presentation mechanisms.

Key decision makers do not make the best use of their time when they are manually compiling and collating spread sheets (which are prone to errors, no matter how skilled the operator). Business Intelligence aims to assist these people to make effective decisions, not to make them redundant by supplying animated reports and charts with pretty colours.

There are a number of key areas that Business Intelligence addresses:

  • A single source of truth – allowing us to see a single list of customers (for example) alongside any information we have ever collected from them, regardless of the source system.
  • Consistent data cleansing and validation – data is always handled in the same way, and is not prone to bias or the end-users’ understanding of how business operates.
  • Minimal disruption to source systems – some reporting requests can require source data to be turned inside out and upside down, then put in jars according to colour, then stacked in crates according to weight. We can do this with a dedicated data warehouse and reporting environment without fear of affecting source system performance.
  • Convenient access to consolidated data – static reports and ad-hoc querying are possible via centralised repositories of reports and dashboards.
  • Enhanced employee productivity – reducing menial tasks of spread sheet production so that employees can get visibility and take ownership for how the business is running.

To appreciate the full effect, the business needs to be consistent with its buy-in of Business Intelligence and lacking an aversion to change and process improvement. Likewise, consultancy effort needs to focus on the bigger picture and help guide towards this – the best data warehouse in the world is nothing without appropriate presentation mechanisms.

Business Intelligence can be thought of as the saviour of the information revolution. Are you committed to sailing forward into the unknown and improving the way you do business, and in the process getting a leg-up on your competitors? Or will you struggle to stay afloat?


Let me finish with a quote that I made up one day: 

On sailing through seas of data,

Let Business Intelligence be the wind to your sail,

Let data warehousing be your life raft,

And let timely reporting be your life jacket!

Posted by: Jonathon Mitchal, Developer, Enterprise Applications | 07 October 2010

Tags: Business Intelligence

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