Gaining Acceptance

By Darrell Dunn  |  Posted 2007-10-30 Print this article Print

Major acquisitions and increased deployments are pushying bsiness intelligence to the forefront of IT strategy. Here's a look at what works—and what hurdles remain.

Gaining Acceptance

The evolution of business intelligence has also caused a shift in how leading IT vendors interface with businesses, as the tools have begun to appeal to business decision makers and operations managers in addition to those managing the IT infrastructure, according to Hostmann.

Strategic adoption of business intelligence can require a significant shift in how both the IT department and its clients deal with critical information. When Steve Canter, CIO of Berlin Packaging, a leading supplier of rigid packaging such as glass and plastic bottles, jars and tubes, sought to expand BI throughout the organization, he found many users reluctant to give up old methods and try the new tools.

For years, the company's information services department had delivered canned Business Objects' Crystal Reports in response to requests for sales data. "We could never get the traction we needed to make those early business intelligence efforts really successful," Canter says. "The idea of slicing and dicing their own cuts of data I think overwhelmed some potential users at first." Canter kept searching for a "killer app that would make business intelligence really fly," and believes he finally found it in the company's annual budgeting process. Each of about a dozen departments within Berlin Packaging is required to prepare an annual budget, a process that used to require dozens of spreadsheets. "It was long, complicated, manual and tedious," he says.

Canter used the budgeting cycle to show department heads how they could apply BI capabilities from Microsoft SQL Server and Office PerformancePoint Server to streamline the process and create more accurate forecasts by using a single platform to access data across the company and configure it to meet specific requests. The result was about a 50 percent reduction in work hours dedicated to budgeting.

"They began to see IT was something they could sink their teeth into and gained appreciation for the depth of analysis available," he says. "Suddenly there was a groundswell of demand and people are licking their chops at what we might do with BI going forward."

Businesses are also deploying business intelligence to minimize the "needle in the haystack" approach to new customer initiatives, focusing marketing efforts where they can maximize return. Corporate Express, for instance, a provider of office and computer products and services, wanted to improve its online efforts and create an enhanced "also consider" or "recommended items" feature within its Web site checkout process.

Earlier this year Corporate Express began using the MicroStrategy business intelligence platform to create a "market basket" application based on predictive analytics that could be used by its more than 20,000 e-commerce customers who create about a million orders every month, says Matt Schwartz, director of business analysis.

"We saw we had a lot of real estate on our Web site that could potentially help us broaden sales, but we wanted something driven by well documented algorithms," he says. "We wanted the market basket tool to be based on actual customer buying patters and not some arbitrary items we selected." When a customer goes online to purchase a stapler, for example, staples and a staple remover are obvious additional purchases; last December the Corporate Express Web site also recommended glue sticks. The MicroStrategy tool helped Corporate Express document that staplers are often included in a "new employee bundle" along with waste baskets, tape dispensers, pencil holders and desk calendars.

Since creating the analytics-driven market basket option for its site, Corporate Express has seen the average order for individuals who make additional purchases increase by about 50 percent, Schwartz says.

That success has convinced the company's senior leaders that business intelligence can be a differentiator; Corporate Express is now rolling the software out to about 3,000 employees, Schwartz says.

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