Business Analytics Turns Data Into Intelligence

By Tony Kontzer Print this article Print

Thanks to the fact that powerful analytics tools have become available to businesses of all sizes, any organization can now turn its data into actionable intelligence.

Bringing Discipline to Data

After more than a decade of enduring analytics capabilities that were limited to whatever an Excel spreadsheet could spit out, executives at Allconnect finally cried "uncle" in 2010. That's when this Atlanta-based company, which resells home phone, television and Internet services to consumers who are referred by utilities providers, implemented SAP's Business Objects analytics package, bringing a new level of discipline to the company's use of data.

While the technology initially was intended as a sales-focused tool, it didn't take long for Allconnect to start crunching financial, customer satisfaction and quality assurance data, too. "We have put every bit of data that drives our business into our Business Objects platform," says Bobby Nix, IT director.

Employees now can use the platform to link various pieces of customer data—such as the customer's dwelling type, the referring utility and the services they purchased—and see the connections between these factors and the resulting customer satisfaction levels.

"We've begun to bring in a much richer context around the data," instead of relying on analysts to provide what they hope is the right data, Nix says. That's led to a measureable improvement in customer satisfaction and an increase of more than 10 percent in revenue per call.

Going forward, Nix says Allconnect would like to roll out more dashboard views for exposing this data, as well as plugging in some predictive analytics capabilities that will enable it to make more dynamic offers to customers.

Predicting Business Outcomes

Many organizations are using analytics software to predict likely business outcomes and become more proactive, reports Scott Schlesinger, vice president and head of the business information management practice at consultancy Capgemini North America.

Schlesinger says predictive analysis is critical to getting ahead of the competition in an increasingly data-intensive era. "Any companies that aren't looking at their data to gain competitive advantage could become irrelevant," he says.

At the Thule Group, best known for its rooftop car storage products, the need to better predict demand was the main reason for adopting business analytics. As recently as 2006, the Malmö, Sweden-based company relied on a spreadsheet-driven process for financial analysis and forecasting that created a lot of confusion about what numbers were right and often resulted in lost spreadsheets, says CFO Mark Cohen.

That was when Cohen and the company's vice presidents of sales and operations started looking for an analytics tool that could complement the company's use of PivotLink, a Web-based app it was using to publish raw sales data. They eventually settled on Host Analytics' financial analytics application, using it to crunch data they pull from their Oracle finance system into PivotLink.

Initially, Host was rolled out to more than two dozen functional managers and a handful of sales managers, all of whom began using the resulting insight to better predict demand for the company's products. Just a few years removed from having to rely on the finance department for all of their forecasting data, those managers now are able to ensure that there's always the right amount of inventory on hand, and that staffing levels meet expected demand.

"We're doing a better job of laying inventory into the building," says Cohen. "We're not sitting on excess inventory to buffer a lack of visibility into what we're going to sell."

That's not all: Thule's Host environment is enabling it to integrate new acquisitions into its planning and forecasting processes without turning to IT for help, as it did last year when it acquired Calgary, Alberta-based Chariot Carriers. And the company's sales and marketing staff uses Host to analyze data collected from the 15 to 20 trade shows Thule attends each year, using the resulting knowledge to prioritize the use of trade show resources.

Meanwhile, individual users are bypassing Oracle and using Host to build their own customized reports. "That was one of the things that told me this was working much better than I thought," says Cohen.

Organizations like the City of South Bend, Delta Dental, Allconnect and Thule might not be at the big data stage yet, but they're clearly getting big results with analytics solutions.

This article was originally published on 2012-09-10
Tony has been writing about the intersection of technology and business for more than 20 years and currently freelances from the Grass Valley, Calif., home where he and his wife are raising their two boys. A 1988 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism and regular contributor to Baseline since 2007, Tony's somewhat infrequent Twitter posts can be found at http://twitter.com/tkontzer.
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