Business Intelligence: Working Smarter

When a sales rep from Mölnlycke Health Care U.S., a maker of surgical and wound-care products, gets ready to hit the road to visit a customer, she is likely to warm up her computer and obtain a report showing how many scar-treatment dressings or synthetic gloves the customer purchased over the past year—and how that compares to last year’s orders or another customer’s orders in a nearby territory.

Before the company developed its business reviews, sales representatives compiled the information from online analytical processing tools and AS/400 queries from sales, pricing, contract and demographic files, says Susan Dean, business intelligence manager at Mölnlycke’s U.S. headquarters in Norcross, Ga. Now, in a matter of minutes reps can get the data necessary to work all areas of a hospital or facility. The reviews show history, usage, product mix and penetration by product line.

“We sell to distributors, but have to know where our products are going so we can service those facilities,” Dean says. “Before these [business] reviews were developed, [territory managers] had to go to [multiple] places for the information and create the reports manually.” That left room for errors, and the process was time-consuming—it took as long as four hours to collect the data.

Welcome to the latest era of business intelligence applications in which a broader assortment of employees—such as sales reps, purchasing managers and logistics workers-—can easily get sales, shipping or other information to analyze trends and shape business decisions. Employees in the finance department, for example, use these tools to better track corporate performance, and workers in logistics can identify the best routes for deliveries.

In the past, business intelligence was largely the domain of corporate analysts, who used applications to look for trends in large data fields and create complex models of what to expect in the future.

What’s changed? The latest tools are more versatile and easier to use, say executives at organizations deploying business intelligence software. “The evolution of BI [business intelligence] has allowed us to provide users with secured multidimensional analysis and highly formatted reporting, containing information from multiple sources, accessed via the Web, using a browser from any computer,” Dean says.

Products are available from best-of-breed players such as Business Objects, Clarity Systems, Cognos and Hyperion Solutions; enterprise resource planning vendors including SAP and Oracle; and from companies such as Microsoft and IBM with their database offerings. The average annual cost for 10,000 users on a business intelligence system running in a Windows-based environment, including software licenses, dedicated hardware and maintenance, is about $722,000, according to Ventana Research of San Mateo, Calif. And enterprises are finding effective ways to use the technology to generate returns such as improved processes, reduced costs and increased sales.

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