Business Intelligence and Business Analytics, Big Time

In a world that’s awash in data, assembling the right information about customers and business conditions has never been more difficult. It’s a paradox that Jay Dittmann, vice president of marketing strategy at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Mo., knows all too well. Having 13 million loyalty program members who purchase thousands of different greeting cards and other items makes tracking trends a daunting proposition. “There are mountains of data to sift through and limits to our marketing budget,” he explains.

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About two years ago, Hallmark deployed a business intelligence (BI) and business analytics (BA) initiative to better understand buying patterns at more than 3,000 Hallmark Gold Crown stores across the United States. The company wanted to better nurture its relationship with its frequent buyers and, through predictive modeling, determine how to market to various consumer segments during holidays and special occasions. As a result of this initiative, Hallmark has boosted sales, while also simplifying and improving the analytics process.

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Business intelligence and business analytics aren’t new concepts. The idea of understanding the relationships between bits and bytes of data extends back to the late 1950s, and BI has been around in earnest since the late 1980s. However, today, the ability to aggregate, store, mine and analyze data can make or break an enterprise. As a result, BI and BA have emerged as core tools guiding decisions and strategies for areas as diverse as marketing, credit, research and development, customer care and inventory management.

In fact, BI and BA are evolving rapidly and meshing to meet business challenges and create new opportunities. Although nearly all Global 5000 organizations already use these tools, 35 percent of them fail to make insightful decisions about significant changes in business and market conditions, according to IT consulting firm Gartner. What’s more, the task isn’t getting any easier as data streams become more intertwined, and mashups and other Web 2.0 environments pull data from multiple sources.

The bottom line? “Business intelligence and business analytics are on the cusp of a major change,” observes Joseph Bugajski, senior analyst at Burton Group. “There is a shift toward providing deeper insight into business information. And there is a growing emphasis on better tools and putting more powerful and better software in the hands of business decision makers.”

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