Not Just the Facts

We all know how important it is to have all the facts when we?re making decisions or planning strategies. But when we?re inundated with a daily round of data in e-mails, reports, spreadsheets, presentations, RSS feeds, audio and video files, and all kinds of printed and digital publications, it?s hard to assemble disparate pieces of information in a way that provides the intelligence and insight needed to make good business decisions.

That?s the situation facing Hallmark Cards, with 13 million members in its loyalty program. ?There are mountains of data to sift through and limits to our marketing budget,? Jay Dittmann, vice president of marketing strategy, told Sam Greengard for his story ?Optimizing Your Enterprise.?

That?s where business intelligence (BI) and business analytics (BA) systems come into play?for Hallmark and a growing number of other organizations around the world.

In today?s troubled economy and competitive business environment, making good decisions is a matter of survival. But good decisions aren?t based on gut feeling alone. They should be based on information gathered from multiple sources, which is then synthesized and analyzed to generate a road map of options and possibleoutcomes that transform data into usable knowledge.

As BI and BA tools have become more functional and easier to use, the number of employees who can benefit from them has increased significantly. ?They are no longer an exclusive tool for executives and power analysts,? Boris Evelson, principal analyst for business intelligence at Forrester Research, told Baseline. ?They are enabling knowledge workers throughout the organization.?

Others share Evelson?s viewpoint. At a recent IBM event at Fordham University in New York, Ambuj Goyal, general manager of business analytics and optimization at IBM, put it this way: ?Information needs to be at the point of impact?at the front lines where people are making decisions. The right analysis needs to be done at the right place. It?s important for organizations to treat information as a strategic asset in order to optimize every decision, every process, everything they do.?

At the same event, Kamal Bherwani, CIO of New York City Health and Human Services, reported that his agency is using business analytics to ?liberate data and connect it across silos.? Bherwani?s goal is to connect the databases of nine organizations within HHS to create a client-centric view of the data, rather than an organizational view. ?We need to focus on the individual clients,? he added, saying that would change the way all agency employees think about their clients.

Many enterprises have to deal with similar issues. ?One of the biggest challenges organizations face is the amount of data sitting in silos,? Forrester?s Evelson said. ?Too often, valuable data simply isn?t accessible or available.?

That?s the situation at the Kent County Council in the United Kingdom. ?There is a lot of information available,? Paula Rixon, project manager, told Baseline. ?Unfortunately, it has been difficult to find it and put it to use.? The solution? Connecting to the data that resides in databases and spreadsheets and pulling that data into the council?s BI system by using RSS.

But aggregating data from multiple sources isn?t the only challenge facing enterprises that plan to implement BI and BA solutions. Another problem discussed in our cover story is that ?many organizations lack the business processes, standards and governance procedures to develop a comprehensive BI/BA strategy.? That?s a major roadblock, but it?s not insurmountable. And, let?s face it, organizations need well-thought-out processes, standards and procedures to ensure their future success.

It?s clear that to obtain the substantial benefits offered by BI and BA solutions, organizations need to do the groundwork. Admittedly, that will take time, money and a lot of work. But consider the alternatives: losing customers, falling behind competitors and possibly going out of business. In the case of a government agency, the alternative might mean being inefficient, ineffective and irrelevant.

To avoid such disasters, organizations need to make the right decisions at the right time. And to do that, they need to give their employees?not just their executives?the right tools.