Cool Features in Business Intelligence Tools

There are some cool features in BI tools: SAP Crystal Reports has a feature whereby the user can be prompted what data element to group the report on, and the rows in the report will be grouped and summarized accordingly.  For example: group sales data by Product Line or by Customer Type. Several BI Tools interact with Microsoft Office and offer a variety of features.  They use Microsoft Office Excel or PowerPoint as a user interface for building queries, establishing grids and charts, adding subtotals and calculations, and formatting.  The Office document can be shared, and the data can be “LIVE”.   It can be refreshed, drilled-into, used to hyperlink to other documents, etc.  Different data from different sources can be inserted on different slides of a PowerPoint presentation. These include: Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services has some good conditional formatting options on stacked bar graphs.  Each of the bars in the stack can be given different color-coding criteria.  For example, if each bar in the stack represents sales for a different product line, each one can be compared to its own budget and colored green, yellow, or red. SAP BusinessObjects Analysis for Microsoft Office allows you to use Excel to create and update plan data in SAP NetWeaver BW.  Plan data can be entered manually or based on formulas.  For example, copy sales for Product A to sales for Product B.  Saving the plan data will write back to the InfoProvider in SAP NetWeaver BW. MicroStrategy provides a module that allows users to use a report and generate data and write that data back to a database.  It is also possible to write data back to a database using SAP BusinessObjects (Xcelsius) Dashboard. SAP BusinessObjects (Xcelsius) Dashboard allows charts, maps, list selectors, pictures, and other objects to display or not display conditionally based on selections by the user or elements in the data. SAP Crystal Reports offers considerable flexibility in formatting.  For example: apply conditional formatting to one column based on the value in another column or field in the report which can either be from the database or a calculated variable. SAP BusinessObjects (Xcelsius) Dashboard provides several options for interactivity and taking input from the user to update tables and charts. Most dashboard programs provide graphical alerts to quickly draw a user’s attention to a specific metric.  Most dashboard programs combine data in the same charts and tables from multiple data sources including database, web services, xml, and html pages. The above list contains just a few examples that come to my mind today.  Remember that fancy, complex graphics and widgets alone do not make a good dashboard. A good dashboard provides a way for business users to see information – and hopefully advice – quickly and translate that information into action. Developing a successful dashboard requires strong collaboration and partnership between technical professionals and business users working together to define requirements, examine prototypes, and create a great solution.

Recommendations to have a Successful BI Project

Leading organizations of all kind are seeking new, smarter ways to improve performance, grow revenue, develop stronger relationships and increase workforce effectiveness – and they expect individuals in every role to contribute to these outcomes. Business Intelligence (BI) is a key factor in achieving such results because it supports informed decision making at every level, enabling managers, executives and knowledge workers to take the most effective action in given situation. BI software connects people with information when and where they need it, and provides capabilities for beyond spreadsheets to deliver a true picture of the business. Think big, Start small Midsize companies are perfect candidates for an incremental approach to BI. Because they have limited IT staff and budget, smaller firms need to a practical solution that enables them to deploy components tactically and incrementally. These businesses should “think big” yet scale their approaches to fit a company with fewer resource. Some companies make the mistake of trying to solve all their challenges at once, and ultimately fail. By focusing on the highest priority business pain point, then selecting which capability will address the issue – such as analysis or reporting, small to midsize firms can more easily stay within their resource capacity and budget, realize business benefits more quickly and provide justifications for further investment. For example, an organization in the early phases of BI can: Start with reports or dashboards for information on how the business is performing Add analysis capabilities to gain insight into why certain events or conditions are occurring Incorporate planning functionality to link the insight gained from analysis Integrate what-if scenario modeling into the planning and analysis process so that action is immediate across the company With these capabilities in place, small to midsize companies can deliver consistent, reliable information that helps employees understand what happened and why, and what they should be doing to achieve desired outcomes, while creating an easy-to-follow BI growth path.  BI is a moving target, with constantly evolving business demands. There are three basic approaches to BI: Approach 1: IT-centric – BI generally starts out as an engineering, IT-driven initiative focused on data collection and analytical toll selection. Approach2: information management – in this approach, decisions become more real time, such as call center, CRM or ERP. The workforce speaks in the present tense “how are we doing, what can we tweak” the adjustments in business planning are persistent. Approach 3: predictive awareness – “Future tense” where scenario modeling permits examination of new business models, market opportunities and products. Recommendations: IT organization must work in partnership with business counterparts to address the decision-making needs of the enterprise, and quantify and qualify the impact of those decisions. IT organization must educate itself and business leaders that BI is not a technology tool, but a decision-making environment based on a solid business process orientation and performance management function. TI organization must take the lead in establishing a common language for BI that is completely business-oriented, tying BI initiatives to specific business decision and outcomes. Do you have any recommendations not listed above? Feel free to leave a comment on the Rural Sourcing blog!

Using Ranking Intelligently in Business Intelligence

This blog presents a few simple examples of how ranking can reduce the time needed to highlight areas of business that might be challenges or opportunities and take action accordingly. Imagine a dashboard that shows top 10 and bottom 10 customers according to sales revenue. Why might a customer be in the top 10, and how might that influence a sales person’s future activity? Successful and/or growing business – that is a good thing! Keep those orders coming! Ensure that supply chain and inventory are going to be able to keep up with future demand. Look for additional opportunities with the customer to help them grow their business. Review sales, advertising, and promotions strategy and replicate with other customers. What about a customer in the bottom 10? Does the customer need help understanding or selling specific products? Perhaps the customer needs product training or would benefit from selling a different mix of the company’s products. Is there a problem? Perhaps the customer is dropping the products or has switched to a different supplier. The salesperson might need to find out what is wrong and make amends. Perhaps the customer is having general challenges with business volume. In this case, the salesperson might consider strategizing with the customer to implement special promotions to help increase business. Ranking is even more powerful if Business Intelligence is organized to look at changes in a customer’s position. These are a few basic examples from an I.T. professional, but I hope they serve to demonstrate why ranking can be useful in a dashboard or report.