The Best and Least Known Uses for Business Intelligence

One look around and it’s easy to see the best known uses for business intelligence (BI): data mining, online analytical processing, querying, and reporting. It’s used to improve decision making, cut costs, and identify new opportunities.

Unfortunately, its use doesn’t always measure up to those goals because all too often BI is used to look at the past rather than the present thereby giving a good view of where a company’s been but no roadmap to where it is headed.

That is changing as business leaders are learning to wield BI in new, more strategic ways. It is also changing as users learn more about the lesser known uses for the software.

A new KPMG study revealed some of these lesser known potential wins for BI users; a couple are listed and explained below. In case you didn’t know already, KPMG is one of the largest professional services companies in the world and one of the Big Four auditing companies.

1) To improve cash flow. By using BI for cash reporting and forecasting, underlying factors that slow cash flow are revealed and can then be corrected to significantly shorten the cycle. Such a transparent view of working capital and cash management can make a world of difference to a company immediately.

2) Refined comparability across products, customers and geographies.  BI can provide a coordinated data model to improve value-driver analysis which enables a company to react smarter and faster to volatile markets. In other words, yes BI can be used to look at the present and future rather than solely at the past.

As to some other interesting but lesser known uses of BI, well that list is growing everyday as companies continue to flex and test its many capabilities. Look for these lesser known uses for BI to emerge in common practice this year:

1)      KPIs shrink and dashboards expand. Companies are learning that not all key performance indicators (KPIs) are created equal. Indeed, some are downright useless. As companies get better at figuring out which KPIs are most meaningful, they’ll hone in on those and ditch the others. Dashboards, on the other hand, will see some real innovation to allow for greater exploration and visualizations of data that matters.

2)      Data gets democratized and Self-Service BI comes into daily use. Why limit all the wetware in your company to using reports only IT can turn out? It’s much smarter to allow employees to pull the data they need when they need it in the form most useful to them.

3)      Mobile BI expands the possibilities. While mobile BI use is at a tiny percentage now, it is showing some remarkable advantages already. Expect mobile BI to fuel BI use on the frontline and rekindle interest in BI throughout the entire organization.

Back in 2009 I wrote a four-part series on BI for CRM Buyer on how it came to be that our collective ignorance, despite massive amounts of data, enabled a global economic meltdown. Boris Evelson, an analyst at Forrester, said to me in an interview for that series that “One bank CIO recently told me ‘We had the data, but we did not have the information.’” That summed the reason for using BI then, and now – to have actual, actionable information and not just a pot full of dumb data. It also underscores why stretching its use is not only smart, but essential.

pam bakerPam Baker is the author of eight books and hundreds of technology articles published daily in leading online and print publications. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC) and the Internet Press Guild (IPG). You can reach her or follow her on Twitter and on Google+.

Tags: Data Center,Software,Technology