The business intelligence (BI) market is flooded with software packages targeted at small and midsize businesses (SMBs). But the reality is that SMBs face many of the same challenges in managing and using BI tools as their enterprise counterparts do.
The good news is that BI and analytics systems can often be more easily implemented in midmarket organizations because many SMBs do not have the technology infrastructure limitations typically found in large enterprises. Most big businesses already have mature BI architectures with designated hardware and software standards, which limits their flexibility on system design. Consequently, SMBs can be more agile and take advantage of newer BI product offerings.
On the other hand, restricted budgets and fewer internal IT resources to manage BI systems could be considered negative factors for BI adoption in the midmarket. Fortunately, thanks to the broader technology options now available, it’s a great time for SMBs to take advantage of what BI and analytics have to offer.
However, before embarking on an implementation, SMBs need to take steps to ensure a successful deployment and effective use of the BI system on an ongoing basis. Small and midsize companies can use BI to their advantage by understanding the value of data and how to transform it into strategic information— but implementing technology is not enough by itself to ensure valid and reliable analytical results.
The following issues should be considered before BI and analytics adoption to get the most benefit, and business value, from the system that is installed:
- Know the market. Having an understanding of existing product offerings and their differences, limitations and deployment options can help SMBs focus their software considerations. That means looking at the implications of on-premises BI versus a hosted system in relation to hardware needs, customization efforts and maintenance requirements. Knowing the market also means identifying which vendors offer required features out of the box, what licensing models are available and how viable products are in terms of vendor health and support for future expansion of BI and analytics systems.
- Make sure the outputs match the inputs. In most cases, decision makers within SMBs are well versed on the business metrics they need to track and what information they need to access in order to do so. However, it’s often difficult for midmarket companies to determine how those business requirements translate into technical specifications. Knowing the algorithms and business rules behind each metric can lead to better data capture and delivery. To lessen the risk of mismatched or inaccurate information, organizations need to look past the information that end users manipulate in spreadsheets and focus on the process of capturing transactional data from source systems.
- Pay attention to data management. Many organizations look at end-user dashboards and self service BI models and get excited about the possibilities inherent in such applications. But BI and analytics are only as strong as the data being stored and accessed. If the data is not cleansed, validated and maintained, the quality of BI results will be subpar, leading to less-than-accurate analytics. Additionally, data management requirements will change and expand as companies collect larger volumes of data and more complex data. Therefore, when selecting BI software, organizations need to be aware of what the supported data management processes (such as extract, transform and load functions) are and how well information expansion will be supported over time.
- Get up to speed on latency levels. The data access needs of executives and other end users can be combined with overall business requirements to identify acceptable latency levels on response times. The ability to access information as needed and to develop new queries and analyses on the fly will differ in importance depending on the business drivers behind the use of a BI system.
- Consider the correct BI components. Although dashboards have become the de facto entry point for many SMBs into the world of BI and analytics, that does not mean an organization needs to start with dashboards. For some businesses, interactive reports might be what end users require, while in others collaboration might be the most important feature. For a BI system to be successful, its delivery mechanisms must match the needs of the business users.
The key to successful BI deployments for SMBs is careful planning and a sound focus. If the process is managed properly, SMBs can match larger companies in gaining an edge against their competitors through the adoption of BI and analytics tools.
About the Author:
Lyndsay Wise is president and founder of WiseAnalytics, an independent analyst firm focusing on business intelligence and business performance management. For more than eight years, Wise has assisted clients in business systems analysis, software selection and implementation of enterprise applications. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.