||You run a small or midsize business.
Maybe it's not rocket science... then again, maybe it is. There's
nothing small (or even midsize) about the complexity of managing
your own business - it's big-time. On any given moment of any day,
you might be working furiously to track the effectiveness of your
sales efforts, monitor your inventory, juggle receivables against
payables, and reduce inefficiencies in production.
You've got all the data - somewhere.
It's in this sales report, that stock list, those account ledgers,
these production updates. In other words, it's siloed here and
siloed there. Wouldn't it be great if it could all be pulled
together, so you could analyze it holistically and make truly
informed, real-time decisions?
Well, here's the good news: You can,
thanks to business intelligence. We know what you're thinking: "I
can't afford some expensive, complicated technology. Business
intelligence? That's for the big guys, companies with armies of IT
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Regardless of the size or type of your business, you're already compiling
reams of data and you've no doubt acquired the software that is the
foundation of business intelligence. If you have Microsoft Office 2010 and
Microsoft SQL Server, you're already on your way to a Business Intelligence
solution. (What's that you say? Don't want to invest in another database?)
Ever hear of Microsoft SQL Server Express? It's... drum roll... FREE!
Let's take a closer look at the process and
tools for gleaning insights from your business data.
The first step is to pull together a list of
the critical reports you need to run your business effectively. Think about
the reports you already run today. Could they be made more intuitive? More
timely? More readily available? You'll want to get input from all the key
people in your business and from any outside vendors who require reports,
such as accountants or e-commerce consultants. (When you are talking to
vendors about the reports, make sure you understand how they build the
metrics to measure their business. There might be differences.)
Next, you'll need to determine all the
discrete pieces of information -- or, as the geeks like to say, the "data
points" - you'll require to generate the reports. Once you've identified the
data points, you'll need to establish the sources for the data.
Okay, you know what data you require and
where it will come from. Now you need to aggregate the information into a
database, so it can be sliced, diced and analyzed - in other words, so it
can be turned into the reports you identified back in step one.
The next steps: Generate the requested
reports and review them with all the stakeholders. This means going over the
reports in detail with your managers, your vendors, and the folks "in the
trenches" - in short, everyone you're expecting to provide insights and act
on business data. It's critical that everyone understands how the numbers
were generated. Moreover, missing items or errors in data sources often
surface during these reviews, so you'll want to listen carefully to all the
feedback and make any necessary changes.
Now you've determined what information you'll
need, where the data will come from, and how the reports will be generated.
Next, you'll need to setup systems for sharing the reports with the
appropriate employees. This might be efficiently done by publishing the
report to your company's intranet portal. By sharing the reports online,
you'll be able to track the number of users who access the reports and
determine which reports - and subsections of reports - are the most popular.
You'll also be able to post updates and revisions in one place and be
certain that everyone is viewing the latest version.
All that remains is to automate the entire
process, so that the reports are generated and shared for anywhere and
anytime access. Now your people have the critical information they need to
make better, more relevant decisions that fuel productivity, profits, and
Let's do a quick recap. We know what we want,
the ability to analyze data and spot-meaningful trends, and to make these
trends actionable by sharing them with employees. And we know what we need
to get there: data software that will help us collect and analyze those
reams of information, and collaboration software that will get the
information into the hands of employees who can translate the insights into
Let's take a look at the information
technology behind a business intelligence solution a little more closely. It
begins with a database that stores all the information. This is the
foundation of business intelligence: You need a robust database that will
collect all the information about your business and enable you to find those
nuggets that can be game-changers. The data infrastructure (to use its fancy
IT name) needs to have powerful capabilities for creating reports and
providing analysis. Microsoft SQL Server 2008 can help provide that. With
SQL Server you get an incredibly powerful means of collecting and storing
data, and it also allows your "report jockeys" to perform sophisticated
searches, queries and analyses.
You might already be using one or more
systems or applications to manage day-to-day operations, but getting
information out of these systems can be a struggle. When you're suing a SQL
Server database, you can use the built-in reporting tools to create standard
reports that give you fast, accurate data to help manage the business more
efficiently. You can set up access to the database from within SQL Server
Reporting Services, and then get started with reports and basic data
visualization using familiar Microsoft Office programs, like Microsoft
Office Excel. Because everyone in your organization may already have Excel,
it brings out the analyst in everybody, by letting them do their own data
exploration and strategizing, empowering them to make predictions, to
visualize data, and to spot the connections between seemingly disparate
pieces of information. All while accessing the same source of the data.
And finally, there's one more piece in a
comprehensive BI platform - sharing the reports. SQL Server had done the
vital work of gathering and analyzing the data, now you need to put that
analysis in a form that your employees can easily share and readily
understand. You need a way to facilitate collaboration and manage all those
great ideas that are bubbling up, a way to generate forms and workflows that
are peculiar to your business and to create dashboards and scorecards that
are meaningful and intuitive. Your server will handle this part of the BI
process and put the insights into the hands of the people who can now do
further analysis. It not only gets the information to the "doers," it does
so in the Office formats that your employees know so well. No puzzling over
arcane reports and fumbling with unfamiliar functions. Microsoft SharePoint
makes sharing data a snap *they didn't name it "SharePoint" for nothing), so
collaboration across departments and functions is a breeze.
This means that your BI deployment reaches
throughout the company, rather than being confined to a small cadre of IT
mavens. With Microsoft BI fully integrated into your business, everyone has
the ability to act on insights that can help drive down costs, boost
productivity, and propel the bottom line.
Ready to get started? Contact us at Future
Systems And Software to speak with an IT specialist to learn more about
implementing a full-fledged Microsoft BI solution. In these difficult
economic times, BI can be a game-changer, so don't delay. Talk to us now.