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Business Intelligence - Essential to growth

Being able to make informed decisions to keep a business on track is akin to being able to eat to stay alive. In other words, without critical data at your fingertips, your business could fall off its perch. At very least, it won’t stay competitive.

Timely and accurate business insights that deliver the knowledge required to make the right decisions – in other words – business intelligence, are the lifeblood of commercial outfits of all sizes. It doesn’t matter whether you are just starting out from a makeshift office in the garage or are running a multinational enterprise. Business intelligence remains of critical importance.

The trouble with business intelligence is that it can be incredibly cumbersome to analyse. In many organisations, this crucial information tends to be dispersed across departments, and stored on a host of different systems. Collating it can be an arduous task, and when it does finally come together, it’s likely to be out of date.

But business intelligence really should form an integral part of any operation. Here’s why.

It provides fantastic sales and marketing opportunities.

A sales and marketing department that doesn’t have instant access to customer and prospect data is a department that may as well go home now. You should be thinking about insights into your customers and prospects and your sales cycle as the proverbial ‘gold dust’. Data such as buying patterns, business sources, profit per order, repeat sales, product sell-through, most valuable client types and so on will help you realise all sorts of interesting facts. Here are some examples.

Where does most of your business come from?

This is an interesting one, because sometimes your intelligence will reveal that a great deal of your business is coming from one or two major sources. So now you know this, you can make sure you are taking care of these sources. If they are referring clients, are you rewarding them in some way? Are you taking careful steps to ensure they are being looked after and receiving VIP service? Maybe you could send them a token of your appreciation at Christmas.

If it’s an advertisement, mailing campaign or some other paid initiative that’s working particularly well for you, what would happen if you upped your spend?

The key thing here is that if you don’t know where your business is coming from, how do you know what to do to maintain it and get the most out of it?

How long do your clients stay clients?

If you’ve been buying something for years and years from the same place, or have always remained a customer of a particular bank, would you not expect them to reward you for your loyalty in some way? Of course you would. Guaranteed, your clients will feel the same way if they have been loyal to you for a number of years. But if you don’t know they have, how will you ever be able to do anything about it?

What if your clients were tempted away by a competitor and, because you hadn’t made them feel special and appreciated, there they were, gone before you even realised? With business intelligence, you’ll have all the information you need to ensure you do the right things to keep your longest serving clients on YOUR order book.

What is your most profitable type of client?

You know who your best clients are. Well of course you do: they’re the ones who spend the most, right? Not necessarily. Remember: turnover is vanity, profit is sanity. What if you suddenly realised, courtesy of business intelligence, that the clients you thought were bringing you the most money were actually the ones that were draining your resources?

Such intelligence could prompt you to focus on building your most profitable clientele. And it could also help you to work on improving margins for the others.

It helps you keep your goals on track.

You’ve learnt that setting goals is what you need to do to drive your business forward and measure the success of your marketing campaigns. You’ve even made sure that your goals are realistic. So why then have the results of your efforts ended up looking considerably different to what you envisaged?

It’s usually down to losing track. Many organisations look only at the before and after pictures, usually because the information they need to keep track of the in-between bit is entangled in webs of inter-departmental information.

The thing is, if you’d realised early on that your campaigns were not on track to meet the goals you set, you could have done something about it. But now the budget has been fully consumed, and the return is nothing like you expected. In fact, you may have even lost money. Real time business intelligence could have helped you keep everything on track.

Business intelligence is only ever going to be useful if it’s up to date and easy to get your hands on.

So we’ve ascertained that having access to business intelligence is of major advantage. But if you can’t get your hands on precisely what you need to know at the time you need to know it, there’s little point.

Traditional data gathering methods involve painstaking data mining. This takes time, especially for the smaller business with limited resources. And then when the information finally comes together, it’s out of date. Imagine that: you’ve probably spent all weekend putting a report together for your meeting on Monday, and the facts and forecasts you’re presenting aren’t even accurate.

So what’s the solution? What you need is a platform that pulls data in from all corners of the business and delivers insightful information to your dashboard in real time, painting a true picture of exactly how things are right now. The platform should be something that’s flexible enough to be tailored to the unique way your business operates. Because, let’s face it, no two businesses are the same.

Business intelligence is the most effective way to drive a business forward and achieve competitive advantage. If you don’t have what you need to know, when you need to know it, your business will never be able to progress.

First published: 27th June 2007 | Author: Anthony Kirrane.
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