The Business Intelligence App Store: The Democratisation Of Decision Making

Business Intelligence (BI) success stories are surprisingly hard to find, despite dedicated software packages having been around for many years. BI or analytic software has traditionally been very expensive and complex to deploy, due partly to the huge number of disparate data sources involved and the frenetic pace of change that businesses are faced with today.

When changes have occurred – whether that’s organisational change or business process change – companies with monolithic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems that don’t adapt easily have struggled to deliver quick up-to-date performance data.

BI needs to draw information from ERP and core back office systems. The difficulty with BI systems embedded in ERP is that few people within an organisation are confident or capable enough to delve beyond their ERP executive dashboards to find the answers to their questions. Even with traditional specialist BI toolsets, which have no limit to the measurements they can deliver, the process of building queries and making amendments as the business changes is time consuming, complex and expensive.

The effect of consumerisation on analytics

For BI tools to be useful, a new more democratic way of delivering them is required. Consumerisation and advancements in cloud computing and mobile technology have opened up new opportunities in this area. Only now is it becoming possible to make enterprise intelligence more easily available to everyone within an organisation and consequently we will see a revolution in what people can do with this information and the decision-making power associated with it.

Gathering, calculating and presenting huge stacks of information is a complex business and has always required enormous amounts of computational power and storage. But the recent emergence of mobile and cloud technologies has caused users to demand new ways of accessing and paying for their software.

As customers increasingly expect to download business applications from online stores in the same way they download Angry Birds to their iPhone, paying-as-they-go for the specific functionality they need, enterprise vendors have to take a new approach to delivering apps.

Add to that the mobility of a typical workforce today. Sales teams, consulting teams and senior management that would benefit from access to specific business data throughout the day are working in dispersed teams connected by mobile apps and the Internet. Agility is the key to delivering performance data throughout the organisation to workers at all levels, and it is only by doing this that companies will start to see real benefit.

The democratisation of intelligence

For a long time the general opinion has been that some enterprise systems such as BI would just not fit into an App Store model. However, the importance of BI, despite its failure to deliver in the past, has led to an appetite for BI functions that are templated to solve real and industry-specific business issues and delivered in bite-sized chunks to employees across the enterprise.

It’s the democratisation of intelligence. Real-time insights are becoming a possibility across all levels of the organisation, empowering workers to make decisions on the same information that has been available in the boardroom for a long time, but that was difficult to arrive at and report on in any meaningful way.

While the requirements for storing and processing large amounts of data remain complex, all that is needed to create and view a dashboard is a graphical device. While servers do the hard work, mobile devices can make real-time business information available to the ones that actually need it and have the opportunity to influence it.

The revolutionary aspect of this is not only that BI will soon be made available to everyone at all times, but the fact that the people who can actually directly make changes and influence outcomes in the business will be able to see the latest KPIs on their iPad. Take the example of budget tracking by department: in the old, boardroom-centred BI-approach overspend and underspend would only be monitored for individual departments and flagged very late in the financial period to the CFO.

The app-approach to BI will allow a department manager and his team not only to see what his KPIs are, but also how they are performing against budget on a daily basis. The CFO will be able to see this daily across the entire organisation. This type of intelligence will affect decisions and improve margins, which has always been the promise of BI and Corporate Performance Management but has never really been achieved in any convincing way.

The BI market is on the verge of a significant leap forward. The ‘heavy lifting’ aspects of large volume data processing and storage has developed significantly over recently years; now the way in which the data is consumed is changing. Employees will be empowered not only to see what is expected of them but also to have real-time insight into the consequences of their choices.

This will transform BI and analytics from a reactive tool to a proactive one which is more aligned to today’s dynamic business environment. It allows for new organisational structures that are less hierarchical while being more effective, and most significantly it supports innovation across the enterprise. The information revolution may at last become a reality.

Anwen Robinson is MD of UNIT4 Business Software in the UK and Ireland. Anwen graduated with an honours degree in Mechanical Engineering and embarked on a successful career as a qualified lecturer before entering the commercial world. She spent 10 years working in senior sales roles within Syntech, later acquired by Misys, and helped to establish the company as a leading supplier of project costing and billing solutions. In July 2009 Anwen became Managing Director for the UK and Ireland with the intention of making UNIT4 the UK’s foremost business software company, providing solutions that transform the delivery of public services and comprehensively supporting commercial organisations in their ability to adapt and prosper in rapidly changing environments.