Operational Approach Can Help SMBs Level BI Playing Field

Ann All

I've blogged several times recently about the maturing business intelligence market and the forthcoming "flux phase" predicted by experts like Gartner. They expect various aspects of BI such as query, online analytical processing and reporting to become commoditized, which should benefit SMBs and other cost-sensitive businesses.


At the same time, vendors will roll out new capabilities centered around making BI a more user-friendly experience. Again, this is a trend that should benefit SMBs.


With that in mind, I was interested to see a column titled How Smaller Businesses Can Raise the Bar for Business Intellgence at bMighty.com. Unfortunately, it's not as geared toward SMBs as its title suggests. It's a fairly broad take on how the BI industry is moving toward a more operational approach by making it possible to integrate real-time data into BI applications.


Author Thomas Lesica makes the point that SMBs may be somewhat better positioned than their larger counterparts to capitalize on the closer customer connections that this kind of integration can help foster, largely because they are more agile and thus may be quicker than the big guys to act upon BI-generated insights. The idea is to use real-time data to more quickly make decisions that will please customers. As Lesica writes, using the example of independent grocery stores trying to compete with large national chains:

With millions of weekly transactions, feeding fresh point of sale data to a data warehouse in real time reduces delays and risk of transmission errors. The independent grocery also can make real-time decisions based on sales by store or by department for any given item. Relatively small changes based on this information, such as marking an item up or down, can significantly affect revenue and allow stores to retain customers in a competitive market.

When I blogged about the BI best practices of top performing companies in January, I noted that companies characterized as best-in-class by Aberdeen Research experienced improvements in customer satisfaction and customer retention. Aberdeen says such companies differentiate themselves from their more average peers with their ability to master five practices: process, organization, knowledge management, performance management and technology.

Lesica advises SMBs to consider standardizing on one product or approach toward data integration across their systems, a strategy that should ultimately make it easier to master those five BI best practices mentioned above. Lesica also wisely suggests that, to wring the most value from their investments, SMBs should choose technologies that support the broadest range of databases, hardware platforms and operating systems.

Three other key pieces of advice offered by Lesica:

  • Integrate data into a "single version of the truth" when and where possible.
  • Populate data warehouses with low-latency data to help users access the most current information available.
  • Make sure BI systems and data warehouses offer high levels of availability and recoverability.

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