In order to be at the top of their game in today’s global economy small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are now requiring a new level of digitalization that takes them far beyond the long-used, classic analytics tools to sort through giant stacks of oftentimes printed data on spreadsheets. These new tools and systems that deliver insight faster and with less effort are now a necessity to businesses, and cannot merely be standalone programs that create pretty reports. Today’s SMBs require a different level of insight that can only be achieved through integrating business intelligence (BI) tools directly into their operating systems.
To be successful, “running the numbers” can no longer be based on a limited set of internal knowledge that results in a report that is skimmed through by a CEO before making a decision. Instead, today’s decision makers need to be engaged with the data from all areas of their business through things like maps, bar charts, histograms and infographics, in a way that allows them to make informed decisions. This kind of value can only be achieved through the integration of business intelligence systems built around the business’ transactional systems (i.e., an ERP).
The standalone BI solutions that many companies built their IT framework around in the past required significant IT expertise, in order to access the right transaction data and to ensure the proper data integrity, making them strictly the domain of the CIO and other line-of-business decision makers. To stay competitive, today’s SMBs don’t have the people nor the time to experiment with these standalone systems. Instead they need integrated business intelligence systems built into their transactional systems, to make the information and system more accessible, and consequently, more integrated at all levels and in every department.
These systems are enhancing real-time, smart decision making, and have become the new go-to planning tool for today’s leading businesses.
Integrated Tools Yield Real-Time Data Insights
While many SMBs are starting to take advantage of analytics to run their businesses, the benefits of being able to make decisions based on real-time data have yet to make their way to many emerging companies, often hindering their ability to grow.
By integrating business intelligence tools into their operating systems, entrepreneurs are able to achieve the real-time data insights necessary for the quick decisions to push their company forward, instead of the outdated printouts or typical 30,000-foot view many walk into negotiations with.
They are now able to view live data, from multiple sources, on the mobile devices and tablets every business owner carries in their pocket. They are no longer tethered to their desktop computers for real-time information, but rather can access all their internal data via apps on the devices many carry for personal reasons. Visualizations that go beyond the usual static images are pulled from the live data, enabling the business owner to be able to understand every aspect of the business in a streamlined way.
This means decisions that used to take several days or weeks, with new questions continually arising and needing to be addressed with data it often took days to pull, can now be made in less than an hour; making it possible to negotiate and make decisions at the speed of business. This enhanced agility makes it possible for small businesses to compete with large corporations that in the past were better able to pivot quickly, make more educated decisions and take more calculated risks.
Strategy and Risk Assessment
Assessing the current state of the business is imperative to the decision-making process as business owners look to drive their companies forward and remain competitive. But once the current state of the business has been assessed, the next question is always, how can things be further optimized? When business intelligence systems are built around a transactional system they enable analysis of not just what’s happening now, but help prepare the business for what’s happening next and monitor the moves competitors are making.
Using live business data, business owners can now model scenarios and evaluate plans based on real outcomes. They can immediately see the impact and outcome of investment decisions. By combining Big Data with their operational business data, each decision can be infused with valuable context, leading to more informed decisions about the future of the business.
For instance, by implementing the right data solution, a small insurance broker dedicated to weather risk management is now able to analyze within a second more than 80 billion quality-controlled weather data observations to determine the risk and generate the pricing for insurance companies and agricultural cooperatives. The technology gives the company the ability to deliver real-time insurance quotes based on real-time data that meets a customer’s precise insurance needs, allowing them to stay competitive with larger companies.
When looking to expand their business to service larger companies, a small healthcare expense management (HEM) company also needed to accurately measure the risks associated with this type of growth. By thinking like a large enterprise, adjusting their technology model, and applying that model to virtually every aspect of its own business, this SMB was able to grow its ranks to acquire on demand skills and talent, staying agile in an increasingly digital economy.
Standards-based reporting continues to be a basic need for every company, but for many SMBs it relies on static information that may be outdated by the time it’s printed out or sent in an email. With so much riding on reported numbers, such as financials, operations, marketing and sales, it is important for them to support live business and decision-making across the enterprise, so they are able to act as a single source of truth, with no data duplication.
This is particularly important for small businesses that do not typically have the margins to accommodate mistakes to their manufacturing or inventory needs. Consider an exclusive chocolate brand as it approaches Valentine’s Day. In order to ensure its delivery meets customer demands, it implemented an industry-specific ERP solution to manage the company’s key disciplines including business administration, inventory and warehouse management, financials, accounting, sales, customer relationship management, operations and manufacturing.
Business intelligence systems have the power to turn reporting from a chore into an asset to make more strategic decisions, as every role in a business becomes an information-centric role. From operations to finance to inventory, businesses are actively redefining responsibilities so that workers can easily set priorities, assess efficiency and make a more positive financial impact on the organization. To be successful, employees need access to live information and updates.
Successful employees drive successful SMBs, and as these businesses grow and in many cases start to operate globally, a streamlined, integrated reporting structure helps them address and manage challenges such as tax requirements in different countries, shifting regional inventory demands and the complex operations standards required of a global business.
Take as an example a non-profit in California that used business intelligence tools to move from a loose, mostly manual system of spreadsheets, whiteboards, an accounting program and a point-of-sale system, where staff had to make educated guesses about what products to stock to a fully integrated system. This new system allowed the non-profit to better manage their inventory and prepare for seasonal fluctuations.
What if the same key performance metrics that are used by sales, marketing, HR and finance were also being used by the CEO, so that the organization was fully aligned from the board to the customer?
When business intelligence tools are integrated directly into a company’s transaction system, they can dramatically simplify business processes, updating analytics from Q1 to Q2 with literally a click of a button, and ensuring alignment throughout the organization and agility to all users. These new tools are also often credited with bringing to light trends or red flags that would have previously been missed due to outdated siloed systems, making them invaluable to SMBs. Business intelligence has found a home in SMBs, where the more savvy companies now embrace it as a competitive advantage.
This trend promises only to continue as technology continues to evolve, enabling business leaders to stay on the cutting edge and enabling everyone in the organization to discover new ways that live insights can help them solve problems and make better decisions.
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Workflow.