Business intelligence can provide enterprises with deep visibility into their data and to extend the range of vision otherwise available to them. Business intelligence tools for better customer relationship management should help enterprises all along the demand chain to have a full and coherent picture of the market for their products and services. The specific requirements will be different from business to business: manufacturers, distributors and retail operators face different challenges and need different solutions from their business intelligence technology. But any enterprise can get a good start in identifying their own particular needs by considering the five following questions when evaluating the merits of a particular BI solution:
#1: Does the solution provide a means for the enterprise to do more with its data than it currently is able to do? How does it deliver this capability, and what makes this approach better than alternatives?
Any business intelligence solution provider is likely to answer the first part of this question in the affirmative: of course we give you the tools to do more with your data. That’s why the second part of the question is such an important follow-up. How does it deliver the capability? What the business user sees when using a BI user interface tool is just the end of a long series of events that starts with the extracting of data from different sources, transforming the data and making it available for the specific discovery, analysis and decision-making activities in which the business users will be engaging. There are a great many decisions and trade-offs that have to be made about the technology that supports these ETL (extract-transform-load) activities. Some choices will make it easier for the vendor to develop and package the solution, but at the expense of the business user’s ease of use. Can your provider show convincing evidence that the technology choices put the interests of the business user ahead of those of the technology developer?
#2: Does the solution provide different stakeholders with a unified picture of demand, at a level of detail to gain a personalized understanding of the preferences, tastes and needs of each customer?
If you’re using business intelligence for better product and customer relationship management then it’s important that they key stakeholders with an interest in the technology will have a single view of the market environment. That’s easier said than done. The problem is not always the massive volume of information, but rather the multiple streams of data that come in from different sources and providers, in different formats and structures. Threading the many strands into a single coherent picture is a significant technology challenge, and you need to be sure that the technology you adopt is up to the challenge. Beyond that, you want to ensure that you will have information at the right level of detail. Beware the “flaw of averages”, where you see information aggregated to a level that loses critical knowledge about the individual customer’s needs and preferences. That loss of knowledge has a measurable cost in money left on the table with each customer-product interaction.
#3: Does it supply the requisite level of domain expertise to provide intuitive business definition addressed to the language, processes and measurement techniques understood by your business users?
Let’s face it: business professionals at any given company, in any given industry sector, speak a particular language. It’s the language of their products, their customers, their processes and their performance measurement techniques. A good business intelligence solution needs to be rooted in a sufficient level of domain expertise to translate the language of the technology into the language of the business. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your BI solution provider has to be a boutique single-industry expert. But it does mean that the core technology capabilities are sufficiently customizable to easily adapt to the functional language of your business environment. Be cautious about off-the-shelf solutions that claim to work as turnkey offerings in any business environment.
#4: Does it allow for rapid time to value without the need for additional investment into technology and resources on your part?
How much pain before the gain? You want to see results early and often, and you don’t want to worry about the need to acquire additional infrastructure or build out an internal IT team to support the technology. In today’s Big Data environment you are probably going to want a hosted solution where the data is warehoused and managed in the cloud. The most important thing to know about a cloud-based solution is that it passes the responsibility of day-to-day management of the data from you to your technology provider, meaning less of an internal administrative/IT burden for you. Then you can focus on the other part of this question: understanding the time frame in which you will be able to see and measure the value delivered by the solution.
#5: Does it adapt and make continuous improvements and facilitate those improvements back into the system for still more informed insights?
The only thing certain about your market environment is that it will change, and often in ways unanticipated when you invest in a new technology. Technology that cannot adapt to new business requirements can go stale very quickly. Does your provider offer a market aware technology? Market awareness is when a technology platform has the capability to learn from new market insights as they evolve, and feed those insights back into the core models and algorithms that power the technology. Market awareness gives you more confidence that your business intelligence solution will be able to rise to the challenges of tomorrow as effectively as it can to the challenges of today.