In the Information Age business organizations around the world feel the acute need of technical tools that will streamline the information available into knowledge base which will subsequently assist them in their decision making processes. In today’s competitive environment information requirements are assessed more on weekly basis and consequently decision support systems (DSS) have come to play a crucial role in the day-to-day operations of the corporation. Business Intelligence (BI) tools provide an organization with structured analytical data to enable them in faster decision making.
Business Intelligence is not limited to the tools that are used but it needs to be understood in a much broader framework. Business Intelligence comprises of processes, technologies and tools that convert the existing data assets into information, information into knowledge and ultimately into business plans that will drive the business into greater operational excellence. A typical organization has multiple data assets at its disposal and unless these data assets are transformed into actionable plans they remain useless.
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Business Intelligence framework acts as an enabler that helps in the transition of disparate data assets into an actionable knowledge base. Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is one of the objective measurements of business aspect that depicts the critical factor driving the business forward. Such a conceptual business scorecard may include various critical factors like customer satisfaction, productivity, supply chain management and profitability. All these factors tend to be scattered in disparate systems when an organization does not deploy Business Intelligence tools. Business Intelligence has the ability to capture key performance indicators and convert these indicators into corporate knowledge base. BI systems also provide an opportunity to capture data at a very granular level and visualize them as per the organizational needs. Business Intelligence systems typically provide information related to:
- Sales figures by region and business units
- Operational excellence indicators like revenue per headcount, revenue per cost dollar, actual vs. forecasted financial performance
- Employee related statistics
- Vendor management and real time supply chain reports
- Customer satisfaction indicators
Currently there are various IT vendors who offer business intelligence solutions. But an organization typically faces a tough choice during the selection of BI tool as underlying information infrastructure needs to be taken into consideration. Existing applications too play a pivotal role in identifying the appropriate BI environment. If, for example, an organization has already uses various SAP modules as its ERP, then it makes financial and business sense to deploy SAP BW as BI environment. The advantages lies in the fact that there will be minimized downtime of information infrastructure, much faster transition of existing data assets and naturally reduced implementation costs. BI environments require a major investment in terms of hardware and software infrastructure and have their return of investment (RoI) payoffs well into the future.
In terms of hardware and software they require mature data mart technologies which may include investment in redundant hardware systems, technical helpdesk systems and round the clock access. Major BI tools do not require any kind of special operating systems and can be run on the existing systems. These environments also have the ability to hide the complex data layers from the users and present an easy-to-use web interfaces for data extraction. Simultaneously they also have advanced features useful for data analysis and data visualization experts. Most of the major tools come with an inbuilt presentation tools or fit in with existing tools like Microsoft Excel further contributing to the reduction in the initial costs.
Some of the major vendors of Business Intelligence tools are SAP, Oracle and IBM. Of these SAP BW seems to be having an edge over the others as SAP ERP systems are widely used and can be quickly fitted into SAP BW environment. Oracle also offers a comprehensive BI solution but Oracle solution is spread across different products. Many organizations in the world have deployed SAP modules as their preferred ERP in financial management, vendor and inventory management and human resource management and have tightly integrated them into a single manageable environment. With in this context selection of SAP BW makes the implementation of business intelligence environment very cost-effective in terms of minimized implementation cycle, reduced training time and costs and faster way for management decision making.
One of the other inherent advantages of SAP BW lies in the fact that it has a fairly simpler interface which will be beneficial to both the end users and application developers. SAP BW also leverages existing knowledge and expertise in the organization which in turns translates into faster return on investment. Although the other BI solutions offer the same functionality SAP BW scores over the others in terms of wider acceptance of its ERP solution and the tight integration with the existing data assets in the organizations ERP systems.
Loshin, David. (2003). Business Intelligence: A Savvy Manager’s Guide. United States of America: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers .
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