There is and should be only one version of the truth. In business that truth is revealed by its captured data – customer relationship management, in the finance package, in the HR system, in fault management logging – any system that captures data. This data is used to direct decisions, improve management effectiveness, and enhance the customer experience. Good businesses make use of it, intelligently.
In setting out the past, the present and the future of ‘Business Intelligence’, we show how far it has come, the pitfalls, the why it is so important to a modern business.
Let’s face it, as users, off-the-shelf applications didn’t fulfil all our needs. There were always things we wished it would do better, or just do! Management themselves rarely had an overall view of their own applications; information in summary form not being high on their list of priorities, or present at all when purchasing applications. And with the increasing number of business mergers and acquisitions, not to mention the disparate way that organisations tended to grow, the application landscape became fragmented and increasingly unintelligible with the passing of time.
Against this backdrop we saw the emergence of ‘Business Intelligence’, a product of necessity and market forces.
Early solutions were created by users who, seeking to plug the information vacuum, accessed data via ODBC connections; clever individuals who created self-styled spreadsheets and applications which took data directly from source to present it in unique and imaginative ways. But it was quickly found that, when data was removed from its source, it began to converge; one truth becoming many, muddling the picture over time. Conflicting facts clouded the issues, and far from helping began to add to the general malaise of information in the organisation. Very quickly businesses discovered that incorrect information was worse than no information – and these solutions far from helping were contributing to the problem.
The creation of adhoc reporting solutions also impacted on key systems. The download of data, relying on links to the production environment, reduced performance at critical times of the day. So whilst adhoc business intelligence offered cost effective solutions on one hand, on the other, when unmanaged they actually made the situation worse.
The advent of ERP systems has helped to turn the tide against the fragmented landscape: SAP and Oracle helping greatly in this march for consolidation. But the revolution in business intelligence has fuelled Users’ appetites for flexible 24/7 reporting. Acquisitions and mergers continue, and from these many disparate and fragmented systems, management still need information. Companies like IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft today offer their own integrated platforms; business intelligence solutions which are themselves rigid and expensive, beyond the means of all but the most lucrative companies. The data warehouses that they create allow users to report but often require specialist resources, time and a great deal of capital investment.
Tools like ACL provide the means of gathering data across the enterprise in a controlled and cost effective manner. But better, it can do this quickly and flexibly. Whether it’s reporting from new systems, or migrating data across from old AS400 or mainframes, the tool can be adapted to deliver. Business Intelligence needn’t be expensive, rigid, or the preserve of the tecno-elite. Anyone and everyone can learn to use ACL.
Whilst the future is uncertain, the needs of business for quick and reliable information will continue to grow. The technology will develop, there will always be expensive solutions, there will always be cost effective solutions, and we will always be here to explain the difference.