Business intelligence, or just BI for short, is a term usually associated with a suite of software applications used to analyze an organization’s data for the purpose of gaining a strategic business advantage. In today’s electronically interconnected world, the amount of data generated by business operations can have an inundating effect on enterprise systems. Big data technologies have been developed to capture this information, and many corporations have put BI solutions in place to identify patterns and trends within the data. The organization with this kind of information most certainly has an upper hand against its competitors. It is for this reason that business intelligence tools, data warehouses, analytics, and other related topics have been thrust to the forefront in discussions concerning IT. CIOs and other executives in IT departments across the country are asking if they should initiate BI by implementing a Hadoop framework, or if they should have a more cost-effective, cloud-based system by using a hosted solution like Amazon Redshift. There is no doubt that for some organizations a BI solution is in order. However, executives in the vast majority of organizations need to ask themselves an important question first: What are the signs that can tell me if I actually need a business intelligence solution?

1. It’s difficult to find important information

Day to day, your organization’s IT department is running well. All the demands for needed data by employees are being met sufficiently. However, when it comes to strategic information that goes beyond the daily operational requirements, it is nowhere to be found. Important reports on sales statistics, cost analysis, and regional market saturation have to be hunted down and pulled together from different locations throughout the system. Trying to find the answer to a business decision that needs to be made by data analysis is like pulling teeth, requiring you to make special requests of employees to aggregate the data. Not only is this taking away productive time from them, but it is not accessible to you in a timely fashion. This jeopardizes effective execution of mission critical or time-sensitive decisions. BI solutions are designed to have the answers at your fingertips exactly when needed.

2. Report preparation is cumbersome and complicated

Studies show that up to 35 percent of information within a spreadsheet worked on by one or more employees can contain errors. Spreadsheet data containing time-sensitive information can also pose an accuracy problem, frequently needing to be manually updated. Reports created by drawing data from spreadsheets can be flawed, inaccurate, and less than desirable when making strategic decisions. Also, reports that are created by partially or fully manual methods are not only time consuming, but the data usually need to be organized and manipulated. How complicated is your organization’s reporting procedures? Modern BI solutions automatically create and deliver real-time reports accurately and efficiently, allowing decision makers to initiate a well-informed course of action.

3. Analytics within the organization is practically nonexistent

You currently have a data analysis tool that is not getting the job done. It has a very steep learning curve for employees, and most of them have already given up on it. However, this is only one of a multitude of problems when it comes to getting strategic information. The massive amounts of data being generated throughout your business enterprise can be a goldmine of information if it can be captured, organized, and analyzed. The technologies to do this are available but working with these huge sets of unstructured data are beyond the capacity of your current analysis tool. As a result, your organization has to make do with the limited business analysis that is available with what you have in place. A BI suite of tools, fully integrated with big data technologies, can solve these problems. Not only are these tools extremely powerful, information is available without the need to learn how to write ad hoc queries in some proprietary pseudo language.

4. Competition always seems to be a step ahead

A haphazard system of spreadsheets and reporting tools as a means to understanding and acting on key information is inferior at best when competing with rival organizations that are larger and better funded. If your competition always seems to be one step ahead, the best way to level the playing field is by making better decisions than they do. Of course, this is obvious, but what may be eluding many organizations is that to make better decisions, you need better information. One of the primary advantages to implementing a business intelligence solution is the identification of patterns and trends in the raw data generated by day to day business operations. When decision makers in your organization are provided with this kind of valuable information, they have a means to chart a course based on insight derived from solid analytics rather than guesswork.Relying on a business intelligence solution for strategic guidance can have an immediate effect on competition, giving your organization an edge when it comes to positioning against business competitors. Even well-established competitors with more resources can be cut down to size when your management personnel are armed with BI tools that provide analytical information, drawn from every area of your enterprise and ready to be acted on.

5. Missteps between strategic goals and operational actions

A big problem with many organizations is one of cohesion. Simply put, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Does this sound familiar? Is your organization fragmented into departments that do not seem to work as a cohesive unit? When one department does not consider or even know the organizational directives another department is complying with, it can spell disaster when it comes to implementing strategic goals. This kind of situation leads to a lot of missteps and finger-pointing. Fortunately, a good BI solution is the answer. With BI, key personnel have the information to coordinate and carry out important, goal-oriented decisions and company-wide directives. This is because everybody has access to the needed information at the same time. The BI system is the main focal point of all strategic goals, and the necessary operational actions that are required are filtered through the system, down to the departments, and even into the field with the aid of electronic devices like tablets and mobile phones.

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A business intelligence solution is an investment that cannot be ignored by organizations anymore. It is not a luxury, as was the case with decision support systems in the past. BI serves an imperative need if an organization is to compete successfully and gain the upper hand, even when the competitor is larger and better entrenched in a particular market. A good BI solution is also not as expensive to implement these days as it used to be just a few years ago. Open source technologies, software as a service (SaaS), and hosted systems have made BI as affordable to the small and mid-sized organizations as to their larger counterparts. Amazon Redshift is a good example of this, and can help make a BI solution cost-effective, efficient, and fast. All things considered, is business intelligence something your organization can neglect anymore?