It’s not uncommon for companies to invest in business intelligence (BI) and corporate performance management (CPM) software, only to be bitterly disappointed. These tools are purchased in the belief that they can be used independently to gain timely and efficient access to data. The reality is that they are often no more than raw components that bring with them an IT overhead of programming, integration, and support.
Most BI platforms are difficult to use, technical, and inflexible. As a result, they are often kept in the hands of a small number of power users and technicians rather than the wider business community who should be their consumers and beneficiaries.
A BI tool needs to be intuitive to use and to provide fast and accurate answers to organisations starved of information. This is where programming-free environments come into their own, offering rapid familiarity to end users and enabling them to operate independently.
If the solution is modular, it may take some time to model data and craft reports. The best approach is to buy a system that comes with existing reports out of the box, tailored to the retail industry. Even if not precisely what you require, this will facilitate much faster report creation and deliver faster business benefit.
BI tools are very valuable to a fast-moving industry sector such as retail, where it’s necessary to look constantly at how the business is performing, monitor the effects of sales campaigns, benchmark market penetration, and measure store and product profitability. A generic tool is simply not up to the job, so retailers should look for BI systems that come with the appropriate retail “wrapper” that both delivers standard, retail-ready reports and offers easy customisation.
It’s important to differentiate data that you need for information purposes only from data that can be used to make a difference and instigate change. Use of BI should be driven by key performance indicators (KPIs), with emphasis put on highlighting exceptions. KPI thresholds should be easy to define and display, with graphical representations such as gauges, traffic lights, colour coding, and maps. At the same time as revealing the big picture, BI tools need to drill down to pockets of problem performance. An example would be to look at stores that aren’t performing, then to drill down to the lacklustre products within those stores.
BI can represent a single, audited source of information, “one version of the truth”, and, as such, is critical to a business. It should support both analytical and real-time data and deliver a scorecard encompassing different areas of the business—financial, operational, sales, customer. It should also be able to alert users when certain business criteria have been hit, notifying them by email or text message, without the need to be connected to the system.
It’s important too that BI doesn’t just reveal historical information but also integrates and manages the budgeting, planning, and forecast data needed to drive the business forward. The best BI and CPM tools enable users to model and adjust against plan. In a competitive market such as retail, accurate planning can make a huge difference to profitability. For example, you could look to BI to run cost-to-serve models and work on integrated sales and operational planning to create value and savings across the supply chain.
Trying to do too much too quickly is a common source of disappointment. This is why an integrated tool that supports all areas of BI and CPM is important. Many projects just don’t achieve the results anticipated, often due to the complexity of the system, and so users give up and revert to spreadsheets. BI systems should be simple and rapidly deliver results to the business community. It’s also important to be able to easily integrate new sources of information and to change BI models as user requirements evolve.
In summary, the cardinal rules for getting the best out of a BI system are:
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