Welcome to Info Rhino's Article on Business Intelligence in small businesses
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A common example of Business Intelligence
Those that work within business intelligence tend to think of it as taking information from different systems, and combining it in a single system, before presenting it to users in formats and displays for users. Imagine we have the following systems, we would combine their information for reports for business users; Accounts, Sales and Purchases, Stock Control, Customer Activity. Key individuals within the business may get access to reports showing tables, charts, and figures to help them understand how their company is performing.
Can you give a practical example on how info rhino could help a small business with their business intelligence requirements?
We have two projects in-flight at the moment. One is for a transportation startup, and the other for a bakery chain. Both business models are entirely different we will find it they will converge in terms of their overall objectives. Their website will engage a large number of their customer base, but there are additional mechanisms their customers and audience can use to engage with their businesses. In the case of the bakery, they have physical locations, stores and products. The transportation start has customers, services, and assets that other customers are interested in using. Without seeing a single data item from each of these business models, we can already start to imagine, as business intelligence consultants how we may need to think about creating value from their data. Look at these processes as having contacts points, and events. Naturally, we can see different types of events and different types of contact points. We can start to think about who would find this information useful; the customers, the business, and most commonly both?
We would then analyse their individual needs, and try to evaluate the right types of software to help process and prepare this information.
What is important is to clearly communicate the licencing cost vs development costs. Experience tells us that these companies may grow to a point where they need more scalability, and we may recommend moving their infrastructure to cloud infrastructure.
What is Business Intelligence?
Business intelligence is a term rather than a definition. We think of Business intelligence as making organisational data to be more accessible for enabling business decisions - Decision Support Analysis.
From a technical perspective, we think of Business Intelligence as taken data from different systems and bring it into a more central location to permit decision support analysis on this information.
The "intelligence" element of "business intelligence" (BI) can sometimes confuse those who hear it. BI relies upon development by experts who work with business managers to add intelligence to this data. It is not artificial intelligence per se, but more about enabling decision makers to make better decisions through more accurate information on their business activities.
Remember business intelligence is not simply about giving users and people access to data. In many of our engagements our function was to integrate data in from different systems into a single system which would be automatically published to systems within an organisation or to external platforms. As Artificial Intelligence improves, we are finding business intelligence to be vital in preparing data for AI and Machine Learning (ML).
It is also worth mentioning that Business Intelligence is not Big Data - any term can easily have its meanings confused and pulled in different directions that may not have been what it was originally created for.
How does BI vary for the small business versus the large enterprise?
BI for the small business has to be different to how larger businesses set about their BI solutions.
Smaller businesses will not have;
Teams of software engineers
Multiple teams that manage the databases and and software
Extensive testing and software release management processes
The ability to pay high licence fees for Business Intelligence software
To really make this point, licencing can be per seat, and enterprises can afford to pay tens of thousands of pounds per-user. In some organisations, this may run into six figures. Smaller businesses don't have to settle for second best, but they clearly cannot spend as much money as larger enterprises.
How do small businesses take advantage of Business Intelligence?
This is our recommendation, feel free to try other approaches, but this is based upon a lot of experience on our part. Naturally, we will be a little biased but hope pragmatism will shine through.
Our own example
Info Rhino has had two main efforts over the years - consulting in large enterprises, and developing our own software that overcomes challenges and cost. To give an example - take our Web Data Platform (WDP). The WDP has arisen, after several iterations of developing a website that can produce reports and analytics in a fairly agnostic way. We created our hybrid approach, allows us to plug extra components into our platform but doesn't have the constraints of complicated user management interfaces. We avoid critical upgrade paths seen with typical content management systems. The result is a versatile platform to serve many different business use cases. Importantly, we designed the system to be scalable, to take advantage of performance features within the net technology framework. As a system, our WDP can perform at a higher level than comparable website platforms. We built this to avoid excessive licensing fees.
As you may have seen from our website, we are a small business. We expect to undertake a fair number of projects every year. We cannot justify significant licence costs. We have had to balance between;
Whether to find alternative Open Source software
Investigate if lesser versions of enterprise Software can fulfil our needs
Cloud based software can deliver what we are looking for
developing the software for ourselves is a better solution
The paradox of developing software vs sourcing software
For small businesses especially, if you are not a technical person this may not be of significant concern, but we do think it worth explaining the basic principles and why software can become expensive quite quickly. When we are buying a product or service we want to understand whether it will meet our needs. With software this can be a much harder challenge to get right. We can't simply do a quick check of possible software and say this is what we need. We need to do some tests, try and investigate features, understand performance. Getting to the point of understanding this may come from problematic software agents wanting to sell the software to you immediately. Trial periods can be too short, your software experts are often engaged on business-as-usual operations, and won't have time to fully assess the software. This can prove challenging if you want to see your own business data on a system without knowing if it works.
The experience of working with large enterprise software and understanding how to achieve this for smaller businesses at lower costs - Info Rhino
There aren't too many software Solutions providers with major experience of working in Enterprises on large platforms, and also achieving the same objectives on smaller projects with much smaller budgets.
Business Continuity with your data
We have seen some very poorly architected databases over the years. There are some common reasons as to why this happens, the main issue is that the developer of the database doesn't understand how to build them correctly. The majority of application and website developers have limited understanding of databases. They will commonly create databases without setting them up to perform optimally and fail to consider the need to undertake maintenance periodically. The problem comes when databases get too large or the client requires the data to be reported upon causing the database to perform poorly. The website developer won't have the ability to maintain the database.
A recap on implementing Business Intelligence within the small business
Small businesses are not in the position to spend vast amounts of money on on enterprise Software. This doesn't mean to say that enterprise software shouldn't be purchased by small businesses, sometimes this is vital to use the right technology for their needs. Small businesses are trying to use the contact points and events to to understand more about their operations their customers and their competitors. In other situations, automation of information can help reduce mistakes and improve the reputation of an organisation.
The importance of jobs to be done (JBDT)
Jobs to be done is an approach that focuses more on the outcome than the process. In terms of implementing BI for the small business we can think of this more about what is actually needed than the technology used to try and achieve that goal. If some small amount of data is needed, perhaps write a small piece of software. If the enterprise software has one critical feature, we may either wish to write our own version or accept that we need this software because it would be too expensive to develop on our own.
Deciding on who to engage when implementing BI solutions for smaller businesses
One way to think about business intelligence is the think back to the era of music stacking systems. Millions of different combinations of music players can be created because of the varying numbers of parts. This is the same with BI, many ways to achieve the same objective, but many in choosing certain approaches will never deliver that objectives for their clients. The important thing is to focus on the job to be done and that ensure any potential supplier is aware of your technology infrastructure.
Clients should be thinking in terms of volumes and numbers of data items. They should be thinking about growth projections. As long as this information isn't commercially sensitive, these types of things should be disclosed to any potential vendor.
It is important to not think in terms of intelligence but to try and understand that a provider can develop Business Intelligence solutions. A great example are websites where the client requires lots of reports to be produced and made available to their customers. Most website developers will simply write a number of reports and code, this will often lead to the destruction of the database and website performance. We tend to think of this as "Asking without asking". It may be worth engaging them for a day's (maybe half a day) analysis rather than trying to ask the quotes on something you don't understand. Paying 3 or 4 suppliers for one day will be far more cost effective than engaging a bad supplier for a year. It could be worth engaging a business intelligence consultancy to help you prepare the draft requirements you will put to other BI consultancies? As a small business you are unlikely to have the relevant expertise to prepare the requirements yourself and this can lead to challenges. Remember there are many excellent BI consultancies, many excellent developers who are extremely professional in delivering more than what the client needed, but we sometimes feel it is important to apply some due-diligence.
Should we engage Info Rhino for one day, or get an independent company to help prepare requirements?
We are happy if clients focus on smaller wins first and try to understand more about what they are trying to achieve. Indeed, it is vital the project fit meets the client and supplier's expectations.
Thank you for reading
We hope this has helped you get some insights into how BI can help your small business. Get in touch with us here
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