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The Difference Between See and Do – Five Ways SMBs Are Putting Information to Work

October 22, 2012 No Comments

Featured blog by Ken Chow, LogiXML

The “business intelligence” space is loaded to the gills with software and service providers that promise to provide “insight,” “discovery,” “analysis,” and all sorts of other wonderful sounding things that are designed to let people make better decisions.

There’s certainly nothing wrong WITH THAT.

But “knowing” isn’t the same as “doing something about it.” So what are businesses actually doing with all this knowledge? How are they feeding back the information they find into running a better business; into driving more revenue; into saving money? What actual, practical projects are companies implementing to take advantage of all this newfound intelligence?

The answer, as it turns out, is pretty simple, particularly in the small to medium-sized business (SMB), where there’s little appetite for technology that doesn’t produce practical results.

Our company makes a product which, unlike most BI offerings, isn’t an app. It’s a platform that lets you make pretty much any type of information-driven web app. Because of this, we get to see a huge variety of different BI implementations. When we surveyed our own user base, we found that most all SMBs were doing one or more (usually combinations) of these five basic things, three of which held some significant surprises:

1. Information Discovery and Delivery (no surprise)

This usually takes the form of dashboards, reports, and analytic apps that give users the ability to see and interact with the company’s data. This is the mainstay of the BI industry, and is what most BI companies pitch. Companies deploy apps to make sure that their employees, partners and customers make decisions based on correct, up-to-the-minute information.

2. Inform Large Audiences (no surprise)

Almost without exception, these are web portals that serve to deliver information to very large groups, typically customers, or the public at-large. The challenge for many SMBs is finding a way to include ad hoc reporting, implementing role-based access, and not breaking the bank buying licenses.

3. Putting Information to Work in the Field (some surprises)

This is the impetus for whole “mobile BI” push. Workers in the field have not traditionally had access to information stores in any meaningful way, and so the idea of delivering to a mobile device is compelling. But here’s the interesting part – a lot of those companies we surveyed weren’t just delivering charts and reports, they were using  our integration components to hook these apps up to their operational systems, including triggering calls and doing write-backs. These apps weren’t “interactive” in the sense that the user could play with the data, these were actual interface extensions to core systems.

4. Improving Existing Apps with Analytics (definitely a surprise)

These customers were embedding analytics and visualizations into existing operational apps in order to get more out of them, often delaying upgrades and making the apps themselves much more useful. We have an entire division that sells to software and SaaS providers who use our technology in this way, but seeing direct commercial accounts embedding analytics into third-party apps that they had bought was a very interesting development. It makes sense, of course – why replace a perfectly good investment if you can upgrade its performance for so little cost and effort?

5. Building Common Front- Ends for Legacy Systems (wow)

A surprising number of companies were using our platform to build web front-ends across one, or multiple systems. By doing this, they could offer complete access to these systems (again using our integration components) to a much wider audience, but still control the access and permissions carefully. So, not only were they able to give users a single interface for multiple systems (finance, inventory, sales), but they were able to make it “foolproof,” saving a bundle on licenses, training, and other upgrades. Again it makes perfects sense that SMBs would want to squeeze every last dime of value out of what they already have. I doubt this trend will ever change.

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