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Business Intelligence – Your Competitive Advantage

I remember using the words “business intelligence” at the city council table. The reaction from one of the council members did not seem positive. It was suggested that using the word intelligence made what we were discussing seem like a military or secretive operation. Quite contrary, intelligence is just part of the natural evolution of the Information Technology industry. Having business intelligence is important to your company’s survival, especially in tough economic times.

If you remember punch cards you will remember when it was called “Data Processing”. Data Processing gave way to management information systems. We dropped the management so everyone could benefit. Next it was Information Technology. Now we have Business Intelligence. With each step forward business leaders have recognized the value Information Technology plays in developing a competitive advantage.

As a restaurateur you would not dream of shrinking your wait staff over the lunch period.  You know the largest customer flow is from 11:30 AM to 1 PM.  This intelligence helps you staff appropriately.  Some intelligence, like when to fully staff the restaurant is simple to ascertain, other intelligence must be mined.  Yes mined, like in gold mine.  You probably have a gold mine of information in your possession.  The challenge is you have to know where to dig.

Surveys are a great way of collecting information, but another potentially more accurate and less costly way of collecting intelligence is to analyze the information you already have.  Logs, customer records, sales data, production schedules and any other consistently recorded data could hold the key to innovation, new products, or increased market share.  This type of data is more accurate because it represents actual output. It is historical.  It actually happened.  It is not prone to survey reporting errors.  It is less expensive because you do not have to acquire it you just have to analyze it.      

It is said that 90% of the people can not see the solutions, only the problems.  Solutions or innovations are found in asking the right questions, careful observations, and inquisitive research.  That is the basis for powerful business intelligence.

With the available data (logs, customer records, sales data, etc.) and the right questions in place all the business needs is a tool to help with the analysis.  Many business intelligence tools are available in the marketplace, but a simple and available tool is statistics.  Office productivity suites such as Microsoft Office or Sun Systems Open Office have statistical functions in their spreadsheet application.  Some may find that a Lean Six Sigma applications a bit more user friendly.  Using Lean Six Sigma techniques will help identify the normal operating parameters, their outliers, their triggers, and enhancement opportunities. These statistical tools can be used to validate your hunch, gut, and intuition or help develop a new hypothesis.

Your next product breakthrough could be buried in your gold mine awaiting someone with the intelligence to know where to dig.

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