There was a time when the phrase “works well with others” belonged primarily in school report cards. But today, working together is at the heart of productivity in business.
This working together needs to happen at two levels: one, a company’s different business systems need to be able to talk to each other to enable the efficient management of financial, supply chain and customer information; and two, people need to be able to collaborate better and share information, whether they are sitting in different departments, different cities or even halfway across the world.
But as technology innovations redefine how users create and disseminate information, we’re faced with a new set of challenges. Business workers require access to their information around the clock and from wherever they happen to be. How do companies quickly and easily locate and use the right information at the right time? Analysts estimate that workers spend up to 30 percent of their day searching for the critical data they need to make smart and timely decisions.
In my company, more and more people are users of what we call business intelligence (BI). Every day, we’re asking ourselves questions about our business. What’s going on with this product in this channel? What’s going on in this region? How are we tracking to our release? What do these defect rates mean to where we are on the product life cycle?
We’re able to get the answers to these questions because of the business intelligence solutions that we have access to. And there’s something absolutely magical that happens when business intelligence works. When an end user with a question gains the insight they need to move forward, business moves forward and people are more effective in their jobs.
Often, businesspeople tend to see predictions about technology as a fairy tale. Now, I happen to like fairy tales. Especially when they come true. Fairy tales are great stories where good wins out over evil, where people find true love, where dragons are slain. And they’re wonderful stories because they’re stories we all want to believe.
Today, I can tell you the fairy tale of business intelligence, where every user in your company is able to use BI technologies within their job to move forward more effectively. And this one has a happy ending – it really works!
In the technology industry, we’ve been using phrases like “business intelligence for the masses” for a long time. The reality is that right now, broadly speaking, only around 20 percent of the potential users of business intelligence that are able to, actually use it.
But I see for myself, every day, how the technology exists to make the fairy tale of business intelligence come true for the other 80 percent. And what’s making that shift possible is the fact that business intelligence has become simpler and more intuitive to use.
People don’t want to have to learn too much BI technology and terminology just to do simple tasks. It’s all about delivering the right tools for the right user in the right place. If I’m in Excel and I’ve got a task I need to get done, my business intelligence system needs to make it a simple extension of that Excel environment. If I’ve got a task to accomplish, I don’t need to learn about star schemas and other technology to get that thing done.
And once you’ve got your people getting greater insights and functionality through their business intelligence, we turn to an aspect we mentioned at the start of this column: collaboration.
Because business intelligence applications are just like any other business document. Once information has been made easily accessible, you want to be able to do everything you can do with any other document: you want to search, you want to find. You want to be able to share and collaborate. You want to be able to build on the work of others. You want to initiate work flows around these documents, to root them around. Everything you can do with a document today, you want to do with structured data in your business intelligence applications as well.
Once companies understand this, and make it happen, they will be well on their way to empowering their employees to deliver greater insights into how their company is performing, simplifying processes that span multiple departments, and helping connect more seamlessly to networks of suppliers and customers. That’s a fairy tale you can bank on.
Mteto Nyati, managing director of Microsoft SA.