Who Benefits from Business Intelligence
The core concept behind the
business intelligence proposition is that data is
liberated from the information silos where it’s trapped and instead present in a
snazzy interface to a companies top execs, allowing them to achieve a dynamic
understanding of the company’s business processes. With the greater access to
information, the argument goes, the execs should be able to respond more
effectively to commercial opportunities and see problems coming and head them
off before they begin to have a detrimental effect on the bottom line. The
paradigm is essentially one of increasing top management’s insight into the
business. But are top executives the only ones who can benefit from this
higher-definition view of the company’s processes?
Some companies who have bought into the new business intelligence concept are
finding that, on the contrary, employees at many levels are benefiting from the
new information systems. The goal of business intelligence, ultimately, is to
inform decision-making; to lead to better decisions. When we think of decision
makers we tend to think of executives. But, in reality, almost every employee is
a decision-maker in some way. And what some companies, who have rolled out
business intelligence insights expansively throughout their employee
hierarchies, have found is that even non-supervisory staff at the lowest rungs
of the corporate ladder can have their behaviour changed for the better simply
by having access to information.
business intelligence throughout the corporate hierarchy can be a
culture shock for many companies. Two problems are commonly noted. First, the
sheer amount of
can be bewildering to some employees who are not used to processing it. As a
result, they may prefer to simply ignore the data rather than make an effort to
sift through it and extract something useful. One solution is a “role-based”
distribution of BI, under which employees receive different sets of data
specifically tailored to their status and responsibilities within the company.
Another cultural issue that arises through the wider dissemination of BI is that
some workers feel disempowered because they previously regarded themselves as
“owners” of data that is now readily accessible to everyone. Encouraging them to
see this as a burden lifted from their shoulders can help reconcile them to this
new status quo.
Having performance metrics easily viewable by everyone can also create problems.
Individual workers whose performance is struggling may now have their
predicament painfully obvious to all of their colleagues, whereas previously it
would have been a private matter been the worker and his or her manager. In some
settings, for example a sales team, the tension this induces may be regarded as
healthy or even productive; in other cases, where a culture of fierce personal
competitiveness is not the norm, it may be stressful and demoralising.
The Maine Medical Centre implemented a pervasive Business Intelligence concept
in partnership with SAS. All hospital employees were able to track the movement
of dozens of Key
Performance Indicators (KPIs) which were the metrics judged to be most
important for the efficient running of the hospital, both from a cost and
patient care point of view. Management found that simply by being exposed to the
information, workers altered their behaviour. They prioritised certain things
rather than others. Once the BI system began tracking the number of patient
falls, they became less frequent. The mere fact of recognising that certain
things are being monitored appears to influence employee behaviour.
And it’s not just employees who can benefit from new insight into the business
operations. Some companies are even going beyond that and bringing partner
companies into the fold or, conversely, asking to be allowed access to another
company’s BI so that the relationship can become mutually more profitable.
For example, if you’re a supplier and have a client who’s worried about your
ability to fulfil his order in a timely fashion, letting him have access to your
own BI system, where he can literally see the products roll off the assembly
line can help give him peace of mind.
Getting access to your client’s systems can also be beneficial. To take the
example of a retail client, if you can
monitor their inventory and sales levels, your sales staff can know when the
right time to put in a call is. Of course, such relationships require a
substantial amount of trust on both sides and this can usually only be built up
after a prolonged period of working together.
For some companies, it may even be appropriate to bring their customers into the
BI data fold. Think of delivery firms, for example. Letting customers track the
progress of their packages over the internet may increase
customer satisfaction and minimise calls to
Surveys show that
Business Intelligence continues to be a top priority for
company executives. Rolling it out more broadly than the executive boardroom,
however, appears to make sense and, once companies grasp its potential, is
likely to become more common in the years ahead.