5 Steps To Business Intelligence In The Cloud, Made Easy!

If you’ve been keeping up with news in the information technology world, especially related to Cloud ERP, you’ve more than likely noticed that a lot has been written about the topic of Business Intelligence. Although it is “jargon” or a “buzzword”, there is a lot of meaning and power behind it in terms of optimizing your business and positively impacting the bottom line. Here we will take a simple look at what it can mean to your business and how simple it is to be able to use it. It is a subject with amazing depth, but getting the value out of it for your firm can be done in a relatively simple way just to get you started.

In its simplest terms, Cloud Business Intelligence is the ability of the system to transform raw cloud ERP data into meaningful and useful information to enable you, and your staff, to make better business decisions, thereby increasing the profitability and reducing the costs of your business. So, in essence, your BI (short for business intelligence) should be able to have access to your ERP data in the cloud in raw form, it should be able to refine that raw data into information and it should provide small, consumable packets of information (sometimes called Data Marts) so that it can be analyzed. What actions are taken based on that new information will be the job of you and your staff. Lucky for all of us Microsoft has been committed to providing just that and more since late 2011 and early 2012 for the small to mid-sized business segment. 

One of the most prevalent tools used for business intellegence from that point on have been the deep development of Excel and the Excel “Power Tools” consisting of Excel’s Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View and Power Map and most powerfully in the Office365 cloud offering.  Recently Microsoft released a new product, PowerBI.  This new tool has the Excel functionality built right into it so that all the tools are built into one place, and with connectivity to all the office 365 products as well as numerous cloud offerings.  For instance, there are direct links from PowerBI to what they call content packs, such as Google Analytics, Mail Chimp, Marketo just to mention a few, as well as Cloud ERP platforms such as Acumatica. Now it is possible to access raw data from a variety of sources, refine and combine it and present it for decision making.

Let’s run through a simple example. Suppose you run a retail wine business and your ultimate goal is to find out what factors in the economy influence your sales volume and pricing pressures, and what can you expect in the near future for forecasting. Not a problem. It is possible to access information from a variety of statistical data sources, run an analysis against your sales and pricing figures for the last 24 months, and find any correlations that exist. In our example we’re going to say we did this and found that gasoline prices directly affect your sales volume and the prices you can charge for your products. So, what do you do with it? You can use the data with PowerBI and or the Excel Power Tools to create both historical trends and graphics as well as predictive graphics and KPIs (key performance indicators) to help keep your finger on the pulse of your business and make decisions based on what the system is forecasting and recommending you do.

So if this sounds good, ask yourself, how do I get there?

Step One: Define the information you need and the KPIs you need to track –

When it comes to providing output in cloud ERP systems, or actually all ERP systems, you have to paint a picture of the final result you want.  Doing this will indicate what information is needed to get you and your team to where you need to be. So you’ll need to sketch out the reports, graphs and KPIs that you know will help you. Often this can easily be done in Excel.

Step Two: Determine the method of acquiring the raw data from your system - 

If you are already on an ERP system that is has a content pack or need data from some of the systems that provide this service, you are already half way there.  If these aren’t already available to you through your current system, worry not.  On most systems that on current releases you can get what is called an “Odata” feed which allows the data to flow to Excel and from there to other packages as well for BI.

Step Three: Choose your BI tool(s) such as those mentioned above or others in the market place -  

Many of these offerings will get you where you need to be and some of them are more complex and powerful and some of them are simpler and less expensive.  Whichever is chosen, make sure that it can provide the resulting output you designed in step one above.

Step Four: Someone will have to know how to use the chosen system and be able to create the results you want -

This can be done by you, members of your staff, consultants familiar with the process and for the more powerful output, professional designers.  By and large, most of the available systems have beginning, intermediate and professional levels to them, so getting started is not usually a steep learning curve.  In addition, there are a lot of books, videos and other resources available to you.

Step Five: Discipline, Discipline, Discipline… 

None of this will be of any value unless your team has the discipline and guidance to make sure that the raw data is accurate, that the output is accurate, and that the resulting output is properly acted upon.  If this is not done, then you’ve spent quite a bit of time and resources on lots of pretty graphs and reports, but to no avail. Once your BI is in place, it is a constant requirement to watch, monitor and learn.  Quick action whena part ofyour operations starts to veer off in the wrong direction allows you to keep on course and prevent problems, or at least minimize their impact, before things get out of hand.  It needs to become a habit just as marketing is a required habit in order to bring in a continuous stream of good leads

The net result is that not only is strong business intelligence valuable, but necessary to run a business and keep it on track.  One thing is for sure - your competition will be using business intelligence to its greatest benefit.  But BI is also something that does not need to cost a large amount to implement.  For a small investment in money and time, this tool could be a part of your repertoire and providing important value to you. For many of our clients, most of the BI is built into the software solution that we provide them in Acumatica, and it is part of our standard implementation package.  The following link provides some insight into the power of BI with Acumatica.

Cliff Hall