How to choose small business software: business intelligence software


With Britain in recession, managers of small businesses must ensure their
companies are well positioned to weather the downturn. The ability to access and
rapidly evaluate all aspects of a company’s performance is essential. In 2009,
this knowledge may be the difference between a company competing strongly and
protecting its bottom line, or experiencing reduced profits and losing market
share to competitors or worse.

In the current tough climate business intelligence software can help
businesses to stay competitive, giving businesses a complete overview of
critical information at all times.

BI encompasses the technologies and practice of gathering, analysing and
interpreting business performance information to support better decision-making.

Effective BI uncovers trends and patterns in a company’s performance and
provides managers with insights into what is and isn’t working so that issues
can be proactively tackled. BI makes logical connections between cause and
effect within a company’s figures.

For instance, it highlights if there has been an upturn in sales attributable
to marketing expenditure, or the control of stock or cash income. Put simply, BI
aims to provide managers with a bird’s eye view of the true state of their
business – a single, true picture of data.

BI can help businesses to better manage activity and eliminate costs. Today’s
cash-strapped businesses need the strategic insights that BI can deliver. In a
recession, only the sharp and the agile survive and competitive insights are
crucial. Historically, BI has primarily been the domain of large corporate
companies, often becoming overly complex and utilising asset-heavy applications
which are expensive to integrate as well as requiring considerable time and
expertise to maintain. For many, the BI experience has been one of over-promise
and under-delivery.

By their nature, small businesses rarely have the resources or the ability to
scale to accommodate such technologies. Smaller enterprises need solutions that
are agile, easy to use and which do not require extensive application knowledge
and testing. BI solutions should work quickly and smoothly. Leading BI packages
are becoming simpler and easier to use and they are being used by SMEs much more
commonly as a result.

From a general manager’s perspective, effective BI can give an accurate
overview of strategic business performance. The latest packages allow management
to monitor accounting activity independent of their accountant ensuring they
remain involved and active in the strategic decisions. For small businesses
where book-keeping and financial reporting is outsourced, this can add a further
collaborative dimension that ensures optimum control and productivity.

In fact, new generation BI solutions are playing a central role in supporting
the company accountant’s day-to-day operations, enabling not only the tracking
of key trends, but also rapid identification and resolution of potential
anomalies or errors that fall outside of the company’s trading norms, and that
otherwise take many hours to find.

BI has been a hot topic among executives and managers for some time now and
is finally starting to deliver on its considerable promise. Implementation of a
BI product may well make the difference between staying afloat or going under in
today’s stormy economic climate.

Eilert Hanoa is vice-chairman of the European Software
Association and chief executive officer of Mamut.

Online BI

New breeds of secure Internet-based business intelligence solutions are now
available to the smaller enterprise, not just the largest corporates with
impressive IT budgets.

The latest packages do the thinking for the user. Some newer types of BI
solutions analyse companies’ accounting records, automatically identifying
patterns and trends in the data and any exceptions to those patterns.

Such solutions then present the results to the user with little or no
configuration or manual interrogation.
This enables the user to view key performance trends that inform decisions and
also identify potentially costly errors or anomalies in their book-keeping data.

It replaces, in a click, time-consuming and often inadequate manual checking
and analysis.
This provides instant in-depth insights to non-finance management and accounting

Looking for the right solution

When considering BI software, you should consider the following:

  • Business requirements

Assess your current requirements, linking and integrating with existing
systems has to be a key area of focus. Which operating platform is needed? Will
you need it to be compatible with Microsoft, Mac OS X or another platform
altogether? How many users will need to access the system and how many
departments will the solution need to run across? How will the system support
sales/revenue targets?

  • Staff awareness

The most important thing is to make employees aware of company strategy and
the part business intelligence can play in helping to meet those goals. Do you
have a training program in place?

  • Third party suppliers

There are numerous suppliers on the market and which one you go to depends on
a business’ specific needs. Vendors worth considering for small businesses
include Business Objects, Cognos, ICS (Microsoft) and Mamut-Validis.

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