Business Intelligence solutions for segments of small and medium businesses

The role of BI

Design and implementation of functional and effective information systems supporting business decision-making processes always seem to be huge and a complicated task. Business users expect the BI systems to help them answer complex questions related to constantly changing business environment. In the decision-making process business users require different information at different times with various granularity and quality. They need simple analysis and reporting tools, which are easy to use, do not require extensive IT and programming knowledge while still providing flexibility and robustness in functionality.

These requirements of business users must be supported by underlying information systems providing data for analysis and reporting tools in high quality, accuracy, granularity and timely manner. Such information systems needs support of skilled analysts maintaining the data-quality and lays extensive requirements on an IT department as well. IT needs to prepare and maintain the proper ETL process across the company’s data sources and run extensive hardware infrastructure.

In general the BI projects were implemented mostly by companies with enough resources to build strong teams of analysts and IT professionals dedicated to BI solution and with budgets for purchasing costly tools. However the BI solutions are becoming a matter of interest for companies from SMB segment as well. This trend is confirmed by increased interest in the SMB segment of traditional BI solution providers as SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft and the increased offer of various BI tools in general.

Smaller businesses usually relied on MS Excel or similar end-user analytical tools in their decision-making process. With growing demand for information, these tools are becoming too complex and too difficult to use, maintain and understand. This status indicates the need for investment into efficient and transparent BI solution.

BI as service

The implementation of BI solution still remains complex task requiring extensive experiences, deep analysis and proper planning. We believe that the most important key to successful BI implementation is to understand Business intelligence project as continual process of adaptation to changing business environment and processes. One of the biggest threats in these projects is the expectation project stakeholders (usually IT department), that BI is implemented as an application. We think that it’s better to understand BI as service to business users rather than software which is installed and maintained. Since it’s crucial for BI to deliver valid information to business users with various and changing expectations, the whole solution needs to be flexible enough to adapt to changing requirements at any time.

The BI service provider with help of business users should have deep understanding of a company’s business processes, while having the control over the whole BI platform, starting form ETL processes through databases, data-marts, up to analytical and reporting tools. In order to maintain the solution’s usability and effectiveness and avoiding running into similar problems as with evolving excel solutions, there is a need to clearly set the responsibilities, powers and link to business stake-holders.

BI solutions for SMB from our perspective

In our Business Intelligence solution we are always relying on robust, flexible and scalable technologies. As a base for data-source and data-mart database we rely on MS SQL Server 2008. This platform offers robustness and flexibility in its easy programmability and option for implementation of various extensions via CLR. The good connectivity and additional extension such as Integration services, analysis services and reporting services provides a solid base-stone and enables to build flexible solutions on top of it. The flexibility on database and the data-mart level is maintained by meta-data driven ETL tools. This enables easier and more frequent adaptation of changes in sources systems. Since the structures and process are dynamically generated based on meta-data form the source systems, the change in one section of the system doesn’t require manual reprograming of the whole system, but some parts automatically reconfigured. The database tables designed in proper granularity and normality, which enables to add new columns and structures easily. We are always trying to implement majority of business logic on the database level. The robust database solutions are a solid base for any BI implementation and offer more flexible choices of the presentation layer.

The presentation layer should fit client’s need and expectation, therefor we offer several options. Custom web application delivering professionally formatted PDF and Excel reports is good choice when highly customizable reports with a high focus on design are required. The MS reporting and analysis service is a good choice for business users requiring certain level of interaction and analytical functions. SAP Business Objects offer a great variety of tools for business users and provides outstanding report delivery capabilities.

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