Consultant: Be smart about BI

The intelligent way to tackle business intelligence is to understand that different users require different types of information, according to a veteran BI consultant.

ATLANTA -- Business intelligence isn't just for financial analysts anymore.

As companies mature, they find it harder to find efficiencies. That means BI is no longer a luxury; it's a necessity, according to Claudia Imhoff, president of Boulder, Colo.-based consultancy Intelligent Solutions Inc.

For organizations to properly leverage BI, the right data needs to get to the right people. That means utilizing different tools and giving users access to different means of generating information, Imhoff said.

"In building any analytic environment, you have to understand your need to keep it simple and keep it manageable," Imhoff said at the Smart CRM conference. "It must meet the needs of the hard-core statistician, as well as the high-level person who just wants to touch the data."

BI success stories abound, and organizations need look no further than the stock market to find anecdotal evidence that BI is paying dividends, Imhoff said. For example, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 3M Co. and FedEx Corp. all saw their stock surge shortly after installing data warehouses.

"I'm not saying BI was completely responsible for the takeoff in stock price," Imhoff said. "It is an interesting coincidence. There is a relationship between having good intelligence and your stock price."

Imhoff separates a company's employees into different categories, saying they have different BI needs and require different tools to get information.

"Every day, we are bombarded with data that is irrelevant to the question at hand," Imhoff said. "A simple user requires a simple interface. Don't assume one tool will fit all users."

For instance, the more creative types in a company -- employees like insurance actuaries and market research analysts, who Imhoff calls "explorers" -- are more likely to use multi-dimensional data marts and require an explorable warehouse of information. On the other hand, concrete thinkers like statisticians and risk controllers, act more like "miners." Since they use BI to test hypotheses, they're more apt to require OLAP data marts and a mining warehouse.

"Front-line workers are increasingly responsible for your profit," Imhoff told attendees at the show. "They can screw up a valuable customer or do something that can have a ripple effect on other customers. They have to have access to the information as well."

TechTarget is the organizer of Smart CRM and owner of the family of Web sites that includes SearchCRM.com.

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