Back to basics: Why choose an enterprise Business Intelligence tool, anyway?

Back to basics: Why choose an enterprise Business Intelligence tool, anyway?

For many, the notion of Business Intelligence (BI) is simply means a reporting tool or the ho-hum ability to extract data from a source system. However, with today’s technology having moved way past BI’s introductory stigma, enterprise BI is another animal entirely.

Certainly reporting is part of the equation, but there are key differences between using native tools in various ERP, point-of-sale or CRM systems and an real enterprise BI tool.  Some of key (and often overlooked) characteristics of an enterprise BI tool include:

  • Has high visibility as well as executive exposure and sponsorship
  • The ability to support multiple BI projects across the entire organization (not just a part of the organization or business)
  • Is built on a common BI platform
  • Promotes the development of common procedures
  • Promotes a common and consistent support structure for BI usage
  • Enables efficient growth, sufficient performance and high user adoption
  • Allows all organizations/business units to have consistent expectations, processes, procedures and projects prioritized appropriately
  • Supports entire enterprise and/or extended enterprise (extranet)
  • Is considered a strategic, tier 1 application
  • Impacts every internal organization
  • Contains tools and functionality to meet various requirements and preferences from multiple areas of the business and IT
  • Large numbers of employees have access and exposure
  • Has to be deployed efficiently and in a manner that is maintainable and supportable

Now all of this sounds great, right? An enterprise-grade, strategic tool that has multiple capabilities and has executive exposure and sponsorship. Do your ERP reporting tools meet this definition and characteristics? If you are only utilizing the reporting capabilities within your chosen ERP system (as most are), then likely the answer is no and you are not receiving the benefits of an enterprise BI solution.

For the sake of comparison, the limitations of functional reporting tools from ERP systems include, generally speaking:

  • They provide one or two tools to try and serve the needs of all users
  • They can only extract data from the ERP system and not other systems
  • They cannot combine or federate data from multiple sources
  • They do not have robust capabilities, which results in using the tool to “extract” data and then having end-users manipulate the data in Excel
  • They are not enterprise-wide and only provide value to the users of the ERP system itself
  • They do not have pre-built metrics and industry-standard dashboards
  • They only provide simple reports — meaning data presented in a specific format — as opposed to truly answering business questions

It should be fairly clear that an enterprise BI solution is independent of the ERP system and has the capabilities to analyze data from nearly any source platform and provide strong tools to make that analysis consistent and effective. ERP reporting tools only provide a fraction of that capability.

Typically what occurs in an organization without an enterprise solution is that one tool is used in the ERP application and other various tools are used to get information out of a data mart or Access database or other home-grown data store. The end result yields some pretty imposing challenges:

  • Requires days to weeks to get reports that cross multiple source systems
  • Users manipulate data within Excel which results in non-standard reports and information that is subject to scrutiny and dubious trustworthiness
  • Does not recognize the benefit of historical data.  This longstanding data has the capability to be turned into powerful information to benefit the organization.
  • There is very low user adoption of any reporting or information which could benefit the work process and business as a whole
  • Users do not have the capability for self -service reporting
  • Performance suffers
  • Creates regulatory compliance concerns

All in all, there is an ocean of benefit between home-grown, point-product, ERP-centric reporting value and the information potential of a full-on enterprise BI system.  The differences are so vast, so holistic that it’s difficult to concisely compare the two approaches (as evidenced by the length of this post), as the ideologies are just that different.

Hopefully this information has helped categorize and qualify the two. In the next post on this topic, we will explore having the best of both worlds and will dive deeper into a PeopleSoft ERP and Oracle BI applications example. Stay tuned.

Related posts:

Using BI to Survive the Recession, Part I

Using BI to Survive the Recession, Part II

Business Intelligence in the real world: Aligning metrics (Part I)

Business Intelligence in the real world: Aligning metrics (Part II)