Business intelligence (BI) is a valuable technology for improving business process efficiency. Not only does it eliminate manual data consolidation and reporting processes, it also helps businesses detect inefficiencies in order to drive them out of their operations.

BI improves efficiency by improving decision making to make it faster and easier, helping businesses deploy their workforces more efficiently, as well as enabling companies to analyze and improve their business processes and enhancing IT efficiency.

Improve Decision-Making Efficiency

Today, when managers and employees make business decisions, they are often unable to locate important information. While the organization may track the information, it’s often trapped in different systems, and its accuracy can be suspect because information is entered differently into different systems. Reconciling data from different systems is difficult. Thus, business users either spend considerable time hunting down information in different systems, or they need to ask a programmer to make a manual database query from the company’s legacy systems. The lag time means reports can be out of date as soon as they are complete.

Business intelligence systems consolidate data from across the organization and provide tools that business users can employ to analyze the data to better understand business operations and make better decisions. Implementing BI helps businesses generate reports and analysis within hours that may have previously taken weeks. They can also receive regular, automated reports in a format of their choice delivered to their desktops.

With business intelligence, companies can leverage existing data to optimize daily, hourly, and minute-to-minute or even up-to-the-second actions. According to a recent Aberdeen report, 63% of best-in-class companies that implemented BI experienced improvement in time-to-decision over the past 12 months. Thus, with BI, companies can arrive at key insights more quickly, deliver critical information to the right people at the right time, and produce analysis required for rapid decisions and actions. BI can also improve visibility across the organization, improving collaboration across teams for better, faster decision making.

Deploy the Workforce More Efficiently

Using ERP systems, businesses can automate activities and processes and then use dashboards, alerts, and management by exception to monitor relevant indicators for business activity in real time so they can concentrate their efforts on addressing any anomalies that arise. For example, if a company sees that a particular SKU has a low profit margin, employees can focus on finding the reason for the problem without wading through unnecessary information. They simply click on a given indicator to zoom in on detailed information or the original document that explains the result in order to make a well-informed decision.

Enhance Business Processes

Businesses are putting their operations under the microscope as they look to improve efficiency. Sixty-five percent of IT leaders polled recently by CIO magazine say business intelligence and analytics have spurred a process change in the last year.

To improve efficiency, companies need a transparent view of their functional teams and the ability to measure how these teams are performing against key functional metrics. Business intelligence dashboards/portals that display key performance indicators (KPIs) allow organizations to track their performance against important metrics in real time. As teams make proactive changes, BI dashboards and KPIs allow them to measure their progress.

For example, say a team was concerned about improving cash flow. They could set up a KPI for days sales outstanding (DSO), measure their existing DSO, then institute process changes—such as emailing invoices rather than putting them in the mail. Using the KPIs, they could then track the results of this effort.

Increase IT Efficiency

Midmarket business intelligence solutions include a number of capabilities that improve IT efficiency. Large ERP systems typically require IT to go through the complex process of building a data repository to gain a consolidated view of data; midmarket solutions take advantage of integrated data within the ERP and interface to third-party systems to provide data consolidation. Ad hoc queries and report templates eliminate the need for IT to create custom reports for end users, reducing IT bottlenecks and enabling end users to make queries with the click of a mouse. If a solution does not require additional hardware (beyond that used by the ERP), IT can save the time and cost of hardware acquisition and installation. Using a BI solution from the organization’s ERP vendor and leveraging existing software investments such as Microsoft Excel simplify acquisition and support.

Small-to-midsized organizations are constantly looking to improve their operational efficiency. By providing a wide range of automated and customizable reporting, query, and analysis capabilities, BI solutions are enabling small to mid-sized businesses to improve efficiency throughout their businesses. With business intelligence, companies have the data and analysis capabilities where and when they need it to make rapid and effective business decisions. They can improve efficiency of their workforce by allowing them to concentrate on problems and exceptions to business processes. They can look critically at their business processes to find ways to improve them and then measure the results. At the same time, self-service and other tools designed specifically for midmarket organizations improve IT efficiency.