Business Intelligence (BI) has become quite the popular solution in recent years; however, many small business owners still view it as the realm of big business only. As we move towards 2013 and information overload becomes commonplace, small to mid-sized businesses are now starting to realize that BI can benefit them too. Here are some advantages that BI can deliver to small to mid-sized businesses:

1. Time savings (or increased productivity)

Small businesses, by nature, need to get more done with fewer people. One of the key benefits of BI is that it will automate reporting in your business, saving time and money in the process and ultimately increasing productivity.

Monthly financial reports, for example, traditionally take days every month to compile. BI can provide real-time automated reports, executable at the click of a button, which draw up-to-date trusted data directly from a company’s existing accounting package and deliver a single version of the truth. Even better is when the data is delivered in pre-formatted Excel reports and dashboards, it can be drilled down into for transactional details. You will be able to close the books on time, without the usual drudgery of manual report preparation – cutting & pasting, and repetitive data extracts into Excel – thereby saving accounting / bookkeeping staff valuable hours each month.

You can also automate other management reports, such as Dashboards and Sales Reports, and get up-to-date, accurate and well-presented reports for informed decision-making in your business, without having to sort through static reports and extricate data into a format that can be used to analyze information. By providing real-time reports on demand, BI plays a significant role in creating time-savings and increased productivity and allows you to start using the information in your system to more effectively manage the business.

2. Flexibility in reporting

Many business software end users voice frustration with the reporting provided in their accounting packages being inadequate and inflexible. A good BI package addresses the need for more flexibility, making it a necessity in today’s aggressive market place. One of the most popular ways is to take the data stored in your accounting/ERP and CRM systems, pull it into Microsoft Excel, and then let business managers that already know how to use Excel analyze the data. Such Excel-based BI gives small businesses the ability to manipulate and distribute meaningful information in the familiar face of Excel, while maintaining its accuracy, obtaining insight into trends, year-on-year analyses and drill-down transactional details, all on demand and in a meaningful format.

Some BI solutions ship with ready-to-use Excel report templates to get users up and running immediately. Data residing in a company’s accounting, business management or payroll package is delivered automatically in the familiar face of Excel in a number of different layouts. You do not need to know how to write reports or how the data is structured to get value. You can, however, manipulate and distribute the reports in Excel, or engage the services of a business partner to customize reports according to your unique business requirements.

3. Improved access to information

Any small business owner or manager in the 21st century will attest to the fact that the volume of business information that needs to be processed grows continuously, yet time and resources are limited. The focus needs to shift from capturing lots of data, to providing accessible information that gives you a clear understanding of the transactional history in your database, so you can forecast and plan for the years ahead.

A good BI solution will allow you to reap the following benefits:

  • Reports, generated automatically from up-to-date data directly from the company’s databases, will provide visibility of what has happened even in the last few minutes.
  • Drill down capability within reports will allow you to quickly look at the underlying data to certain metrics and take corrective measures.
  • Dashboard reports will give you a good idea of the health and well-being of the company by displaying current metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) in a graphical format so that trends are visible at a glance.
  • You will be able to run standard reports available with the software or customize these for your unique requirements or create your own from scratch.
  • You will be able to customize reports to combine information from multiple sources, possibly from your accounting package, CRM, and payroll databases.

The data has always been there, but BI puts it into an easily digestible format and gets the right information to the right people when they need it.

4. Improved decision-making

All companies face constant pressure to increase profitability, improve cash flow, reduce costs, and reduce risk in order to improve financial performance. The ability to make good decisions and proactively solve issues is crucial to success at every level of an organization, every day. And as smaller companies grow or face stiffer competition, the need to make these decisions based on meaningful information quickly becomes an imperative. This is where traditional financial reports, summaries that are not drillable and manually-manipulated spreadsheets start to fall short, as the usefulness, trustworthiness and timeliness of information comes into question.

Excel-based BI allows small businesses to continue to use Excel as their preferred data sharing application but eliminates ‘spreadsheet chaos’. No more cutting and pasting repetitively, no more human error, no more doubt about data accuracy.

BI paves the way for true collaboration across a business so more people have access to information they need to make better decisions, faster. Teams can collaborate more effectively, people will be more productive, and decision-makers can be more proactive. The agility of a small business allows for BI to be used highly effectively if the conclusions drawn from real-time, trusted information can be implemented quickly and efficiently to either mitigate risk or take advantage of opportunities early on.

5. Immediate ROI

BI has traditionally been the preserve of big business. Small businesses face tighter budgets, less sophistication and fewer people and have, in the past, tended to steer away from BI because of the cost and complexity involved. In the last few years, however, newer generation BI has been built specifically for small to mid-sized businesses, as opposed to complex tier one products being scaled down to create small to mid-sized business offerings.

Integrated, Excel-based solutions make BI simple and affordable from the outset. And increased visibility into your business will improve operational efficiencies, streamline processes and ramp up productivity, giving you a rapid return on investment and helping you realize your strategic vision.