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How does a smaller company use BI differently?

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WIth fewer resources and often overworked IT departments, how do smaller companies use BI differently?  How should a smaller company use BI differently?

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  • Smaller companies can and probably already using Excel spreadsheets and Access data bases extensively. The words "Business Intelligence" need not scare away small businesses, thinking that they need expensive BI Tools.
    Once they have hit the limits with homegrown skunkworks and they are running into problems keeping data fed properly, they can explore Open Source BI solutions to see what fits their business. Software As a Service (SAAS) hotsde BI solutions are another option they can explore effectively!

  • The reality is that many smaller companies have the same business challenges as larger organizations but require more creativity to develop and implement a successful BI solution. With many types of solutions available, small businesses can deploy full BI solutions without requiring the same IT resources through hosted solutions, self-service offerings, etc.

    Even though similar solutions are available for smaller companies, these businesses should be aware of long term maintenance requirements and additional resource requirements. One of the ways to help ensure a successful transition to BI in terms of current IT resources is to make sure that the solution implemented requires the same (or similar) skill sets as what is currently available. This makes maintenance easier in the long run and can help ensure successful BI expansion later on.

    Because dashboards and self-service approaches to analytics are becoming common place, smaller companies can use BI in similar ways as their enterprise counterparts, despite the lack of budget and general resources available - the difficulty comes in the development of a strong IT infrastructure with consistent data management processes.

  • I agree with Nari - there is a natural progression that generally starts with using Excel to understand what the important metrics are within the particular organization. I personally think SaaS is the natural next step since the small business typically doesn't have the IT resources to devote to implementing and maintaining a BI environment. Today's SaaS offerings often come with embedded best practices around a particular process or functional area - for example marketing or sales - and hence can deliver value very quickly through a very affordable, subscription model.

  • Smaller does not necessarily mean simpler. I had a very small customer (30 people, 5/6 million euros a year) that implemented an enterprise class system because they need to keep track of a lot of business phenomena and they had a full value chain to manage.
    The actual difference is that everything happens very fast, because there are no committees or meetings etc.

  • In smaller organizations, there is often a single person who does whatever is needed for the rest of the organization, a real go-to guy. In large organizations there is...guess what? One go-to guy! It's no different.

    Actually the distinction between large and small is inadequate to segment BI use. Some small organizations are purely data businesses, such as information aggregators in web analytics, pharmaceutical marketing, health care informatics etc. In fact, these organizations are loaded with data-savvy people, which is why large organizations buy their services.

    In general, though, all organizations, large and small, have a primary interest in the finance function. All other applications follow. So small companies are able to do most of their planing, budgeting and analysis in Access and Excel. When I encounter a smaller company using BI tools as we know them, it almost always is the result of principals who join the company from larger organizations and bring their BI assumptions with them.

    It's true that smaller companies have a much smaller and flatter IT operation which demands a more self-service approach, but it does not necessarily change the politics of IT-to-BI as concentrated power is still power and BI is often a thorn in the side of IT.

    -Neil Raden

  • I agree that smaller organizations (nowadays) can often have out-sized data problems and, therefore, bigger than expected business intelligence needs. I also agree that because they have more limited resources / staff, those individuals with the necessary technical aptitude within these small enterprises wear many hats.

    About 40% of our customers have revenues less than $100M annually and most of them fit this description. Within this growing base of customers, we see firsthand the increased interest in cloud computing, SaaS, and fast "data to dashboards" capabilities. Fortunately, largely because of low cost, open standard technologies (and open source software), these smaller enterprises have just as much access to powerful tools for data integration, management, analysis and reporting.

    This gives me hope that the estimated 80% of knowledge workers yet untouched by BI will soon have access and gain the many benefits of these tools.

    Brian Gentile
    Chief Executive Officer

  • I agree with many notions here. In a small company, often one personnel does the all IT jobs, as well as some of LOB jobs. Therefore such a personnel doesn't spend time learning new tools, just use tools already gotten used to.
    Hence I see that rather than slice and dice using a separate set of tools, BI tools should be embedded in their business software like ERP.
    Regarding UI, MS Excel-ic and OO Calc-ic UIs are the most reasonable candidates, I believe.

  • This is a great question Peter. It is important for a smaller company to look for a BI or reporting solution that can help make strategic business decisions without long implementation and training times. Fortunately, many vendors are already providing novel yet effective solutions for this issue. One easy to implement and use approach for smaller businesses is to allow end users to transform their existing reports into usable formats such as Excel instead of connecting users to the application database or building them a data mart. This type of solution will deliver actionable insights straight from an organization's existing reports without requiring IT involvement or burdensome manual effort by the report user. By using reports as a source of quality information, companies can fully realize the benefits of their existing report investment while allowing end users to make better decisions – all with a minimal upfront investment. This is just one example of the many different non-traditional, but effective approaches a smaller organization can use right now to implement a BI solution despite limited IT resources.

    John Kitchen
    CMO & SVP

  • In addition to the points mentioned by others, I want to highlight 2 specific things that I feel are very relevant for small companies - Federated structures & Mashups.

    Smaller companies have relatively lower data volumes which lends itself very well to an architecture where analysis from multiple sources can be done by leaving the data at their source itself. EII tools like Cognos Virtual View Manager, SAP BO Data Federator etc. can help in analysis across disparate sources without the need for extensive data integration.

    Mashups that combine information on the fly from sources which were not intended to be used together (corporate databases, RSS feeds, News feeds etc.), can provide a great deal of competitive advantage to smaller companies that need such insights to gain market share & grow.

  • I have to agree with Wayne on his point about SaaS - Small and medium-sized businesses often cannot justify the large CapEx of traditional BI, do not have the IT resources to run an on premise database and server system and are not sure that they have the breadth or depth of data to warrant such a system. Often their needs change and evolve far faster than software is developed and installed.

    With traditional BI having enough data to justify the BI spend is certainly a problem. The huge upfront costs and time investment often cannot be justified by the need for a couple of key decision makers to analyze a small number of records. SaaS BI gets rid of this problem as it provides fully functional BI suite available for just one person.

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