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As companies contend with the turmoil of the recent financial crisis, they're taking a close look at how the economic realities may impact their IT spending. Businesses are scrutinizing everything, particularly much hyped technology solutions. Yet this downturn has also given enabling technology solutions a chance to shine. Over the past several months there has been a significant increase in interest around business intelligence (BI) and how it is becoming a valuable tool for companies trying to stay competitive in tough economic times. Why? BI serves two critical purposes during tough times: the ability to provide actionable data to make intelligent decisions -- and the power to avert crises before they reach the critical stage.

Whether we consider the circumstances of Detroit auto makers or Wall Street investment firms, a lack of foresight into looming disaster undeniably led to their downfall. However, cross-functional visibility is easier said than done. With disparate IT systems and a slew of mergers and acquisitions, it is often nearly impossible to consolidate information quickly enough to apply it in a proactive and constructive manner.

That's why the ability to consolidate data from multiple sources and systems is, and will continue to be, vital to a well-run business analytics engine. After all, the software is only as good as the data that goes into it. That's why businesses are increasingly investing in analytics tools that are tightly integrated with major enterprise systems such as ERP, CRM, and more.

Consider these examples: An auto manufacturer connects BI tools to each of its dealer's sales tracking system. Sales representatives use these tools to track the vehicle features (fuel efficiency, safety features, accessories, etc.) that customers are asking for. With this data at the ready, stakeholders at the manufacturer can generate real-time reports to identify consumer trends, which can be applied directly to modify and enhance ongoing product development activities, hone promotions for existing vehicles, and make other strategic business decisions.

This early insight is crucial for staying ahead of other auto makers in a fiercely competitive business. Those who have lagged behind in recognizing shifting consumer trends have been left in the dust. Case in point: U.S. auto makers were slow to recognize the consumer demand for energy efficiency. They failed to improve fuel economy in response to gas prices at their peril, according to a Consumer Federation of America report. According to Mark Cooper, director of Research for the Consumer Federation of America, "the failure of the auto industry to keep their promise to improve fuel economy after the gasoline price escalation of 2000-2001, coupled with their opposition to a meaningful increase in fuel economy standards, has undermined their credibility with the public…" Obviously this is a position no manufacturer wants to be in, particularly after investing so much money in brand identity. It all comes back to staying close to your customer and on top of emerging trends.


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