Stay Ahead Of The Game By Making The Smart Move To BI
As your commodity space is attacked by commodity vendors, use customized BI (business intelligence) tools to differentiate your offering.
So, you've recently completed a CRM (customer relationship management) installation, or an ERP (enterprise resource planning) installation, or the installation of some other data-intensive application. As is its wont, the application is producing data for your customer - tons of data, in fact. But, what the heck does it all mean? Why are your customers' sales numbers on the West Coast rising, as numbers in the Midwest are falling? Why are the bulk of your customer's sales coming from current customers instead of new ones? How does your customer sort through all the data being produced by your application to find this stuff out?
BI Can Be Your Bridge From IT To The Decision Makers
"Traditionally, management would call in the IT staff and have them write a program to satisfy a query or write a custom report," says Bill Robinson, VP of North American sales at software vendor Business Objects (San Jose, CA). "However, business intelligence (BI) software allows management, or what we call knowledge workers, to run those queries and create reports themselves.
"In fact, in many cases, a reseller might be selling a $3 million ERP system, of which the BI aspect might only represent a small percentage. However, there is not a lot in that ERP system that a C-level executive can touch. The BI aspect might be the only part that your champion can identify with."
Battle Commoditization With BI Tools
Dan Sapir, VP of corporate business development for data warehousing specialist Ascential Software (Westborough, MA), adds that BI represents an attractive upsell for resellers of application software. "Many applications that used to be customized and sold by resellers are now being sold directly in generic packages by large vendors like Microsoft," says Sapir. "Application resellers that find themselves competing with Microsoft need to take their business to the next level - which means adding BI."
Data warehousing involves the aggregation of data from several sources so that it can be successfully utilized in applications like BI. "There is no doubt that the proliferation of applications like ERP and CRM is increasing the amount of data the businesses have to deal with," says Sapir. "But businesses don't need all this data in every report they run. Resellers play an important role in BI applications because they know which data to extract and where to put it so that their customers gain the most value. There is a lot of opportunity for resellers to provide sophisticated services in BI installations."
Customers Demanding BI With Core Apps
It's Sapir's view that resellers installing BI should make sure their core applications are up and running smoothly before attempting to add BI. Robinson, however, takes a more aggressive view. "At least half the time now, customers are asking for BI with their data-centric applications," he says. "You used to hear vendors talk about the importance of best-of-breed applications. However, these types of installations can involve time-consuming and expensive integration.
"The smart ISVs have realized that customers have limited time and resources to set up their BI applications. They are pre-configuring connections between their applications and BI software. This enables resellers to install BI systems at the same time they are installing their applications."
A Vital E-Commerce Element
Robinson adds that BI resellers with an eye on the future should consider the value of BI in B2B e-commerce applications. "BI becomes very important when you want to open up pieces of your supply chain, for instance, to your vendors and partners," he says. "A couple of years ago Wal-Mart invented the term "category management" when it made Proctor & Gamble responsible for tracking its own inventory. This was achieved with the help of Business Objects' BI software."
So, BI not only provides a way to help your customers manage the applications you've created for them, it can also help you springboard into cutting-edge applications like e-commerce. And don't forget, as computers continue to increase their processing power, they will also be able to churn out more data, thus exponentially increasing the need for tools like BI.Questions about this article? E-mail the author at email@example.com.