Four Ways to Use Business Intelligence in the Boardroom

Jayne Landry, Global Vice President and General Manager, Business Intelligence SAP
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Jayne Landry, Global Vice President and General Manager, Business Intelligence SAP

This summer in Brazil, the world’s top athletes will gather to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. While some sports remain unchanged from the first Olympic Games many years ago, others – such as sailing and cycling – have seen massive transformations over the years.

It’s safe to say that the best sailor or cyclist from decades past would not stand a chance in this summer’s Olympics without an upgrade in his or her gear. While they may possess knowledge and skill, they fall short in the agility – enabled by technology –the sport of today requires.

So too is the case with businesses. Just like the world’s top athletes, executives at the helm of the world’s top businesses need to be at the top of their game to deliver the best outcomes and performance for their organizations. As digitization sweeps through every industry, agility becomes a key differentiator. This agility allows organizations to compete and differentiate on information, the lifeblood of today’s economy.

A recent Forrester Research study found that business agility was driven by three factors: knowledge dissemination, market responsiveness, and business intelligence (BI) and analytics. “In order to support and promote business agility,” the report states, “enterprise knowledge workers need to be empowered with easy access to agile, flexible, and responsive enterprise BI tools and applications.”

While businesses have long used classic analytics tools to sort through giant stacks of data, new functionalities deliver insight faster and with less effort. No longer do we “run the numbers” based on a limited set of internal knowledge and produce a report that is skimmed through by a leader before making a decision. Instead, these users can become engaged with the data from inside and outside the business – asking questions of it, and making discoveries that can be instantly translated into action.

Advances in technology have made business intelligence more accessible, and consequently, more integrated at all levels and in every department. While BI tools once fell strictly within the domain of the CIO, line-of-business decision makers – such as those in operations, finance, marketing as well as the executive bench, are fast-growing categories of users. BI is even making its way into the Boardroom.

Enhancing real-time, smart decision making, BI has become the new go-to planning tool for today’s leading businesses.

Instant Insights

Many businesses are starting to take more advantage of analytics to run their businesses.Yet ironically, the agility business users are starting to benefit from has yet to make its way into the Boardroom. How areBoard meetings run today in your organization? If you’re like most companies,there are a team of people building the agenda, hosts of analysts with specialized skills combing through data to deliver the results, and a cast of thousands preparing pre-read Board documents to prepare for each meeting. But what happens when a member of the Board wants to drill deeper? More often than not,the answer is not immediately at hand and the Board must wait for further investigation and analysis and the next Board meeting.

By delivering live analytics into the Boardroom, the Board can gain instant insights into the business, and not just at the 10,000 feet level, but with the ability to drill in and drill down to understand any and every aspect of the business.

These insights are delivered through visualizations – such as maps, bar charts, histograms and infographics – that make complex information simple to understand. These visualizations go far beyond static images; they pull in live data, allowingthe Board to interact with it and ask and more importantly answer questions of it.

Strategy and Risk Assessment

Once the Board has a handle on the current state of the business the next questions that comes up is – how can the business be optimized moving forward? Business intelligence tools can enable analysis of not just what’s happening now, but help the business for what’s happening next. This is where “what if” scenarios and simulation comes in: What happens if we increase production by 5%? What happens if we increased sales headcount a region by 10%? Using live business data, executives can now model scenarios and evaluate plans based on real outcomes rather than postulations. They can immediately see the impact and outcome of investment decisions. These spontaneous queries are becoming critical for strategic planning, but up until recently were impossible to do with live data.

It is now possible to deliver live data, from multiple sources, right into the hands of the Board. This includes data from inside and outside sources–such as combining financial results with market sentiment from social media feeds, production reports with real-time sensor dataor even correlating sales with related factors like weather data –dramatically evolving business processes in a way that is both simple and fast for making in-context decisions.By combiningBig Data with their operational business data,Board members can infuse each decision with valuable context.

Reporting and Transparency

Standards-based reporting continues to be a base need for every organization, but too often relies on static information that may be outdated by the time it’s printed out or sent in an email. How companies manage reporting processes can reveal the degree to which they have matured technologically to support live business and decision-making across the enterprise.

Finance employees, for example,still generally spend 70% of their time just on preparing information used for reporting and analysis, according to IDC.This often involves offloading data stored in various ERP, CRM, and other software systems into dedicated analytical systems that run reports and queries. Live insights become impossible as the data in the analytics systems – and thus the results and reports they generate – is only as current as the latest data transfer.

Business intelligence tools turn reporting from a chore into anasset to make more strategic decisions, as every role in a company becomes an information-centric role. From finance to operations, companies are actively redefining responsibilities so that workers caneasily set priorities, assess efficiency and make a more positive financial impact on the organization. To perform these roles, people need ready access to current information and insight.

Simplified Boardroom Processes

What happens after the Board meeting? The minutes are produced and disseminated, and the whole process of preparing for the next Board meeting begins. But what if you didn’t have to start the process again from scratch? What if you could update the agenda for Q2 based on the agenda from Q1? What if the actions are assigned immediately and tracked regularly throughout the quarter? What if the same key performance metrics that are used by the board are also being used by sales, marketing, HR and finance so that everyone in the organization is working from the same numbers and the organization is fully aligned from the board to the customer. Business Intelligence tools can do just that - dramatically simplifying Boardroom processes, updating analytics from Q1 to Q2 with literally a click of a button, and ensuring alignment throughout the organization and agility to all users.

Business intelligence has found a home in the Boardroom, where the more savvy companies now embrace it as a competitive advantage.This trend promises only to continue as technology continues to evolve, enabling business leaders to stay at the top of their game and enabling everyone in the organization to discover new ways that live insights can help them to solve problems and make better decisions. This is the promise of the digital enterprise in the digital economy. 

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