What is Business Intelligence (BI) ?

In essence, our definition of BI is information which:
  1. Allows the user to create value for the organisation by taking action arising from it.
  2. Assists in the Cause/Effect linkage identification of specific measures or activities in the business with outcomes.
  3. Supports or generates the identification of opportunities - affecting value, income or cost.
The provision of business intelligence empowers employees and anticipates individuals applying prioritisation and decision making skills in order to affect the outcomes of the organisation. 

Some of the best business intelligence is Standard Monthly Reporting. The reason that monthly reporting exists is because it works! When led in the right way, people take the right action in a timely manner - and they see the results. 

Ad-hoc reports that are commissioned as routine requests in most Finance Departments daily are real business intelligence. The question is how to make more incisive, having better predictive capability or perhaps just to look better so that the audience accept, believe and act on the data.  

Excel has the capacity to allow simple data manipulation and consequently it makes an excellent business intelligence tool. 

The fundamentals of business intelligence right now are:
  • the ability for information to be Self Service BI using Powerpivot and Data Analysis eXpressions,
  • for the self service aspects to be multi-dimensional in terms of the core data that can be addressed by the user. 
This new flexible approach facilitated by Microsoft is the opening up of access to large databases using the Excel Spreadsheet interface.  Talk with us today to understand how this could affect your department, supporting much better and faster decision making whilst improving the skills and abilities of staff. 

Intelligent Use of Technical Tools

Having knowledge of the extent and usefulness of a toolkit is actually only a small part of the solution needed by most organisations. The key to success is how the information is used, what actions are taken and which approaches are implemented. This requires human intelligence. 

You have to decide which data to use - 
which data to connect and review. You have to decide whether there might be anything valuable, hidden within the data, before you go looking.  This is why we adopt BPR and process mapping - this allows Director Level individuals to impart their own insights and knowledge of the processes and systems to less senior individuals - so that they may see the outcomes and initiate the correct actions. Most of the time, the best spreadsheets are simple in approach. See the Golf Handicap spreadsheet below for simple yet advanced use.

With established and  reliable, consistent data sources, the Excel spreadsheets simplify processes and automate without compromising accuracy and control. 

The whole approach that we adopt results in the development of Business Partners with analytical skills who are able to talk with operational colleagues and gain mutual trust and respect based on a common understanding of their responsibilities.  This is often seen as "the holy grail" of business management, when individuals are empowered sufficiently - and who have sufficient knowledge - to take the same actions that the Directors would take, without any input from 3rd parties. This massively speeds up the response time, increasing business improvement, developing people and their job satisfaction. 

Knowledge Transfer

During a project, an important aspect for many of our clients is the knowledge transfer from our experts to their staff. We include a Knowledge Transfer Program to support the new spreadsheets and business insights generation. There are much wider benefits to be picked up too.

For some clients, we focus on a specific project with identified outcomes - and we work with identified individuals to improve the use of spreadsheets within the organisation. We also work with large organisations to develop new approaches using new technologies to generate the potential for useful views and alternative perspectives to be visible. 

We adopt good facilitation practices, including allowing "shadowing", and providing mentoring and coaching. We also include planning and strategy development (where appropriate) as well as detailed knowledge of Excel and BPR. 

Data Sources and Data Structure

As you identify data sources, you will need to consider security i.e. which data the spreadsheet can access, and who can access the data within the spreadsheet.  There are some advanced functions in Pivot Tables that can really help here - talk with us to explore how these could help you directly. 

With reliable, consistent data sources and informed user awareness of their own inputs (you need to avoid the old garbage in garbage out syndrome) the data content can be managed and controlled. For many organisations there are three aspects:
  1. Static data - such as names, departments, hierarchy
  2. Content Transaction Data - the detail of the activity
  3. Summary Data - where data warehouses or cubes are used to aggregate

We work with your specialists to identify the data structures efficiently and generate a core data set that can be regularly updated easily, and controlled carefully. 

Use our deep knowledge of data analysis to support your own generation of insights into your data. Talk to us about this aspect of the work - it will be beneficial to you to do so. 

Spreadsheet Control

When spreadsheets are used as a key decision support tool there are five critical aspects to control them:
  1. House rules for spreadsheets - keep as simple as possible (care with security)
  2. Identification of important spreadsheets - register and prioritise
  3. Peer Review - before decisions are taken - technical and scope
  4. Maintenance - create a spreadsheet champion, version control
  5. Skills and Competence - personal measures and updates

Creating a formal structure that Senior Finance Managers operate and control creates the recognition that spreadsheets are more than merely a personal tool. They are business property, and represent significant investment. They should be recognised, managed and maintained. 

Within the rules, you should address how Macros are used - how they are written, the complexity of them, and the extent of their use. Generally, we recommend using Macros only to automate repetitive tasks that would be onerous without automation.

Security is a crucial aspect. On occasion, this will necessitate a structure of data and accessibility that overrides common sense.  Care needs to be taken that where the accepted standards for the organisation are out of date or need changing hat this does not adversely affect the data flow of the organisation. 

Adopting a sensible means of Spreadsheet Process and Design and working to Best Practice Standards with Audit control and compliance will ensure that your adverse spreadsheet risks are minimised. 

Here is a fairly useful Golf handicap scorer spreadsheet for a foursome, if you would like to use it. 
If you need the password, contact me and I will let you have it.