BI End-user Tools

1. OLAP. This common term stands for “On-Line Analytical Processing,” meaning the end user has direct—or “on-line”—access to the cube by way of PC-based analysis software. Browsing the information freely permits spontaneity that makes spotting trends and relationships easier. Better client applications combine an intuitive interface with rich visuals designed for rapid comprehension.

2. Static and live reporting. Static reports give you a view of information arranged in a predetermined way—sales by month by region, for example. Different views, say sales by product category, require an expensive special report. BI systems make it fantastically simple to generate special reports. Live reports allow end users to interactively manipulate information and drill down to more granular levels, in more or less predefined ways.

3. Balanced scorecards. Scorecards represent a remarkable technology from the minds of Robert Kaplan and David Norton of the Harvard Business School. Scorecards emphasize frequent and timely relevant measuring of individual and team performance against key financial and nonfinancial objectives. Scorecards directly reinforce strategy because performance measures map directly to your organization’s strategic initiatives.

4. Budgeting and forecasting. In most organizations, budgeting is traditionally painful, tedious, and distracting. Your accounting team painstakingly assembles and then distributes budget packets to departments and branches throughout the organization. Each department then spends many additional and painful hours completing the packets. Later, the packets are collected, consolidated, and reviewed. Often, this cycle is repeated another time or two before the budget is finalized.

BI-based budgeting offers several advantages: better forecasting, faster consolidation, and the ability to analyze the up-to-the-minute consolidated view using the rich tools of OLAP. Translation? Better budgets—faster and more in-line with business realities.

5. Data mining. Here the objective is to recognize patterns and relationships not apparent through simpler analysis methods. Data mining models generally describe buyer characteristics (which group is best targeted given a specific product) or predict a dependent value (which product is best targeted given a specific group). Data mining is the core of high-efficiency database marketing.

6. Exceptions and notifications. When key performance measures are out of line, software agents instantly take notice and take immediate action. Traditional systems require that humans first observe and comprehend out-of-bounds facts before action is taken. Advanced systems allow end users or managers to link events with appropriate notifications. For example, if non-billable overtime hours were greater than 2 percent of total hours, Joe and his boss will receive an e-mail, a fax will go out to Sue, and Fred will be paged.

7. Business process input. Human beings traditionally carry information from process to process. Now we’re designing information systems that will access information without human intervention. An automated purchase-order system may receive information directly from the BI system to establish a reorder quantity based on an analysis of what’s in the sales pipeline and possibly other factors. Because humans aren’t involved, value-chain processes move faster, better, and at a lower cost.

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