8 ways to ... Use business intelligence better.

Author:Bartram, Peter

Firms have a vast amount of data available to them from a huge range of sources. Business intelligence tools are designed to help them sift useful information from all this material, but, as with any tool, they should be used intelligently to achieve optimal results

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1 Develop an analytical culture

You need to develop a workforce that's enthusiastic about finding insights from business intelligence (BI), says Eddie Short, partner and head of BI at KPMG Management Consulting. But a typical problem is that most investment goes into developing the tools and far too little into making the best use of them.

Short thinks that many firms have access to so much data that it's easy to cherry pick material that supports your own theories. It's therefore important to obtain validation from key members of your organisation. "If you don't like what the numbers are telling you, you need to find new options, responses and scenarios--not to find a way of getting the figures to be what you want," he says.

2 Deliver information wherever it's needed

In a typical company far more people work flexibly than was the case two decades ago. This has given rise to the need for BI tools to be available on employees' mobile devices. The ability to process big data on these anywhere and at any time is crucial, according to Rachel O'Brien, an information management and analytics specialist at HP Enterprise Services.

Tom O'Farrell, a director of business and technology services company Aiimi, believes that it's important for workers to be able to view real-time data on their mobile devices. Any failure to deliver information this way could be bad news when it comes to keeping customers and winning new ones.

3 Make more use of unstructured data

In the past, most of the information in BI systems came from structured data such as sales figures. Today, some of the most vital insights are hidden in a vast mass of unstructured data, including e-mails, Word documents, PDF files and images. In fact, 80 per cent of information in a typical organisation is unstructured, according to Seamus Galvin, head of R&D at Espion, a specialist in information security. The volume of unstructured data is growing at 50 per cent a year.

Galvin suggests that companies could analyse their unstructured data to spot trends indicating fraudulent behaviour, for example, or to gauge attitudes to the organisation among customers and employees.

4 Focus on the future

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