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With all the talk and educational material about Business Intelligence, one would think most companies would have invested and implemented in some form of Business Intelligence. But on the contrary, only a small percentage of small to medium businesses currently use BI.

A large number of small businesses still operate without any form of BI. The results are quite obvious. They have remained stagnant with very minimal or zero year on year growth to show. It reminds me of a hamster in a wheel, running hard out but not getting anywhere.

There are certainly some known bottle necks which have prevented organisations from investing in a Business Intelligence solution. For eg: According to a research done by the Aberdeen Group a couple of years ago, 57% of BI implementations are delivered late. Now, that doesn’t help, especially when data is continuously growing and getting bigger within the organisation. A late delivery of the BI solution only worsens the problem. There have also been other bottle necks such as lack of a skilled business analysts, too technical for common users to comprehend, too expensive and the likes.

Vendors have addressed much of these problems by introducing easy to use self-service based Business Intelligence solutions. There are products that require absolutely no programming or coding skills. Any user in the organisation is now able to use BI with the help of a simple drag and drop tool kit. In addition, BI tools can now be implemented in a significantly short period of time (days or weeks as opposed to months) delivering a very quick ROI at low cost.

Despite all the progress made from the product side of it, small businesses are still sceptical and hesitant to invest in a BI tool. Why is it so?


EXCUSE NO 1: My data quality is bad

This is one of the most common excuses I have come across. Most managers think it is pointless to have a smart Business Intelligence tool extracting information out of an unreliable back end source data. They intend to clean up their data before investing in a BI tool. Well…..yes and no!! Yes, because clean data means reliable reports. And No, because there is a reason why the data has been unreliable and stayed that way for all those months and years. The source data often times is complicated and comprises of many silo spreadsheets, access databases, SQL tables and other proprietary tables. Weeks and months of hard labour has gone into consolidating them. It is not an easy task to pin point unclean data and fix it. It takes days, weeks or even months of careful analysing before diagnosing the source of unclean data. It could be as simple as a wrong formula in one cell which has affected hundreds or thousands of figures in the consolidated reports, but finding it out is as hard as looking for a needle in a haystack. Most employees struggle to find time doing this because it interrupts their normal day to day tasks. End result = unclean data is getting bigger making it harder to trace. I would much rather use a smart BI tool. Just a glance at various cleverly implemented dashboards and charts can potentially help me identify the unreliable data source quickly. I could save many hours of my time by focusing only on the particular data in question. The unreliable data could have originated from a particular cost centre, or a GL code or a product quantity. A glance at the respective dashboard can help me identify the potential data source and deal with it much quicker. In conclusion, I think it is wise to invest in BI even before your data is clean because it saves you money. It helps you identify and clean up your data much quicker.  If you didn’t realise it, it is actually costing you much more having unreliable data without BI. 

EXCUSE NO:2 We are too small

This is another common excuse I have come across. Well, we can’t really call it an excuse!! Because sometimes this can be true. But there are a couple of questions I would ask.

    • How small is small? – Often times business owners consider themselves small due to the size of their turnover or the number of staff, etc. In my opinion, Business intelligence has got nothing to do with the size of the company, but more to do with the complexity of the business. Yes, there are some small businesses that are so simple to run that they might not have a “need” for BI, but then there are others that are more complicated. A simple to use BI solution can help increase turnover and grow the company so that it doesn’t have to stay “small” for too long.
    • Do you intend to remain small or are you ambitious enough? If you are ambitious to grow, then a statement such as “We are too small” is counterproductive to your vision. Your ambition is all the more reason to invest in Business intelligence. It will help you get to where you want to go, especially if you don’t know the way. Sounds familiar? Yes, very much like a GPS or a Navigation system.

EXCUSE NO: 3 We are too busy. There's too much happening right now

A classic one, this one! Now, which organisation isn’t busy? I always chuckle at this one. Does this imply that all organisations that DID invest in BI weren’t busy? Did organisations like Nike, Adidas, Mitsubishi Electric, H&M, Siemens and Novartis have too much time on their hands? Funny isn't it? Of course not, you would say. And you are right. They had a revelation of the importance of BI and prioritized it.  Well, being busy doesn’t always mean being productive. I’ve come across organisations that are extremely busy all the time because of lack of departmental KPIs, lack of robust systems and processes and lack of proper internal communication. There are many other reasons too. Here are a few examples:

    • Staff could be busy because they are spending too much time trying to clean up unreliable data, which should have been clean in the first place.
    • Multiple staff members are doing the same job in different departments due to duplication of processes.
    • The management team has meetings after meetings, but very little of the corporate decisions gets communicated down to the rest of the organisation.
    • There are no set KPIs or goals to work towards. Management is busy because they have no timely access to critical information.

See, all of the above can keep an organisation busy and unproductive. It would be wise to implement process workflows, set departmental and employee level KPIs, monitor them and ensure transparent flow of information top down. A good BI tool can help you achieve this in a matter of days.

EXCUSE NO:4 It’s too expensive

Well, “expensive” is a relative term. How much is expensive? How much is not? Often times, this is a perception or a fear of the unknown. Business owners imagine a figure and perceive it’s too expensive. Most often they haven’t even ventured to find out the costs. I recommend the following principle.

    • Compare the total cost of the BI solution in terms of percentage to your annual turnover. Now budget for a minimum of 3-5% increase in revenue for the following year. Would it still be expensive?

Business Intelligence is the very tool that will help small businesses accomplish their vision…(if they have one). Business Intelligence is the GPS or the navigation system that will take small businesses through paths they didn’t know existed. A nail can be hammered into a wall using a spanner or a pair of pliers or a rock or something heavy. They all do the job, but it is most efficient and effective when done with a hammer. So also, with BI.


Santosh Chandran is the Business Development Manager for BOARD Management Intelligence at Olympic Software. He regularly blogs about business intelligence and corporate performance management. You can follow him on Twitter  or on LinkedIn.  Please contact him directly if you would like to find out how BOARD can improve your business results through better decision making, phone 09 980 3964 or email: santoshc@olympic.co.nz