According to Gartner, business intelligence (BI) revenue is set to reach more than $17 billion by 2016. That’s because there is a drive to enable the entire organisation with fact-based decision-making tools, rather than just a few stakeholders.
Globally, organisations across all industries are embracing solutions that aid them in converting information into intelligence.
SMEs need to rise to the occasion and take advantage of the opportunities that BI represents. That’s the word from Nick Bell, CEO of BusinessIntelligent, a provider of business intelligence and application development solutions in South Africa.
“With the global economy in the state it’s in, companies need to make the right decisions the first time,” says Bell.
“They cannot afford to be reactive because their competitors will step in and take control of the markets they play in. To improve competitiveness, they need to enable their people to make better quality decisions – that is what BI is all about. It makes a business predictive, proactive and informed. BI deployments aid revenue growth and foster competitive advantage.”
Bell says the uptake of BI in the smaller and mid-tier space has been sluggish in South Africa because it’s still misconstrued as being too expensive. However, companies that value information and organisational insight are seeing the opportunities that BI has to offer and they are willing to invest in decision-making tools.
Business analysis first
The process should always start with business analysis – defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to the organisation. This is a specific skill that is usually best brought in from outside the business.
It involves locating all the master data, which is information that is key to the operation of a business, fetching it and making it more accessible through technology like dashboards.
An in-depth understanding of the business identifies what drives the specific organisation, and what is needed to make improvements and ensure competitiveness.
A business intelligence dashboard, which is really a data visualisation tool that displays the current status of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) in an organisation, consolidates and arranges numbers and metrics on a single screen.
They may be tailored for a specific role and display metrics targeted for a single point of view or department. The essential features of a BI dashboard include a customisable interface and the ability to pull real-time data from multiple sources.
Then actionable data
One of the issues impacting the availability of information in the organisation, says Bell, is that most systems – like ERP, CRM and accounting, for example – are designed with processes in mind, not reporting. They contain data, but they are not designed to empower users with information.
“BI leverages the strength of your existing systems and gives you the power and the capability to turn that data into actual information. If you have determined where you want to take your business, BI reports can enable you to achieve those goals by enabling you to understand what you need to do to get there.”
It gives the business the ability to answer a question like what do we need to do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to drive revenue? When it comes to your team, they can get access to information that will change the way they think about the business.
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Bell had a customer in the packaging industry who wanted to improve the efficiency of the picking line. Of all warehouse processes, order picking tends to get the most attention as the cost associated with picking is a big chunk of the total warehouse labour budget. Another reason for the high level of importance placed on order picking is its direct connection to customer satisfaction. The ability to quickly and accurately process customer orders has become an essential part of doing business.
Key objectives in designing an order picking operation include increases in productivity, reduction of cycle time, and increases in accuracy.
Productivity in order picking is measured by the pick rate. In Bell’s customer’s case, providing reports on productivity for the people in the pick line would not have been appropriate.
“Instead, we completed a business analysis exercise and then used the information to build a visual solution. We placed TV sets in the warehouse which broadcasted workloads and performance levels of teams and individuals during each shift, and used these figures to set bigger targets. The warehouse was transformed into a competitive environment, in which teams and individuals were challenging each other to do better. Within a month, performance had doubled.”
That was achieved simply by being able to access the correct information – if you know how many items or cases are being picked every day, and how many have to be picked in order to double or treble productivity, you have a goal to work towards. The end result is vastly improved efficiency, leading to lower costs and higher profitability.
Bell says that when a business takes the opportunity to look at the costs of BI versus the return on investment, it ceases to be a grudge purchase. “People are shocked when they realise the massive value and performance optimisation that BI can yield.”
Empowering employees is key
There’s another aspect to BI that should make business owners sit up and take note. Many smaller and mid-tier companies fail to empower their employees with information. Often, critical business information is the preserve of a select few – usually the owners and a couple of other people at the top.
“Rolling out a BI solution that gives the right people easy access to data and key reports has the effect of empowering more people in the business to make an impact. Again, it’s an exercise that reduces the cost of insight and the speed to access, while improving business processes.”
Bell explains that without BI, companies tend to drown in information, while being starved of intelligence.
“Data is redundant unless it can be analysed and converted into understanding that drives fact-based decisions. In today’s organisation, insight creation as well as decision-making is not just dependent on an individual or a department. Every member is an integral part of this process. With this shift in the organisational landscape, it becomes imperative that everybody is able to not only get the data, but also to analyse, slice and dice it, and collaborate that information within the organisation.”
This democratisation of data demands that you have the tools and solutions in place that can easily be understood and used by everyone.
Business users want BI tools that empower them, letting them get what they need rapidly and precisely, Bell stresses.
BI solutions make it possible for all users to gain business insights by understanding how data is associated, and enabling users to conduct direct and indirect searches across all data, anywhere.
“BI allows people to make sense of data so that they can make better decisions faster. It’s a business solution area that is growing rapidly across the globe because companies are seeing it as an imperative,” he adds. “In today’s economy, there are no margins to waste.”
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Small & mid-sized starting to gain the intelligent edge
Small and mid-size businesses are often more agile and closer to their customers than their larger counterparts, which gives them a BI advantage.
A recent report from BI analyst Dresner Advisory Services, the 2013 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study, found that SMEs have some unique characteristics when it comes to how they leverage BI.
One key finding: When compared to large enterprises, SME BI initiatives are more likely to be driven by executive management and the sales function.
“SMEs have the advantage of agility and the ability to use BI as a competitive differentiator,” says Howard Dresner, chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services.
“Because of the closeness of executives to the technology, business and customers, they have an edge against larger competitors. While larger enterprises may have an advantage when it comes to BI resources, SMEs tend to face fewer operational challenges than their large competitors.
“Larger organisations get bloated with bureaucracy and process, forcing them to focus BI upon efficiency,” says Dresner. “In contrast, smaller enterprises are, by definition, more efficient and can focus externally – enabling them to take market share from larger players.”
Dresner says SMEs are able to execute quickly to achieve meaningful results. They did not report the same length of BI experience as larger enterprises. This is not surprising, given that BI vendors initially focused on larger enterprise customers in client-server environments.
The report found growing interest not only in SaaS, but also in mobile device support and dashboards. These are trends that Dresner expects will continue.
“SMEs tend to be more nomadic than their larger counterparts, so mobile is very natural for them,” he says.
“Cloud is also a natural fit, which goes hand in glove with mobile – enabling readily-implemented and consumed solutions at a price point that enterprise software can’t approach. And everyone loves dashboards.”
Innovate For Change – Think Like A Social Entrepreneur
Why consider the social entrepreneurship model?
Social entrepreneurship is an exciting business arena that finds new, sustainable business solutions to long-standing problems. Social entrepreneurs see social challenges (such as poverty, homelessness, poor infrastructure or lack of quality education) as an opportunity for change.
This approach brings together the best that business practices offer and blends it with the best that civil society offers (a social mission, broader stakeholders involvement and the engagement of the community). By generating income from business activities and reinvesting its profits back into driving its mission, this approach generates both social value and economic value simultaneously.
Why consider the social entrepreneurship model?
1. Seeing social challenges as opportunities
South Africa’s social and structural challenges, from our poor ranking in health and education to the high level of unemployment, provide a myriad of opportunities for entrepreneurs that are willing to roll up their sleeves and work to build a better future.
The recent winner of the recent Nation Builder Social Innovation Challenge, Lungi Tyali, is a great example of this mindset.
Across Africa, there is a dire lack of provision for the electrification needs of the majority of the population, especially in rural communities. In South Africa, at present, there are 3.4-million households without a formal, metered electricity supply; 2.2-million in formal and 1.2-million in informal households. Lungi Tyali is the CEO of Solar Turtle who, with her business partner, James van der Walt, created a solar energy solution for rural and off-grid areas. Solar Turtle provides a solar-powered kiosk in a container that serves as a hub for renewable electricity. During the day, the solar panels are open to collect sunlight and at night they are enclosed and locked securely into the container.
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2. Social entrepreneurship has low barriers to entry
Many of the most successful social enterprises start off small with an enterprising individual seeing an opportunity in their local community and building from this small beginning. There is no prerequisite for a university degree of formal training. Growing social enterprises can thus also offer employment opportunities to unskilled workers and youth without experience, addressing South Africa’s high level of unemployment.
One such story is that of Nonhlanhla Joye, the founder and facilitator of Umgibe Farming, Organics and Training Institute. Ma’ Joye, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and as a result, could not work to provide food for her family. She decided to grow organic vegetables in her backyard to feed her family. Unfortunately, the chickens ate all her vegetables and she had to come up with a solution.
She innovated a growing system using plastic bags. Before long Ma Joye was teaching other community members to use her growing system. A platform was born where poor communities started growing vegetables to feed themselves and collectively sell their surplus produce.
3. Corporate Social Investment, with purpose
Social enterprises also offer individuals and companies the opportunity to invest in lasting social change. Unlike traditional philanthropy, the impact of social enterprises has the potential to be much more lasting by directly providing affordable social goods and services, as well as employment opportunities.
Nation Builder, for example, is a platform* that brings like-minded businesses and civil society together in order to learn from each other and partner together for the greatest possible impact through wise and responsible social investing.
4. Personal actualisation
Perhaps the most rewarding advantage of being a social entrepreneur is the impact you can have on society, but this model also offers several personal benefits:
- working to solve issues you care about
- freedom to explore and create innovative solutions that can inspire change
- the opportunity to turn passion into profit
- working as your own boss.
Having The Perfect Product Isn’t Enough To Keep You In Business
The odds of the small business surviving aren’t stacked in its favour. It’s more likely to fail than succeed. That’s the bitter truth. However, once it’s able to shake off the niggling teething problems, watch it as it unfolds from a pupa to a beautiful butterfly.
There is a small bakery operates in my neighbourhood. It bakes bread; no cakes or other confectionaries. The best home-made bread that has your palates yearning for more. This is in sharp contrast with the bread produced by bigger bakeries. They also supply bread to the neighbourhood.
The bigger bakeries operate a model that is largely automated to the point that they lose a very important ingredient beyond flour, yeast and whatever goes into making bread. They lack the personal touch that gives it the home-made feel. This is why the neighbourhood bakery is preferred despite being pricier.
The small bakery isn’t without its flaws; avoidable flaws that may, sadly, sink the business. My view is more on the certainty of the demise of the business as observers would’ve noticed a slow yet steady decline in the output of the business. These flaws aren’t unique to the bakery, several other small businesses have share the same flaws.
Why would a customer who is willing to pay more for a product suddenly cease patronising the business. What other factor apart from higher price, in the absence of a drop in purchasing power, would make a customer buy bread of supposed inferior quality from the competition.
A couple of years ago when I moved to the neighbourhood the business was doing great. Even during a biting recession the shelves were always stacked with freshly baked bread of different varieties. Despite the excellent product on display, there was an unsatisfactory trend in the operation of the business.
For one, the sales personnel are rude. Having the right staff is necessary to grow any business, but when this very fundamental issue isn’t gotten right it will be fatal to the business. After all for how long would customers put up with poor service delivery in the face of stiff competition from bigger rivals.
Small business owners must realise that proper training of staff is as important as sourcing for capital and shouldn’t be overlooked as the survival of the business also rests on it. Bigger businesses in this regard always come out tops in comparison with their smaller counterparts.
Annually, big businesses spend billions of dollars on staff training for the simple recognition of the fact that having disgruntled customers, on account of poor service by personnel, is dangerous for business. Despite their size, big businesses tend to understand better the importance of the single customer. Also, how the discontent of a few customers can translate into poor sales which is detrimental to the business.
The mindset of a small business shouldn’t be different. Investing in staff shouldn’t be treated with levity to ensure the business not only stays afloat, but also grow it. Growing a business is in itself tough work, small business owners shouldn’t make it tougher by providing terrible service.
The neighbourhood bakery lacks this important feature and it’s been responsible for the steady decline in sales. I didn’t know the poor service rendered by the attendants had attained much notoriety until I was having a conversation with a group of individuals at a religious gathering and the issue came up. It’s a sad realisation.
For financial reasons small businesses aren’t known for recruiting the best personnel. Most employ the services of family members. While there is nothing wrong with this, it’s important to ensure such person is the best fit for the business. Employing family members may lead to a myriad of problems for the business. Therefore it will be in the best interest of the business not to employ an incompetent family member than have him ruin the business. This is a risky way of running the business.
The feeling of the customer towards the goods or services businesses provide is key to its success or failure. This is because customers can have the most unbiased assessment of the business rather than management and staff. Despite the poor service the bakery openly had on display, no one seemed to have bothered complaining to the owner of the business. So it may seem.
It will be in the best interest of a small business owner to leave an open channel for feedbacks from customers. This isn’t the case with the bakery and some other businesses face this challenge too which may lead to further problems.
The inability to provide an avenue for customers to channel their complaint to the proper individual creates a problem of inaccessibility. Accessibility happens to be an area of strength for small businesses because of their size. In larger businesses, despite creating channels for complaints there is usually no personal relationship between the owners and their customers. This is an area a small business shouldn’t be found wanting.
One would imagine that as a small business, the owner of the bakery should be easily accessible to interact with customers to in order to obtain feedbacks pertaining service and staff performance. This isn’t the case as the business clearly takes this important factor for granted. A lot of customers don’t know the owner of the bakery despite patronising it for years.
On paper the size of small businesses translates to easy accessibility. A closer look will reveal that the owners of small businesses tend to take a lot of things for granted. They fail to realise that they have to be consciously open to the idea and cultivate the habit of seeking feedbacks from customers. A small scale business has to maximise its potential for dynamism and flexibility. If it can’t take advantage of its unique qualities then it’s doomed.
There has been a reduction in the variety of bread baked and in addition to this is the equal reduction in the amount of bread on display generally. From observation it’s clear that patronage has taking a massive hit.
It’s painful witnessing the slow demise of a business with a good product due to its own failures. Having the perfect product won’t on its own keep the small business in business. The odds of the small business surviving aren’t stacked in its favour. It’s more likely to fail than succeed. That’s the bitter truth. However, once it’s able to shake off the niggling teething problems, watch it as it unfolds from a pupa to a beautiful butterfly.
Customers Are The Heart Of Innovative Businesses
Keep your customer at the heart of your business.
One of the main reasons start-ups fail is because they don’t create solutions that meet their customers’ needs. Failure is avoidable. Businesses that understand their customers feelings, challenges, expectations and motivations make themselves indispensable in highly competitive markets because they recognise that true innovation is led by customer insight.
An incredible example of a business that believes in innovation driven by insight is Netflix. They revolutionised the way people watch video content by listening to their customer’s needs. You’ve probably heard the story before: after paying a $40 overdue DVD fee, Reed Hastings co-founded Netflix. He was simply too busy to return his DVD. He recognised that this experience wasn’t exclusive to him, but that it was a problem that many people faced. He saw a gap in the market for receiving and returning videos more effectively, and that is how the $150 billion business was born.
If your start-up doesn’t fulfil a human need, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s not enough to have a cool idea. Ask yourself, “What is the market need behind the offering?” and then test ways of delivering your offering in the most user-friendly manner. Talk to your consumers, understand their likes and dislikes and establish your business purpose before haphazardly allocating funds to R&D.
You can’t go from being a California based DVD-by-mail provider, to becoming the world’s largest online video streaming service without a business plan. It’s important to recognise the step-by-step process of success. Netflix didn’t go from delivering DVD’s to pouring capital into the production of video content within six months. That sort of development would have bankrupt the company almost immediately. It took 21 years for the business to become content creators.
- In 1999, the company became a subscription service because they found that customers preferred paying a monthly fee rather than making a once off purchase.
- Then, in 2009, the company used investor capital to expand their DVD collection because their clients wanted a larger selection of movies.
- In 2010, the business expanded internationally because they saw a gap in the market across various countries.
- Finally, in 2013, Netflix created its first original content series because customers craved fascinating content beyond the overused Hollywood archetype.
The point is: Progress didn’t happen overnight. The business had to set goals and objectives. They then had to fund their growth by presenting market opportunities, backed by customer insights, to their investors. Establish your start-up one step at a time and make sure every progression isn’t innovation for innovations sake – it must be inspired by a human need.
Netflix was founded by a computer scientist and a marketing director. While one partner focused on Netflix’ service development, the other focused on sales. Since the company’s origin, collaboration and balance have been the cornerstones of the business’ success.
Netflix is currently composed of a diverse team of tech-professionals and designers. They understand the importance of combining technology and design to offer customer-inspired user-experiences.
After conducting consumer research, Netflix discovered that series and movie artwork influences viewing decisions by 82%. This has resulted in the creation of more descriptive and provocative designs. Netflix is known for leveraging human-behaviour to revolutionise their service offering.
As an entrepreneur, you can increase your ROI by partnering with the experts that understand human-based innovation.
Keep your customer at the heart of your business.
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