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The Case for Business Intelligence

Business intelligence is increasingly becoming an integral part of organisational culture. It is no longer a ‘can have’ but a ‘must have’. That’s because in a data-driven economy, it gives decision-makers across an organisation the ability to harness data, draw insights and come to meaningful conclusions.

Monique Verduyn




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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Improving efficiency 

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.”

Read Next: Is That a Growth or a Strategy Problem?

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.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.


Why Smart Business Growth Means Smart IT Budgeting

(…And how to do it)

Colin Thornton




For any business today, no matter its size or sector, getting the IT budget right has become a critical part of success and sustainability.  The difference between a three-device network and a fifty-device network has significant ramifications for your IT spend and your overall budget outlook.

Let’s take a closer look at several potential costs and how to plan for them…

Network: The driving force

Essentially, the network is the backbone/core of your IT infrastructure. It needs to be reliable, fast and efficient. Often, a young and growing business will have a piecemeal network in place, bolting on new sections over time. This can lead to the network becoming inefficient and slow.

The important thing to note is that when you have reached capacity on your current network, is it’s sometimes better to start from scratch and also leave room for expansion down the line (rather than adding to the existing network as a quick fix).

While it may appear more costly (and scary), the end result is a reliable network that you won’t have to worry about revamping for many years.

Related: How Dial A Nerd Managed To Dial Up Profits

Licensing: Pricey but critical

Software licensing often comes as an unexpected (and unpleasant) cost to many business owners and their financial teams. Indeed, purchasing legal software can be pricey if you aren’t prepared for it (and don’t understand how it all works!). However, if you buy software licenses in bulk, or commit to a longer term, they can cost far less…so again, budgeting intelligently for your business growth can save you money in the long term. Also remember that many software licenses nowadays can be rented on a per user per month basis so its flexible and always up-to-date.

Maintenance: Be realistic

As the business grows and expands, so too will your IT maintenance needs. The key factor to note is to carefully consider the potential costs of IT failures and hardware issues. You need to take into account that you will undoubtedly have to spend money on maintaining your computers and overall network – and breakdowns can be extremely costly in downtime and lost productivity.

Some businesses find that it makes good financial sense to employ someone to be an IT technician in addition to taking on other responsibilities – but this person may not have the right expertise and experience to manage everything. The other increasingly popular option is to outsource your IT management.  With flexible pricing options now available to businesses, this is becoming a viable and often much more flexible route to take.

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Company Posts

Think Beyond The Box

With a holistic view of your business finances and admin in place, Sasfin’s new digital banking platform is engineered to help you grow your business.






Welcome to the banking platform designed to support your banking needs. In response to more than 50 years of financing and supporting SMEs, Sasfin has launched a digital banking platform, B\\YOND, to help address the pain points and pressures that business owners face in South Africa.

“We’ve spent decades understanding what makes SMEs succeed or fail, and a lot of it begins with how well a business owner understands their finances,” says Sasfin CEO, Michael Sassoon.

“Failed SMEs often tend to either neglect or become completely consumed by their finances and admin. We wanted to create a platform that could help them take control of these factors, and give them a full 360-degree view of their businesses.”

B\\YOND was built to enable businesses to attend to their finances and admin seamlessly, thereby ensuring that entrepreneurs can focus on their clients — driving revenue and enhancing their products and services in the process.

Related: What To Consider When Investing Your (Hard-Earned) Money

Everything you need on one platform

According to Sassoon, entrepreneurs on the B\\YOND platform will never need to set foot in a branch again. The sophisticated technology incorporates many value-added services at no additional cost, including:

  • B\\YOND online applications: Businesses with multiple shareholders and directors can apply online, by uploading documents and signing the application digitally.
  • B\\YOND payroll: A simple-to-use and SARS-compliant payroll function enables business owners to perform their own payroll management.
  • B\\YOND invoicing: Businesses can create and send personalised quotes and invoices directly from the platform.
  • B\\YOND insights: Smart dashboards generated through clever account and transaction classification and tagging helps manage revenue and expenses, and keep track of projects.
  • B\\YOND integrations: Direct-feed integration into Xero ensures that small businesses and their accountants can safely and seamlessly connect their Sasfin Bank transactional data with Xero, the fastest growing cloud-based accounting software provider in the world.

Serving the entrepreneur

While there is much in store for the next versions of B\\YOND, the platform currently offers business leaders the basic tools they need to run their businesses smoothly in one place at no additional cost, with the ability to bank at their convenience.

“Sasfin has always existed to serve the entrepreneur and investor, the two key drivers of the South African economy and it bothers us that there is such a high failure rate of entrepreneurs in our country. We have spent the last three years building B\\YOND — a future-fit digital banking platform to help these entrepreneurs,” says Sassoon.

Engineered for success

Sasfin has gone above and B\\YOND to bring you a new digital banking platform that gives you the tools to make managing your business simple and profitable.

B//YOND is a value-add to all Sasfin Transctional Banking clients

Bank outside the box

The Sasfin Transactional Banking Business Account is designed for SMEs who want to focus on what they’re most passionate about — their business — while their banking platform not only sweats the small stuff for them, but helps manage and grow their business.

  1. Do you spend unnecessary time on banking?
  2. Does your bank pay you market-leading annual interest rates?
  3. Does your bank give you easy cash management in real-time?
  4. Would you like to manage your payroll and invoicing from your bank account?
  5. Does your bank help you keep track of your cash flow, manage your admin, and provide you with the set of tools you need to help run your business successfully?

Sign up today and have access to a whole new world of banking better for your business.


Call 0861 SASFIN for more information.

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A Short Cut For Corporates To Digital Innovation: Start-ups

Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

Charlie Stewart




If there is one anathema in corporate culture, it is failure. With profit to be made and share prices to increase, failure is simply not an option. And yet, when listening to stories about success in the digital space, failure is there to put one on the right path to success. The phrase ‘Fail fast, Fail often’ is often bandied about, and innovation can be seen as a constant process of iteration, test and failure, repeating this until a well refined service or product is on the table.

Many corporates are waking up to the uncomfortable fact that at a structural level, the type of innovation required to grow in today’s digital landscape, is out of their reach, at least when trying to come up with it internally. So what to do? Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

1. The start-up solution

Corporates comfortable in the digital space – Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon – have been buying startups for years, and now companies are realising that when it comes to Blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning, they need to turn elsewhere. And they are. Matt Garratt, Vice President of Salesforce Ventures noted that of the roughly 1500 tech acquisitions Stateside in 2016, half of them were bought by non-tech companies, showing that buying a start-up is a quick way to acquire new technologies, skills or patents.

Related: Why Optimism Isn’t Enough – You Need To Also Accept The Brutal Facts

But purchasing a company with a fully developed product can be an expensive and often risky play. Instead we are beginning to see a trend where corporates are framing agile startups as solution providers, offering them seed funding to come up with answers to digital headaches.

In the US, defence contractor Lockheed Martin has turned its investment strategy around, focusing on young startups instead of more mature companies. In the region of $20 million was ploughed into startups in 2017, helping Lockheed Martin to get a slice of the pie in fast moving spaces such as cybersecurity, autonomous vehicles and nanotechnology.

2. Outsourcing the problem

For corporates turning to start-ups, there are two benefits. Firstly, by doing so companies are casting their net a bit wider, with not only more eyeballs on the problems but, importantly, without the restraints of the corporate boardroom. There is more out-of-the-box thinking involved, no internal politics to worry about and far less of a threat of somebody’s career being jeopardised.

Secondly, if a start-up comes up with a solution, investing in the fledgling company can be cheaper than purchasing one with an established solution. If a buy-out is on the cards, it is less risky too since the due diligence process has been worked through and cultural challenges have been ironed out.

But not all start-ups actually want a buy-out. Some rather prefer access to market and skills transfer, especially around the commercial side of business. Yes, they do need investment, so companies can provide them with a proof of concept to take their idea forward, or potentially a more structured form of investment in their business. 

3. Cape Town: the start-up hub of Africa

Locally, Cape Town can be seen as the tech start-up hub of Africa, and is certainly a good place for corporates to start sniffing around for that digital innovation golden ticket. Events such as last year’s AfricArena conference proved that Cape Town can be a fruitful hunting ground. 80 start-ups from across Africa attended the inaugural event, and were tasked to find solutions to problems provided by corporates beforehand. Air France, for example, was looking for innovative mobile solutions, the City of Cape Town wanted to see how technology can be used to improve the tourism industry, while RCS asked for a loyalty programme to match a new credit programme.

Related: 7 Ingredients Of Small Business Success Online

By all accounts the event was a major success, connecting start-ups with corporates and investors, both attending the event and dialing in. The winner of Air France’s challenge, mobile payment solution provider WeCashUp, received multiple offers of investment and the project has moved on to the proof-of-concept phase.

4. The start-up lifeboat

Many companies need to face up to the fact that the current corporate structure they are working within does not allow for the type of innovation required to adapt to, never mind thrive, in a digital world. South African companies were perhaps sheltered from the digital tsunami that has eviscerated the analogue business world, but the wave has hit our shores. If it is innovation that is needed, it is time to turn to agile startups, far better adapted to a sink-or-swim digital environment, to come up with the solutions.

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