Your Small Biz Grows Up: It Needs Business Intelligence (BI)

idea.jpgBusiness intelligence is something that many larger businesses use, but smaller businesses don’t really figure it into their needs. Being smaller, they’re often busy putting out fires and just trying to maintain the profitability levels they have. Investing in business intelligence (BI) software, implementing it and using it, is something they don’t think they need to do.
Birst makes software to help businesses gain intelligence from their streams of data. Their spokesperson helps us understand business intelligence better in the following interview:
How do businesses know if they need Birst. Maybe their spreadsheets are ok?
Most companies know very quickly when they’ve moved beyond spreadsheets. It’s taking too much time, effort, and headaches to create too few reports.
While spreadsheets are viable tools for information gathering, they are no longer adequate enough to meet the needs of today’s business environment. SMBs, in particular, must gather adequate information without wasting time and talent.
Spreadsheets have the following challenges:

  • Manual and time consuming
  • Difficult to maintain version control
  • Difficult to update analyses when data is updated
  • Limits to the amount of data that can be analyzed
  • Difficult to “join” different data sets together – from finance and marketing, for example
  • Difficult to create reports on a regular basis and share with other people in the company
  • Easy for information to get corrupted


What about the built in analytics of the services they use, such as Google Analytics for web sites. In this case is Birst still needed?
The built-in analytics in applications are often inadequate. They don’t have the flexibility and ability to “slice and dice” data that real BI applications have. For this reason, the most frequent request of Google Analytics is a robust API that would allow them to export the data for further analysis. Google recently released an API, but it is very rudimentary. For the same reasons, customers often search for better reporting and analytics solutions for business applications like Salesforce.com.
Also, built-in analytics typically only deal with one data source – the application itself. For example, Google Analytics is a business intelligence tool for web analytics only. SMBs need to look at everything across the business in order to make informed business decisions. Birst tools assist companies in examining all aspects of their business by combining and analyzing data from multiple systems like finance and operations, customer service and the call system, or marketing and websites, all within one solution.
What kind of applications can Birst connect to?
Birst handles data exported from applications like CRM, ERP, and financial accounting software programs. Birst supports Oracle, SQL, MySQL, and ODBC databases, delimited files (commas, tabs, etc.), Microsoft Access database (.mdb or .accdb) files, Excel (.xls or .xlsx) files, and cvs files. Birst also has a pre-built connector to Salesforce.com.
How much user intervention is required for Birst to work well?
Compared with traditional BI solutions, minimal intervention is required for Birst to work well.
That said, Birst is a very broad and powerful BI solution, so it can be applied to many types of tasks for many different types of users. The easiest scenario is a business user uploading clean, uncomplicated data sets for standard reporting. Or, an IT analyst setting up executive dashboards with easy-to-use filters and prompts that allow business users to find the answers that they need quickly, all on their own.
If a company wants to set up terabytes of data from multiple sources that require complex data transformations and calculations, this requires more setup time. However, it’s still significantly faster than attempting to do the same with a traditional on-premise software solution, since Birst is a fully integrated BI solution that leverages automation.
What is Business Intelligence? Is it simply a software product that interprets numbers in Excel or other application’s data?
Business Intelligence solutions analyze critical business information, identify trends, and support business decisions through analysis and reporting. Birst is a BI solution that can integrate information from multiple sources, such as business applications, databases, and spreadsheets, so that business managers can monitor their business and make key decisions.
Business intelligence solutions are an umbrella term for the multiple components required to pull data from multiple systems, warehouse it, analyze it, and create and distribute reports. Birst is unique in that it has integrated these multiple components (which you typically have to buy separately and integrate yourself) into one single offering, which it offers as a subscription service over the internet. It is for this reason that Birst is known as “on-demand” or “cloud” BI.
When choosing a BI tool, how does one know which tool to choose? How do they differ?
Companies considering a business intelligence solution need to carefully consider their needs before selecting a BI tool, since they can be very different.
For example, they would want to consider:
Multi-source functionality Ability to consolidate data from multiple sources, such as sales, marketing, finance, operations, and HR.
Full range of analysis and reporting Ability to provide the full range of business intelligence end-user interfaces, such as:

  • operational reporting/banded reporting
  • dashboards
  • OLAP/slice-dice/pivot
  • alerting
  • Scalability Ability to grow with an organization in terms of scale and complexity (number of data sources, complexity of calculations, diversity of end-user scenarios)
  • Automation Automation to ease and expedite what have been historically the more painful and laborious aspects of BI configuration – data preparation, integration, and metadata management
  • Flexibility Flexibility to expand, enhance and customize applications as needed
  • Cost On-premise software solutions require large upfront investment in order to get started. On-demand solutions like Birst are lower monthly payments, which makes it far less risky and expensive to get started.

What are some costs one can expect? How is pricing done? Per user?
Traditionally, business intelligence solutions were software packages typically priced by number of users and software servers required. In addition to paying for the software, companies also had to pay for implementation services, hardware, and maintenance. These “other” costs could easily be 5 to 10 times the cost of the initial software costs.
As an on-demand solution, costs are simply the monthly subscription price. This covers the software, hardware, and maintenance for that period. For this reason, pricing is not only lower upfront, but lower overall. For specific Birst pricing, it depends on the number of users, amount of data to be analyzed, and the breadth of analytical features desired. Specific pricing is available after consultation with a sales representative.

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Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com . Editor and Founder, Smart Hustle Magazine Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook

2 thoughts on “Your Small Biz Grows Up: It Needs Business Intelligence (BI)

  1. John Krech

    Great post. Business intelligence software is no longer just for big business. Small businesses can now get solutions to not only track their inventory but optimize it. Bottom perfoming companies have NINE times more inventory than their top performing peers. This is a huge drain on cash flow and a could lead to business failure. Business intelligence technology that otimizes inventory is great way to utilize existing data in QuickBooks and other ERP/Accounting packages. You do not have to spend huge dollars and the systems can be easy to use – some solutions are available for as little as $15/month.

  2. Fernando Labastida

    Great post Ramon.I’m starting to see a lot more attention being paid to the software-as-a-service delivery model for BI tools, ease of use of these tools, and the downstream movement of these capabilities to the small business market.

    These are the types of applications that small businesses need to survive as they continue to navigate the recession. They’re not in sales growth mode, so the only way to survive is to cut expenses and inventory, increase customer satisfaction, and maximize profitability.

    It is with BI tools that small businesses can achieve this until the economy picks up and they can begin to focus on increasing sales.

    Great job Ramon!

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