Software // Information Management
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5/4/2010
01:20 PM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Moving BI from 'Nice to Have' to 'Mission Critical' for Small and Midsize Businesses

It's hard to tout "smarter decisions" to a business person who is worried about making payroll or juggling now-smaller lines of credit... Am I drinking the industry Kool-Aid to think companies of all sizes need BI?

Last week I attended the IT Alliance, a group of professional service firms where BI services range from emerging to flourishing. Many of these firms service the SMB (small to mid-sized businesses) market, historically from an accounting systems or an ERP perspective.

For many small to mid-sized businesses, business intelligence is still a "nice to have" and not the mission-critical app it is in larger companies. During the panel I moderated on BI, one service provider lamented the long sales cycle in BI (a year!). Another spoke of their BI services not being profitable for three years, and it sounded to me like they were doing everything right. These are discouraging prospects for what is otherwise a growing marketing segment, and for a solution that most BI practitioners consider a must-have. Am I drinking the industry Kool-Aid to think companies of all sizes need BI?I'm not sure how we elevate BI to mission critical in SMBs. It's hard to tout "smarter decisions" or "business improvement" with a business person who is worried about making payroll or juggling now-smaller lines of credit. It's like trying to tell someone to save for college when they are struggling to buy this week's groceries. And yet, I do believe that BI can make juggling that payroll and cash flow easier... eventually.

I can't think of a silver bullet for BI in SMBs, but a few lessons come to mind:

1. Start small. 2. Pick the biggest pain point with the most reward. For cash strapped companies, that may mean something as targeted as a BI solution that helps monitor and reduce the aging of receivables. Or cleansing master data and improving marketing campaigns to both lower expenses and improve revenues (did a local travel agent really just send me three copies of the same glossy brochure to Cindi, Cindy, and C.?!). 3. Boot strap the first project. Some of the firms last week talked about the high cost of entry into BI, but I think that is an old stigma. There are robust offerings from Software-as-a-Service BI firms (Birst, PivotLink, Indicee) that are pay-as-you go and lower-cost options to get up and running. There are also free software versions, whether open source, bundled such as Microsoft, or limited editions such as MicroStrategy. Even the mega vendors have SMB editions that run about $20K, whether SAP BusinessObjects Edge Series or IBM Cognos Express. And there are dozens of products that have free-trials and are easy to deploy (QlikView and Tableau, to name just a couple). All of these approaches help lower the entry cost to BI.Sometimes for BI to be accepted and supported, seeing is believing. It's easier for a company to believe BI is mission critical once they have at least a single, hard benefit to prove the point.

Sincerely, Cindi Howson, BI ScorecardIt's hard to tout "smarter decisions" to a business person who is worried about making payroll or juggling now-smaller lines of credit... Am I drinking the industry Kool-Aid to think companies of all sizes need BI?

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