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2/22/2008
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The Road To Pervasive BI

If you're not using business intelligence tools throughout your workforce, it's time to start--or get left behind in your competitors' dust

Smarter, Better, Faster

BI makes companies smarter, better, and faster. This kind of value-add requires a proactive approach, but, with the frenetic pace at many companies, such opportunities get overlooked or are seen as optional. A mail-order business may grind to a halt if the order-entry system crashes, but not if BI fails. This is where competitive forces are driving BI. In an era when customers can get product information online, finding ways to provide better service and lower prices is the key to survival. BI enables this.

chart: The smaller the company, The more BI
Many companies deploy BI tools predominantly to business analysts and power users. 1-800 Contacts, the world's largest supplier of mail-order contact lenses, is an exception. It began its BI initiative with front-line workers, call center agents who directly influence sales; now more than 60% of its employees use BI.

1-800 Contacts faces stiff competition from the eye doctors who write the contact lens prescriptions it relies on for business, so the company's service and price has to be better than that of the prescribers. That's where BI comes in: A call center dashboard lets agents see what a customer has ordered in the past, recommend complementary products, and predict when the customer will need to reorder. Agents also can track their own performance on the dashboard. Agents were "clamoring for information," says Dave Walker, VP of operations, and what they complained about most was having "to wait until the next morning to look at a piece of paper taped to the wall to see how they were performing." The week the dashboard went live, the company saw an immediate lift in sales, says senior analyst Christopher Coon.

For BI to become pervasive, companies must first see data as a strategic asset to be exploited. This requires a mix of vision, faith, and creativity. There are signs that BI is becoming a must-have business tool that's no longer strictly optional. The spate of recent vendor acquisitions—Oracle-Hyperion, SAP-Business Objects, and IBM-Cognos—as well as Microsoft's new PerformancePoint offering reflect BI's increasingly strategic importance.

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