SMBs Struggle To Corral Business Intelligence Data

Integration of distinct data sources is the big BI headache inside small and midsize businesses, study says.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

October 5, 2011

3 Min Read

12 Brawny Business Intelligence Products For SMBs

12 Brawny Business Intelligence Products For SMBs

Slideshow: 12 Brawny Business Intelligence Products For SMBs(click image for larger view and forslideshow)

The chief business intelligence (BI) challenge these days for smaller companies? Trying to corral multiple data sources into something they can actually use.

In a new study commissioned by LogiXML, 70% of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) listed "accessing and bringing all data sources together" as their biggest pain point when it comes to BI. The survey included 605 IT pros and end users from departments such as sales, marketing, and finance.

"Unlike their enterprise counterparts, who have these big IT infrastructures that allow them to create datamarts and warehouses to bring this stuff together, most SMBs are relying on their BI [applications] to go directly at these data sources--and to bring them together in some unified view," said LogiXML chief marketing officer Ken Chow, in an interview. Chow said unstructured data from sources such as social media is a big part of what he calls "the data problem," though the survey didn't differentiate between structured and unstructured so as to not exclude or confuse non-technical users.

[Learn 6 Ways BI Can Improve SMB Budget Planning.]

Setting up data models and formulas for analysis (59%), and presenting results in a clear manner (57%) such as visualization were also top challenges. Interestingly, "getting the necessary support from IT" ranked last (32%) on a list of five obstacles in the study. But that doesn't necessarily mean that resources are no longer an issue, Chow said. Rather, just 29% of SMBs indicated that they had the proper amount of IT skills and staff to achieve their BI goals; the other 71% reported lacking one or both.

Those goals remain fairly ordinary for now, with reports and dashboards topping the list of BI needs. Forecasting and predictive analytics, as well as basic operational metrics, were the most common uses. "Basic reporting and dashboarding hasn't gone anywhere," Chow said. "[SMBs] are still looking for good, solid, basic decisionmaking information first and foremost."

Awareness of and interest in mobile BI platforms is relatively strong, but actual usage is minimal, according to Chow. "There's still more talk than there is deployment going on," Chow said. He attributes that in part to consumerization. Since adoption of some of the more popular mobile devices--such as Apple's iPad--has often been motivated more by employees rather than SMB purchase orders, actual business applications such as mobile BI have to play catch-up.

"Much of it was really driven by the consumer uptake of tablets and smartphones," he said. "It's less about [SMBs] rushing to deploy smartphones and tablets than about them being there [already] and existing as this legitimate venue for delivery of information."

Chow noted that while you might expect greater interest in social and collaborative BI elements in larger companies, the study found those were viewed as more important by small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. He speculated that it could have something to do with the typical employee profile of those firms.

"A lot of smaller companies we spoke to are younger startups," Chow said. "They're probably staffed--if not owned and begun--by people who perhaps have a greater level of familiarity and expectations when it comes to things like social interactions in the business world."

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About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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