Collaborative business intelligence is common sense

Where traditional business intelligence presents historical data for manual analysis, adding real-time analysis of current events to the mix can deliver enormous benefits.

Australian organisations can now tap on a rather new concept to help drive business growth and competitive advantage. A combination of business intelligence software and collaboration tools has resulted in what many are calling collaborative business intelligence. Applied to company-wide analytics and reporting, collaborative business intelligence allows for better sharing of data and information and a more team approach to decision making.

A recent survey conducted by independent advisory firm Dresner revealed that 60 per cent of respondents ranked collaborative business intelligence as critical or important. The same survey also found that sales and strategic functions of companies place greater emphasis on the need for collaborative business intelligence because the scope of their work is company-wide by nature.

Where traditional business intelligence presents historical data for manual analysis, collaborative business intelligence allows for the real-time analysis of current events alongside historical data. It also allows for interaction between users in the organisation, enabling them to swap perspectives or ask questions about each other’s analysis. It is therefore easy to see how collaborative business intelligence has been touted as the next stage of business intelligence.

The interactive and ‘social’ nature of collaborative business intelligence helps users draw rapid, actionable insights and then share those insights with others. Today’s organisations are complex webs of interacting groups and projects are often created on-the-fly, with demands for near-immediate results. Providing a systematic method for users to draw rapid, actionable insights and then share those insights with their peers is a constant challenge.

Best way to understand large sets of data is… visually

Studies have shown that the human mind processes images simultaneously while it interprets text in a sequential manner. This is why the human mind processes images 60,000 times faster than text. Utilising our natural ability to process and comprehend information visually will help users understand better and save time.

However, the biggest challenge a company faces when interpreting large datasets is often the sheer volume of the data itself. Today, data is constantly gathered from multiple sources, and they can come in great variety – such as voice data from call centers or online data from websites. When interpreting such large amount and varied data traditional displays of spreadsheets and charts may not be the most effective method.

Data visualisation can condense the visual field of large datasets and provide presentations that can be scanned and comprehended quickly. It is also much easier to place data of different types in the same display, such as historical and real-time events in a single picture.

However, in order for data visualisation to work, users must have the capabilities to understand the information that underlies the display, and that information itself has to be useful for the decision at hand. Visualisation has to be interactive and respond to user navigation. This is only possible with software that is able to interpret the relationships between the data and the visualisation models.

Closing the gap between IT and business decision makers

Consulting firm Hired Brains estimates that 80 per cent of employees in commercial organisations find business intelligence to be ‘not useful’ or ‘could live without it’. Irrelevance, challenges in integration and lack of understanding were the most often cited shortcomings of business intelligence.

This can often be traced to the gap between the IT department’s focus on operation and systems, while business executive needs information for decision-making. Bridging this gap will require the recognition by technology providers, practitioners and senior management that analytics has to be institutionalised within their organisations -- not just delivered. This means that project plans for business intelligence have to make provisions for change management (sometimes extensively), and system integrators have to have both the skills and the portfolio to make these changes happen.

Collaborative business intelligence needs to be accepted from the top down, starting with C-suite executives and senior management. It needs to be recognised by management to be a worthwhile company-wide adoption before organisations can take on a cultural shift towards collaborative use of data and analytics, and data-driven decision making.

Ease-of-use and different skill levels

Collaborative business intelligence is social by nature. Successful collaborative business intelligence needs to be easily picked up by users of different skill levels. They also need to be able to allow users to see results fast.

Being easy to use will encourage faster adoption amongst employees, who are the ones who can best drive and foster a data-driven culture within the company. The increased number of users within the company will also allow for maximum effectiveness of collaborative business intelligence platforms, allowing it to take advantage of its benefits, such as improved efficiency and innovation.

Aside from ease-of-use, businesses may also want to take notice of the difference in work styles of different generation of workers. For example, the younger generation of workers who grew up with computers and video games may be likely to readily embrace technology and learn new software quickly, while workers who are less familiar with software may find a cultural-shift to collaborative data-driven decision making more challenging.

Adopting new practices is just the first step in driving a culture based on collaborative, informed decision making. Being able to quickly adapt and react to market changes is crucial for any successful business organisation in today’s competitive business environment.

Data-driven businesses of the future will be able to tap on technologies and tools to allow peers to analyse data, and change information via the web. Collaboration business intelligence tools of the near future will allow teams to brainstorm ideas conveniently, remotely and seamlessly interact with each other using features like those on social networking websites. Finally, successful collaboration business intelligence means decision making can be a true team effort, no matter where the team members are located geographically.

Alan Eldridge is a strategic sales consultant at Tableau Software