Monthly Archives: November 2010

Delivering Business Intelligence Solutions to SMB Clients

Business Intelligence (“BI”) solutions are critical to today’s business leaders.  Yet almost all leaders of small and medium sized businesses (“SMBs”) have virtually no access to a cohesive, consolidated view of their key data.

What do we mean by “business intelligence solutions”? Well, in a nutshell, implementing a BI solution allows a leader to gain insight into key performance metrics of his/her business.  These metrics can be comprised of a combination of factors including financial, utilization, customer relationship, and any number of other aspects of a business.  The “solution” part comes from the automation of collecting, processing and presenting these key factors in a form that provides useful insight.

Consider this scenario to see if you should be interested.  If you’ve recently sat trying to build or interpret a complex spreadsheet that attempts to capture how your business is really doing, and have been frustrated because it’s too difficult, time-consuming and error prone to get to the information you want, business intelligence solutions are for you!

So, what’s new? In two words – affordable tools! The tools finally exist for SMBs to make developing BI solutions practical and pragmatic.  With virtually every one of our clients, there is a relatively simple and inexpensive way to help provide significant insight into the key metrics for their business.  This can typically be done by mining the existing data that is already collected and generated within their current processes, although it is often beneficial to enhance these processes to collect more relevant “management” data as well. 

Specifically, what we can now do with standardized tools is collect up relevant data from across your business and process and package this data in more meaningful ways. The industry term that represents these “meaningful ways” is “key performance indicators”, or KPIs for short.  In essence, a KPI is a key factor that, if managed properly, will lead your business success.  For example, in our own business, one critical success factor is how well utilized are our staff.  That is, we want to determine if our staff is busy, productive and focused on the right tasks.  By measuring the KPI of staff utilization as a percentage, and measuring it against our target utilization, we gain insight into how well we’re doing relative to our goals, and can take appropriate steps to see this measure constantly improve.  With consolidated information supporting your KPIs, you can better live by the old adage of “you can only manage what you can measure”.

As a leader or manager, here are a few key factors you should begin to consider:

1)      Focus on what are the key success factors for your business, rather than on the data supporting them.  That is, what you need to do is consider what are your business goals, and what measures would give you clearer insight to assess how well you’re doing in achieving those goals.  Finding the data to support this insight is the follow-on task.

2)      Focus on the aspects that will have the most dramatic impact on your success. 

3)      Put plans in place to leverage the insights gained in improving your business, and adjust your processes to make this “feedback loop” be a corporate activity.

4)      Recognize that adding these BI solutions does not replace your existing data management systems, but rather augments them. 

5)      Understand that implementing BI solutions, and altering your business to make use of better analytical information, is an on-going process rather than a one-time project. 

6)      Turn to outside organizations for help.  Today’s BI tools require a specialized skill that most SMBs simply do not have.  This is no different than forging relationships like you already do for external expertise in finance, marketing, phone systems, etc.


R.I.P. Windows XP

Many organizations are asking if the time is right to move to the world of Windows 7. While some have already moved, most are still using the tried and true windows XP. The short answer is yes, now is the time.

To keep debates at a minimum I won’t talk about Vista (it will join Windows ME in the Microsoft Black Sheep club). Most business users will be going from Windows XP Professional to Windows 7 Professional bypassing Vista altogether (wise idea).

We don’t recommend going out and upgrading all your existing workstations to Windows 7 if you are within a year or so of life cycling your existing hardware. If you are in this camp, your replacement workstation will get you to Windows 7 with no additional upgrade costs. If you are more than a year out to replace your hardware, you should consider a complete system upgrade to take advantage of the new operating system.

There are a ton of back end changes in Windows 7 that make things worthwhile but not too many of them are immediately visible to the typical user. Here are some of the nicer features that most people do notice:

-Faster boot up time.
-The “Start” button and taskbar have been redone, it takes a bit to get used to them but once you do I find them much better.
-It has a polished interface, the lines are smoother on windows and the transparency / color options are a nice touch.
-Wireless networks are easier to join and work with.
-Home networking and sharing is much easier thanks to the “Homegroup” feature and shared libraries.
-Accessories are easier to add to your computer (wireless mice and keyboards, webcams, printers, etc.)

The new OS feels like a substantial change and upgrade but still remains familiar enough that you’re not lost when you see it for the first time. I think most people will be able to work their way through the changes without too much difficulty.

Windows 7 won’t completely revolutionize the way you use your computer despite the Microsoft marketing but it’s definitely a solid improvement from XP. After nearly 10 years (it was released in 2001) I think it’s had a good run.

-Al Lefebvre