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3. Start looking at meta-data management tools

 
 
By Ericka Chickowski  |  Posted 2009-08-24
 
 
 

The rich, actionable data provided by effective business intelligence systems aren’t just for large enterprises. Small to medium organizations can take advantage, too. Given the right process changes, and some help from channel partners to implement them alongside appropriate technology, SMBs can make decisions more quickly and bump up revenue through BI, according to Aberdeen Group research out this month. In its report, BI for the SMB 2009: How to Slash Cost and Empower the Business User, Aberdeen found that among SMBs with revenues less than $1 billion, those who employed BI best practices saw an average of 29 percent year-over-year revenue growth versus the 4 percent growth of those who did not employ BI best practices.

The following nine steps are recommendations for small and medium organizations  to improve their BI intelligence. They all provide channel partners great opportunity to not only sell BI tools, but to layer consulting and services on top of those.

1. Define business unit KPIs and embed those into company strategy
Aberdeen Group says:

Developing a network of performance metrics focuses business units on the operational activities that drive performance. With the right KPIs, SMBs can better execute strategy and set themselves up for success.

Channel Insider says:
SMB executives rarely have the business or technical wherewithal to establish meaningful metrics and measure them. Channel partners with extensive business expertise or those who team up with business consultants can package up KPI development with BI tools deployment.

2. Lose the dependence on spreadsheets
Aberdeen Group says:
Depending on spreadsheets as the primary means of information analysis throws up major obstacles in productivity for organizations looking to up their business visibility.

Channel Insider says:
The channel can help wean SMBs off spreadsheets through incremental and successful deployment of tools—basically bite-sized projects that won’t break the bank. Start with low-hanging fruit and build off the ROI your customer will see to sell into more projects once BI has proven itself. For example, Aberdeen suggests the "land and expand" method of spreading BI throughout the organization—starting projects on a business unit by business unit basis.

3. Start looking at meta-data management tools
Aberdeen Group says:

The SMBs that do BI right are six times more likely to use meta-data management tools. These tools help SMBs ensure that one set of data definitions is used across BI systems, no matter what data source.

Channel Insider says:
The difficulty of folding data from numerous sources into BI information-crunching applications is one of those big, scary complications that keeps SMBs from buying into BI in the first place. Selling meta-data tools as enablers to other BI applications neutralizes the fear and will make your client much more effective at pinpointing and using the right information to inform business strategy.

4. Set up cross-functional teams to facilitate BI deployment
Aberdeen Group says:
A multidisciplinary team helps a business better understand the needs of the organization in order to deploy targeted BI more quickly and with less fuss.

Channel Insider says:
Before channel partners roll out a pervasive BI deployment, they’ll greatly improve chances for success if they assist in the development of cross-functional, in-house teams to facilitate BI projects. These teams provide a needed interface between business units, IT and your third-party operators in order to ensure the system you drop in will line up with business needs.


5. Architect usage monitoring into BI systems
Aberdeen Group says:
The full capabilities of most BI tools are overkill for the typical SMB. In order to achieve the best return on BI investments, SMBs should measure functionality usage to get a window into which BI elements offer the most ROI for their organizational needs.

Channel Insider says:
It may seem like a no-brainer, but your customer wants to know how often its users are taking advantage of specific functions within their BI systems. The more details you provide, the better able they can measure ROI. And the better they can do that, the more likely they’ll expand BI in further projects. Plus, smart channel partners with multiple customers can aggregate information from usage monitoring and leverage it in their sales pitch. For example: "75 percent of the users we manage take advantage of this functionality, therefore we recommend you include it in your implementation.



6. Invest in formal training
Aberdeen Group says:
The best way to speed up time-to-information and action is to improve employee proficiency in BI systems. Plus, training cultivates a BI culture that embeds dependency on BI in the decision-making framework.

Channel Insider says:
Again, SMBs just don’t have the resources to come up with informed and targeted training programs out of thin air. Channel players do. Resellers can truly add value (and make more money!) by bundling up product and process training with the deployment of BI technology and tools. Not only is this a great service for the customer, it is also self-serving. The BI stuff you sell is a lot more likely to gain traction within a trained organization, giving you a much better shot at future sales.


Implement customer-facing dashboards
Aberdeen Group says:
Easily accessible dashboards with views into things such as customer account history, order history, new product releases or discounted products and services bolsters customer loyalty.

Channel Insider says: Most of your SMB clients will be familiar with the traditional idea of utilizing BI as a tool for internal workers to inform their work. But they probably don’t realize that it can also be leveraged outwardly to offer powerful information visibility to customers that very well may help them retain customers and keep them satisfied—something the SMB sorely needs in a downturn like this. By pulling this rabbit out of their hat, channel partners can especially help those customers with an already-high level of BI maturity to further hone their capabilities.


 
8. Establish a BI "center of excellence"
Aberdeen Group says:
Already mature SMBs can improve intelligence performance by establishing an independent BI center of excellence that looks for BI opportunities, communicates best practices and facilitates training across the organization.
 
Channel Insider says:
Say you’ve got a customer that’s already deployed a number of BI tools, implemented training and even developed a cross-functional team to guide future BI deployments. But this organization still wants to make adjustments that will amp up BI usage throughout the business and improve the effectiveness of existing BI assets. This is the type of high-maturity organization that is ripe for the development of a center of excellence to achieve those BI goals. While Aberdeen analysts suggest an independent internal organization, this is a good opportunity for channel consultants to stand in and fill the role as an unbiased and trusted third-party. By outsourcing the leadership of the BI center of excellence, the typical SMB can sidestep the political morass that may develop from carrying this function in-house.



9. Re-evaluate BI software licensing, deployment and service options
Aberdeen Group says:

The rapidly evolving field of BI is trending toward capabilities that are open and standards-based, offering greater opportunities for better buying scenarios.

Channel Insider says:
Vendor and contract analysis are one of the most fundamental value propositions offered by quality VARs. Channel partners that stay on the lookout for more competitive licensing and deployment options will engender trust and satisfaction among their customers. Don’t think of more affordable or open-source tools as a cut in your revenue stream. Very often businesses will pour their savings back into BI investments in value-added services that mean better margin for channel partners anyhow.