Well, let’s first start off with, what is Business Intelligence anyway? The standard answer is the application of technology to deliver information to the business and to support decision making processes. Most everyone considers this reporting, but in this day and age of technology, it can mean so much more. The application of Business Intelligence or BI, is much broader in capabilities and direction. Think of normal reporting as driving your car by using only the rear view mirror. Reporting generally comes in the the form of historical representations of what’s already happened, and provides little insight into what’s happening out the front window.
The folks in the finance department are great at analyzing the numbers and generating spreadsheets, but again, how does this help to steer the company and get better in the process?
This is where the application of BI can be leveraged more than simply a reporting tool. Yes, it can and should provide information to help in everyday decision making processes, but it can also be used to improve the business by uncovering flawed business processes.
A typical example of an inefficient business process in the tug and barge industry are the required quarterly executive reviews of the HSQE metrics and key performance indicators. As required by all safety management systems, a quarterly review of defined metrics and KPI’s is compiled by staffers in the safety department. This usually includes such items as lost time injury rates, days without an incident, number of safety drills held throughout the fleet, amongst other leading indicator type statistics. In order to calculate these numbers, staffers can spend in excess of two weeks prior to the executive meeting acquiring data from multiple sources within the organization, then spend time crunching the numbers and jamming the results into a pre-formatted spreadsheet or Power Point presentation. This normally isn’t a one person job either. Every port location has staff who has collected this data over the course of the last 3 months, then spends a few hours summing everything up to be sent to the HSQE staffer.
This situation is not uncommon in the tug & barge industry. The entire safety management system and culture have become more prevalent, although use of technology is limited due to minimal focus on improving business processes. This is where implementation of BI can provide an opportunity to leverage data flow to meet a business objective, in this case a quarterly executive review, as well as streamline the entire process, which, if done with careful thought, will allow staffers more time to focus on activities which truly add value to the organization.
Another example of where BI can be leveraged to improve business results is with accounts receivables. Normally, A/R is left to a lower level clerk who has no visibility to the importance of scale of any particular customer. Then, when collections pile up and the clerk has no other options available, the sales person responsible for the account is asked to get involved. In order to effectively deal with this problem, the sales person usually needs to paint a larger picture of the customer such as recent activity and revenue year-to-date in order to build a leverage profile before calling their customer’s contact. Unfortunately, the activity and revenue data is not accessible by the same A/Rclerk, so the sales person must now go to someone in dispatch, then to accounting to acquire the data he needs. Only after massaging the data in a spreadsheet is the sales person ready to contact the customer. And that’s for just one customer.
Imagine a different situation where, after proper implementation of a BI process, the sales person already knows that a customer is way outstanding through his sales-customer BI tool, and is also afforded activity and revenue numbers in very close to real time, and automatically. The sales person is provided this information through a well defined business process, where he can quickly ascertain a customer’s status and proactively make a call to continue in building a relationship using this knowledge. Yes, technology is being leveraged as the proper tool that it is, but more importantly, it uncovered and resolved a burdensome business process, allowing the sales person more time to focus on sales activities.
So where do you think business intelligence solutions can be applied for your company? Tug fuel burn rates for consumption statistics and emissions reporting, competitive market share data, cargo volumes and volume exchange trends, finance and CRM data. Sound familiar? Take a look at the reports that people generate and ask them where the data comes from. This is often an eye-opening experience. Again, questions of how BI can be leveraged usually uncovers many flawed and inefficient business processes.
Our incessant need for information to understand what’s going on in the business comes with a cost that can’t simply be measured by the IT departments budget. Inefficient processes create tremendous, often immeasurable expense in time and money that also creates frustration with employees. Application of business intelligence provides the opportunity to thoroughly examine these processes with an eye towards improving quality in addition to leveraging technology as an effective tool. How will you use it?
Should you be looking to take on a BI project and don’t know where to start, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 425.686.8209.