Business Intelligence that won’t Break the Bank

May 16, 2012

Business Intelligence that won’t Break the Bank

Many small and medium-sized businesses are failing to take full advantage of the data that is available to them. We are in the decade of Big Data, where sales and social interactions have moved from meatspace to cyberspace, inaugurating an era in which human activity is recorded and can be processed and analysed. If your company isn’t taking advantage of businesses intelligence software for marketing, sales, and social analytics, then they might as well be doing a dance and hoping it rains.

The purpose of business analytics software is to corral all that data and help users to make connections and spot trends that otherwise would be very difficult to see. To get the maximum ROI for marketing and sales budgets, it’s crucial to be able to target campaigns where they will do the most good, and that requires an empirical approach to planning. A couple of years ago Gartner predicted that 35 percent of the top 5000 global corporations would fail to make insightful decisions about changes in the markets they address because of a lack of business intelligence, and what goes for international megacorporations applies even more to SMEs who neglect the power that leveraging the data available to them can bring.

The big names in business analytics are well known: SAP, IBM Cognos, SAS; they are also very expensive, often well beyond the budgets of SMEs.  There are, however, a number of open source, “freemium”, and free-to-use services available.

One of the foremost open-source business intelligence suites is the Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT), an Eclipse-based collection of tools that can be integrated with Java and Java EE applications, among others, to provide a rich set of reports, data transformations, and business logic and presentation features. Integrating BIRT with an application hosted on Steadfast’s cloud or dedicated servers will help companies to extract the maximum value from their data.

The advantage of using open source platforms like BIRT is that users avoid vendor lock-in. They can go it alone with the Community edition,  or pay for full support and additional modules from experts and developers, all without having to sink a huge investment in licensing fees.

For companies that have very large amounts of data to process, the infrastructure costs can be prohibitive. Infrastructure-as-a-Service products like Google BigQuery offer a way for companies to easily and quickly analyse large amounts of data without having to make significant capital investments. BigQuery is a RESTful web service that can carry out interactive analyses of huge datasets using an SQL dialect to make queries. BigQuery can handle billions of rows and many terabytes of records. As with most cloud services, users pay for only the processing and bandwidth they use.

Companies who would like to dip a toe in BI before committing to a larger scale project, should take a look at the newly launched Small Business Dashboard from Yahoo!, which offers a free tier with reputation management and web analytics. The services offered are limited when compared to comprehensive BI projects like BIRT, but it’s a great start for those looking to discover how business intelligence can improve the focus of their social media and email marketing efforts.

Do you find business intelligence software useful? Are you using it? If not, why not? Let us know in the comments below.