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Over the last several years I have been struggling with the inadequacy of most of the tools at our disposal to actually provide the business with what they really need. We talk about Management Information Systems, and Business Intelligence, but what we are really providing is just sophisticated reports; there is very little real insight, and very little to guide actions. But things have been changing.
When Siebel introduced their analytics product, now part of the Oracle BI family, they introduced the concept of over 90% of the MI being delivered out of the box, even at the enterprise level. Unsurprisingly many people said it was wrong—it lacked functional richness and would never replace a tailored handcrafted solution. I tried it, it was excellent, and I am a fan. Then a couple of years ago I came across KXEN which revolutionised my thinking about data mining. Here was a tool that did in minutes what used to take days if not weeks, and it presented results which were designed to be understood by anyone clever enough to have asked the question in the first place. And now through my contacts at KXEN I have been introduced to Advizor, which I think is one of the most significant steps yet in really delivering what we mean by business intelligence.
I am starting to think that the problem lies in the fact that most of the tools we use today began their life where the only real analysis conducted regularly within a business was done by accountants—people who were numerate, dealt with clearly structured queries and only dealt with structured data. Today we have moved well beyond supporting cost and management accountants into areas of the business where the data is far less well structured, where the queries cannot be predefined, and where the staff involved are not highly numerate and structured in the fashion of an accountant.
I have personally spent much of the last decade working increasingly in Marketing, and have undergone a journey from wishing the people I dealt with could be more structured and analytical, to recognising that their ways of thinking and working are what enables them to think outside of the box and drive business ahead whilst those of us rooted in the traditional thought processes of IT and Finance tend to just look to finesse what we are used to. When dealing with people in Sales and Marketing I have been increasingly frustrated with the tools that we have. As much as I admire what people like SAS, SPSS, Cognos and Business Objects do, they are not productive enough, they do not enable people to operate with sufficient freedom from IT, and the results are not deployable with the ease that I would like to see. The results are not intuitively displayed and to get an answer often involves having to use too many tools for the intended audience to maintain their interest. They want to run a business not become an IT geek.
What I have been after is something that is very easy to use, but is not a toy: it must be capable of serious analysis with full slice and dice, drill down and predictive capabilities. It needs to produce results which are as visual as possible, and which can be readily deployed to enable the impact to be realised quickly. This is what Advizor does. It enables data to be loaded into the tool, it enables analysis to be undertaken, and then it publishes the results. It combines visualisation with in-memory data management and predictive analytics (and that is based on KXEN) and the result is something that I could present to anyone in business and they would not feel intimidated by the technology. They could readily produce consistent and effective analysis which would stand up to anything produced by a so called professional analyst, without the need for any knowledge about SQL, data mapping, statistics, and technology.
One of the things that everyone seems to be talking about today is a dashboard. People are starting to realise that you cannot run a business in today’s fast moving economy by using thousands of reports. You need to have the vital indicators presented to you in such a way that you can see what is important and what can be left on the backburner to look after itself. Technology is part of the issue, but an understanding of how to identify key issues from the myriad of detail that makes up a business of any size at all; and knowledge of how to present results so that it is the results and not the flashy gizmos of the technology that grabs the attention, is just as important.
What really impresses me about Advizor is that they get this. They are not just selling a better bit of technology; they are also helping their customer to understand how to really make Business Intelligence work for them. They work on key issues, they help people to see the wood for the trees, they ensure that the results are presented in such a way that colour coding is consistent, that the story that the analysis is helping to explain is effectively storyboarded so that next actions become clear.
Advizor sets you free from reliance upon IT. It removes the bottleneck of being reliant on others to achieve your goals. The software really is intuitively easy to use; it will not intimidate non-IT staff. The business really can do what it needs to do; anyone who can put together a PowerPoint presentation can use Advizor’s desktop version to conduct analysis and publish it to a professional standard. This is a major breakthrough and I believe that people should take a look at this technology and ask themselves how long they can live without it.