In the broadest sense, companies have always used ‘business intelligence’, or BI, but today it’s a term more widely known through the computer tools designed to collate and harness management data.

The computer system has long been a repository of information from an input point of view, but exploiting its capabilities as a truly dynamic management tool has only recently become commonplace. Although several generations of software have been able to produce reports, their processes could be complex and their data out of date and its potential reduced by the time it’s distributed .

What was needed was refined real time information, pinpointing the key issues about which swift action can be taken. Enter BI.

BI tools are the way forward for distributors and merchants to get the best from their systems. It’s all about unleashing the value of information, presenting it in a clear, dynamic user-friendly way, enabling the recipients to make fast, effective decisions. Three elements have contributed to the introduction of BI tools.

Three elements

Firstly, there’s been a massive increase in computer power – processing capability, storage and on-screen graphics. Secondly, software developers have been able to use this computer power to produce increasingly capable products – BI is just one. Thirdly, software consultants working with the user companies have gained an immense understanding of business requirements, the issues faced daily and, significantly, how best to resolve them.

With new BI ‘information power’ at the desktop, managers can get stuck in with aligning day-to-day performance with business goals and, if it can be measured, it can be improved. Planning and forecasting decisions can be more informed. In a nutshell, it’s so much easier when everything is well presented and clear to understand.

Additional benefits

There are other benefits: access to “management information reports” used to be the preserve of managers. With BI tools in place, managers can focus more on the information that they really need and, at the same time, free themselves up by making information accessible to their staff so that they can be more effective by making ‘on the ground’ decisions. BI can help to expand staff responsibilities and stimulate engagement at all levels.

In our experience there are two parts to introducing BI – the software application tools and implementing the necessary process changes that come with it. BI adds a new dimension to how a business operates and, whilst its potential is limited only by the imagination of the user, some new fundamental disciplines are required to make BI a success.

In our K8 system, we have implemented a series of BI applications suitable for merchants and distributors comprising: workplace for customer, sales, ordering, and stock information; snapshot trading ‘dashboards’; KPI reporting; advanced analysis tools; and user favourites.

Implementing BI means an investment in time, resources and systems and, with a robust foundation in place, there will be significant, far-reaching rewards.