Business Analytics Adoption Part 1: Operational Reporting
Find out about the development of business analytics and how it has grown from operational reporting, which gave us data but impacted performance.
I have been in the IT industry long enough, in fact more years than I would like to admit to, but as soon as computers started entering businesses there has always been a demand for some kind of reporting, whether it was sales analysis, stock analysis or whatever the business required to make more informed decisions. So the whole area of business analytics is not new, we just have better tools and more data available to us today than we did when I started in the business back in the seventies.
Development of BI and Business Analytics
At that time, it was all about producing reams of flowline paper reports with detailed analysis that users would slave over to get the answers they were looking for. I can remember one report that I was responsible for producing was way over a thousand pages in length and was produced weekly for the inventory manager of a well know cosmetic company. More often than not he would turn to the last page and read off the final totals, however I couldn’t convince him to have a report with just the totals. Remember, this was before the advent of each user having access to a computer screen let alone a mobile device!
In this series of blog posts, I’m going to look at the steps to Business Intelligence adoption. This is built from my observations of being in the IT industry all my working life and from being involved in business analytics for over 25.
It has become clear to me over the years that customers follow a similar journey in their adoption of business analytics and it has become Triangle’s mission to assist them along this journey. Using our experience, we are able to offer guidance and assistance with their journeys, tailored to their specific needs and requirements. Our aim is to make sure that our customers enjoy working with Triangle regardless of who they engage with within our company.
So let’s start at the beginning with my first Step to BI adoption:
STEP 1 – Operational Reporting
Typically, operational systems are poor when it comes reporting. ERP systems are excellent in producing transactional reports but when it comes to producing analysis over a given time period or comparing one product group with another product group organised by customer then they tend to fall short of what is required. It’s for these reasons that customers look for something better.
Customers start off looking for a tool that has improved reporting capabilities and typically select a business intelligence reporting product. The journey starts here. The customer buys a handful of licences and maybe a few days of training and points the tools at their operational systems. They have been a dream that this product will resolve all their problems, however what they have is a set of tools and they need to construct an application. Some customers go it alone and struggle with the tools, and some engage a consultancy to help them on this part of their journey. Most end up with some nice BI reports for their users and word soon gets around that they can now have better looking reports from the system and demand starts to grow.
Of course all these BI tools tend to use SQL code to query the databases and as we all know SQL can be very power hungry. So what happens next is inevitable. The operational systems start to slow down and the culprit is soon identified as the new BI tool. IT start by trying to restrict the usage of the system in an attempt to limit the impact on the operational systems. New hardware is considered to provide more power to cope, but we’re on a losing game. The users are putting pressure on IT to provide the service the users require. What can we do?
STEP 2 – Isolate the Culprit
So what we see next is that the operational database is copied each night to another server and the BI tool is pointed at the new server for its reporting queries to run. The operational databases are now freed from the intensive querying from the BI reports and the line of business systems performance is restored. IT is now happy that the users are no longer complaining about performance and the report users are happy that they have a shiny new server to themselves and their reports are running nicely.
This works for a while but soon other issues are encountered. Unless the customer is running some type of mirroring software the data on the reporting server is always out of date, it’s not real time. This isn’t a problem for most business reports but the users have been used to getting real time reporting with up to the minute figures and the new “improved” system isn’t delivering this. However, the real time element of reporting is normally a very small part of the business requirement.
There are other issues associated with a copy of the operational database and this revolves around the design of the database. The operational database is designed to support the operational systems, not analytic reporting. This is fair enough, after all most operational systems need a very fast response over a small subset of data e.g. display all the orders for a customer, or show me the stock level for a given product. But this doesn’t help when it comes to producing the more complex reports that are often required for the business.
So where do we go next? Step 1 gave us access to reporting from the operational system with up to date information but as the reporting tools became more popular it started to have an effect on performance. In Step 2 we saw an IT response to the issues and we moved a copy of the database to its own server ,but although this resolved the immediate issues other issues started to become apparent.
The users start asking for more sophisticated reports and quite frankly the database doesn’t make servicing their requests easy.
In my next blog post we will investigate the next steps of business analytics adoption.
In the meantime, if some of these issues resonate with you, or you are just starting out on your business analytics journey come and have a chat with us. It might just save you time and money and point you in the right direction. At Triangle we are experts in helping our clients navigate their way to a successful business analytics implementation.
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