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We’ve all been there: staring at a spreadsheet and trying to determine if it is the correct one to use, questioning if everyone should have access to that level of detail, or wondering if those colleagues who live on their mobile devices will even be able to use this spreadsheet. Maybe your organization has solved the version control issue with SharePoint sites, or shared file systems or even a document management system, which may double as your access control mechanism – at least at the file level. But what if only some of the data within the file should be restricted? Do you have an “all-or-nothing” approach that requires that you extract the data that can be shared into a separate file, and thereby exacerbate the version control issue?

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, and it certainly allows us to handle more complexity, but that can often bring unforeseen complications. The good news is that there are technologies that can help tame and leverage that complexity. The next generation of Business Intelligence tools can work alongside Excel but greatly expand on the analysis, presentation and communication capabilities.

Business Intelligence Tools Provide Robust Self-Service Analytics

Business leaders have new resources and capabilities available in Next Generation Business Intelligence (BI) tools, such as COGNOS, MS Power BI, Oracle BI Foundation and Tableau, and the field is rapidly expanding. These tools are a hybrid of database, analysis, and presentation, and they can magnify the capabilities of analysts and empower all data consumers with scalable, intuitive tools for manipulating, viewing and sharing information. These self-service analytics tools have additional features:

  • Support for mobile devices
  • Works in conjunction with Active Directory and other user security models
  • Captures organizational and other hierarchies (product, time frame, geography)
  • Restricts changes and versions
  • Provides a powerful user interface in which users can customize their own view of the data

These new BI tools still require databases and data input, and that data still needs to be organized and understood. This is a key issue that is often overlooked but remains one of the largest hurdles to turning data into useful information. However, once that underlying data is in place, these tools can significantly shorten the time and effort required to view data in the user’s preferred way – meaning, users can analyze and make use of the data much more quickly and extensively.

These tools work on a “build-once, utilize-many” approach – where “the author” builds a view of centrally captured data and shares that view with other users or “consumers.”  Those data consumers can then further manipulate their view, including:

  • diving into further detail or filtering out unwanted data summarizing on different dimensions
  • drawing linkages across different attributes
  • quickly and easily change formats into any number of visualizations
  • easily access underlying data for exporting and further manipulation, if desired.

Best of all, due to links within your security model, data consumers only see the data and detail for which they are authorized. Furthermore, the data is centralized and can only be changed at the input stage. Consumers of the BI Tools cannot affect the data, and this goes a long way to eliminating version control issues. You still need to control versions at the central data source, but communication tools and “visualizations” will always be the correct version.

None of these tools remove the burden of understanding your data and knowing what the contents of each data field represent, but these tools simplify data and make it more accessible so that people can more quickly get up to speed and turn that data into information.

As your organization begins to use—or enhances existing – BI Technology, Northridge recommends the following approach:

  • Understand the business problem your organization needs to solve
  • Determine the superset of data needed to quantify your desired results
  • Establish which methodology and processes will be needed to build those datasets
  • Utilize a BI tool to view and analyze that data and create a common understanding and communication vehicle
  • Support your team and your users to drive the analytics and derive the information that is contained within your data

The enhancements within Business Intelligence tools will enable your organization to answer the most valuable questions and reach the most impactful solutions. Contact us to determine your organization’s best approach to data analytics and the best BI tool to reach your goals faster.

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