As businesses become more complex and track more data we often find our clients struggling to use their information well. Business Intelligence is a core service we offer to clients. We will work with executives, managers, and auditors to determine how information can help them achieve their goals. We typically start with a simple dashboard customized to each user. We then provide search tools based on needs and ultimately move to proactive dashboards which help alert users to potential problems before they develop. At the end of the day our clients win over their competitors because they manage problems weeks before their competitors would even know issues where present.
One of the first questions we try to help clients answer is what is the value of their business intelligence project. Usually this is as simple as asking what questions they have that they want their BI project to solve. On client needed to know average allocation of dental staff across their hospitals. We asked what the value was and their answer was "If the ratio of staff vs. patients is higher then .2 we will save $10 million from a lawsuit." In that case value was easily defined. Sometimes it's a little trickier. For instance if your online dashboard lets you know your are getting low on inventory for a certain product how much does that save you? Or, if you know customers are purchasing the red t-shirt more then the blue one what is the value of knowing that today instead of at the end of the quarter? Before you jump into a business intelligence project determine the value of the information.
There is a lot of hype around big data and a lot of confusion as well. The term "Big Data" can cover a lot of ground so let us share a few ways we have helped clients when they have come to us.
A simple use of big data is publishing huge amounts of information so many people can search it. We have helped many government agencies and political organizations create big data web portals. We first start by taking huge amounts of data that is often poorly formatted, difficult to access, and often needs to be pulled from multiple sources. Once the data is collected and organized we will then determine how users will need to search that information. Depending on the type of data we often build out ways to search by location. For instance if we have tax information by county we may allow the user to enter their zip code into the online web portal to find tax information for the county that matches the zip code. At the end of the day the goal is to publish vast amounts of information to as many people as possible. We were able to help one client publish 4.5 billion individual pieces of data in an interactive online format. Within days of the public data portal going live news reporters were asking questions about key pieces of data they had found.
Often the goal of big data is not to search for individual transactions but to make sense of trends in the information. This often occurs when you are trying to predict the need for future resources or to look into the past to find issues you didn't see at the time. In this case the primary focus is on collecting as much information as possible, organizing it and then trying to provide data visualization so humans can easily make sense of the information. One of our national clients was able to publish an online survey that was filled out buy thousands of the nations leading business people. As the information came in it was de-identified to protect the individual businesses and then trends about the strength of the business community as a whole was published. The projects was so successful it was ultimately funded by GE Capital as an annual publication.