Business Intelligence Software

New generation gets benefit of friendlier business intelligence

The desire to harness data processing for actionable information has been around for as long as computers themselves. It’s not enough for machines to calculate faster than our most brilliant mathematicians or to retain memory in a manner superior to even the best variety act. We also need them to nudge us towards making smart decisions: where to open new stores, the best adjacent markets to move into, what would happen if we moved assets from here to there, how we can tighten our supply chains and reduce our risk exposure.

Survey after survey shows that CEOs want CIOs to provide them with the tools that underpin strategy and the game-changing insights that transform business, industries, the world even. That has led to wave after wave of software from the old executive information systems, to data warehouses and marts and today’s tools that emphasise the ability of non-specialist data analysts to be able to extract usable information, and present and share that with colleagues and partners.

Today, companies like Birst and Tableau embody the new, pluralist, user-friendly face of BI but the company that arguably began the new wave is Qlik (formerly QlikTech). I spoke to one Qlik user who is emblematic of the new BI.

Perry Willis, head of EMEA IT at global real estate firm Colliers International, has been using the QlikView BI dashboard for over five years to drive insight and savings across almost 16,000 staff in 63 countries.

“We’ve built up quite an extensive knowledge across the region as to how to use the tool,” he says. “We’re looking at the information we have on our clients and their information sources and we can apply our market knowledge and deliver information back with a certain emphasis. It’s not just about replacing reporting or static documents or Excel sheets; it’s about pulling on information that sometimes they don’t even realise they’ve got.”

One challenge that is being addressed by the new breed of BI players is the old one of ‘making it easy enough so even the CEO gets it’. The exciting visualisation options of the new tools make this possible.

“Visualisation is paramount to getting information across, particularly to the C-suite,” Willis says. “Our main point of reference is probably property directors. It’s about empowering other people with the knowledge they need.”

That often means that the 30-plus active Qlik users work hand in hand with partners.

“We regularly look at the marketplace for end clients and present that with the terminology and knowledge the client would understand, even if that’s industry-centric and not plain English. As an IT team we work alongside consultants who are not techies. We work as a team and there are a lot of blurred lines between IT and the business.”

Colliers recently began using Qlik Sense analytics to work more closely with senior managers to make for that most elusive of goals: data-driven business decisions such as with merger-and-acquisition evaluations where the usual efficiencies can be identified but also new growth areas. Willis says that Qlik Sense lets him put data and visualisation directly into the hands of senior decision-makers and, in tandem with QlikView, to get a panoramic view of the company’s operations.

Over at the National Trust, which protects the UK’s historic houses, gardens and other destinations, head of data science Dean Jones has another challenge that he addresses using Tableau’s technology.

“Two or three years ago we decided on a strategy to engage with our supporters more,” Jones says. “We’re quite big and have fingers in a lot of pies: 500 properties, retail and four million members. So we’re very diverse and we wanted to personalise members’ experiences with the organisation rather than talking to them as a homogeneous mass. That meant learning about who are supporters were and trying to make it less likely they would let membership lapse and more likely to continue visiting properties. As with most large organisations we had data sitting in many databases and we consolidated that into a single view to learn about our supporters and to provide that information to people running the individual properties.”

For the Trust, this led to some significant insights.

“Nationally there’s quite a lot of variation and people in London are very different to people who live in north Yorkshire whereas in the south-west we have a large tourist audience. We’d always known there were different audiences but we never had the ability to provide properties with [detailed but easily understandable] information about their audiences.”

Today the National Trust can see who has been visiting which properties but also where they live and map that to driving times. This in turn informs plans, for example in direct marketing and advertising campaigns.

“It’s not just a static report but an interactive data analysis tool,” Jones says. “We don’t deliver individual reports but have this single dashboard. We’re just getting to the stage of realising the benefits and there’s so much more we can do.”


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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