Business Intelligence

Want to know what the business is really doing? Check the numbers. It’s fine to have staff meetings, prepare reports, and customer surveys. But that won’t always tell you what you need to know.

gearsHow many widgets did the Asia team sell last month? $200,000? Great. That looks great on a sales report. But that’s not the only report that should be considered. Businesses often track revenue and expenses separately — Standard AR/AP practice. So, what about expenses? If those sales cost the company $250,000 in expenses and transportation, then what?

Suppose Customer Service reports a 40% decline in requests for help after the company rolled out new web site. Wow, a 40% drop! Must be a great design, right? What if the drop in requests was due to an overall drop in traffic? Or, because the “Ask for Help” link was removed?

Defining what is wanted, in detail, and making that data available is the key to creating a useful dashboard or an insightful comparison report. All too often, what seems to be an obvious need, turns out to be supported by rather obscure data.

For instance, a community hospital wants to know how many patients with diabetes-related problems were treated each month. But they only track planned visits for treatment by staff physicians. And, they have 35 different classifications for “diabetes.” The reports for community outreach, emergency room, and clinics are all separate.

Or, suppose a government agency wants to know how the funds they have allocated to a project are being spend. The agency tracks how much was given to whom. But the project has different phases and different teams. Each group prepares a different report showing their progress, with different expense categories that reflect the work each group does. How can the agency find out if the money is being spent appropriately? If one group is spending 75% of their budget allocation on Project Management and all the others are spending 15%, maybe someone should have a look at what’s going on?

Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.
– Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)