Business Intelligence and Performance Management – A Necessity in Tough Economic Times

Originally published 8 September 2009

Graham Spicer shares his thoughts on why organisations must implement new performance management systems and establish capable business intelligence (BI) programmes to ensure financial stability in the current economic climate. Graham offers his view on how organisations can emerge from today’s economic challenges in a more favourable and competitive position. Graham also discusses how BI solutions can provide that all-important competitive edge and deliver an immediate return.

Question: The current doom and gloom surrounding the economy has been very well publicised but what, in your opinion, are the key factors that are influencing customers’ decisions when they consider implementing new and more effective performance management systems?

Spicer: Like most organisations, our customers are willing to consider any initiative that will help ease the pressure at the moment. We have found that one of the main factors influencing our customers’ decisions is the desire to identify and implement short-term gains, including process automation and budget process efficiencies. Whilst we are seeing some organisations looking to reduce the scope of their BI projects by going back to basics, many of our customers are continuing with their pre-recession activities.

It is a fact that customers are looking for an immediate return on any investment, now more than ever, which can sometimes have a potentially adverse effect on their long-term strategy. This may be completely understandable at the moment, but we always try to ensure that we can deliver value in both the short and long term as we believe that neglecting the long-term vision is a dangerous path to follow for any organisation.

Through our work with various public sector organisations, we understand that the tighter restrictions placed upon their budgets is a key influencing factor when it comes to implementing new performance management systems. Whilst they are trying to deal with these budgetary challenges, they are, at same time, having to maintain and deliver best value to their citizens, achieve higher levels of service and streamline back office processes, which makes a very strong case for a new or updated performance management system.

The most effective organisations are also looking at how they will be positioned within their markets when we start to see an economic recovery and how business intelligence can enhance their business opportunities when this inevitably happens.

Question: You talked about companies being able to see the “immediate return” on their investments – how can this return be delivered most effectively?

Spicer: Unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” solution. I am working on that one and intend to retire on the proceeds!!

Where we have been able to ensure short-term gain most effectively is by taking advantage of existing IT infrastructure and data streams, improving or changing business processes, replacing spreadsheets with a more effective suite of reporting tools, and helping to make sure that information is made readily available to those who need it most. However, the nature and complexity of the client’s business often contributes to the scale and speed of the return.

Question: So, how are business intelligence and performance management solutions helping your customers gain that all important competitive edge?

Spicer: As I alluded to earlier, it is still important to plan for the long term whilst guiding your business through the current challenging climate. We believe failing to prepare for the upturn is as much of a risk to an organisation as failing to make the immediate decisions required to safeguard the future.

Using business intelligence effectively can lay the foundations for improvements in all aspects of an organisation’s performance – from sales to operations to simply improving the day-to-day lives of employees.

We have worked closely with clients who have seen real benefits in adopting this approach and, in turn, reaped the benefits from gaining a deep understanding of key performance indicators (KPIs) and other performance metrics that make decision making far more effective.

Anticipating and managing risk is of prime importance in today’s market. How many businesses would still be here today had they properly planned and prepared? I am not suggesting for a second that business intelligence is some kind of technological crystal ball; but I do believe, and the evidence supports the assertion, that it can and does really help organisations prepare for a wide range of economic eventualities.

Even within the higher education sector, we have worked with a number of colleges and universities who are now having to take a much more commercial view of their particular organisations and market. We are helping our clients improve long-term planning, use institutional funds more effectively, enhance proactive decision making and make radical improvements to student retention and graduation rates. I am sure if you ask any of the colleges and universities we have worked with, they will testify to the effectiveness of business intelligence as an essential tool in helping them achieve a strong market position.

However, in order to sustain this competitive edge, organisations must also strive for management excellence by harvesting the maximum return from their data. This, in turn, will enable forecast accuracy, resource efficiency and generally increased agility and responsiveness to ongoing market conditions.

This is an especially important consideration as BI applications become more widely available on mobile technologies such as blackberries, PDAs and iPhones. Businesses should really seek to take advantage of the widespread use of these technologies and the advancements in BI application availability to increase opportunities and efficiencies.

Question: How are organisations currently able to justify the spend on business intelligence and performance management systems?

Spicer: In my opinion it is a “no-brainer” but I readily admit that I may be slightly biased when it comes to this. Successfully justifying a BI project requires skill and a detailed understanding of the value it can provide.

To me, the rewards which are realised as a result of an effective business intelligence or performance management strategy are both financial and operational. It is important though to stress the word “effective.” If the planning phase, for example, is not handled correctly or there isn’t sufficient buy-in from the organisation’s stakeholders, then the real benefits can be quickly lost.

The operational wins that often result from implementing an effective BI solution cover a wide range of organisational disciplines and tasks including a reduction in errors often caused by the use of spreadsheets and massive time and cost savings when collecting, analysing and using data to provide valuable information to key personnel.

As soon as organisations can leverage these operational wins, they will undoubtedly see a real difference to their bottom line, not only from a better use of human resources but also from the increases in revenue and/or cost savings as a direct result of improved understanding and responsiveness to market conditions.

Question: What are the main challenges associated with effective BI implementations?

Spicer: For us, the biggest challenge comes from ensuring that any BI solution provides the level of return which the investment of both time and money necessitates.

This is quite often complicated by the fact that an organisation’s business users have a very different way of measuring a successful return than their IT counterparts.

Like most projects of any type, scale or complexity, if you fail to get the plan right, fail to involve the right people or fail to anticipate the pitfalls, then you run a high risk of facing a series of problems from the outset. Gaining buy-in from the key project stakeholders or sponsors makes life much easier and the chances of success much greater.

Question: What are the factors that contribute to a successful BI implementation?

Spicer: Adopting a truly collaborative approach is the cornerstone of any successful implementation. Ensuring that the project is not carried out in isolation and includes real involvement from the organisation’s IT team really lays the foundation for success.

The IT teams are key enablers when it comes to successful implementations as they are ideally placed to be the link between a vendor or consultancy and the management decision makers behind the project. They are also crucial when it comes to ensuring that any additions or new BI solutions are included within the organisation’s wider business intelligence or performance management landscape.

It is also really important that the entire organisation has bought in to the decision to implement a new BI system as it will have potential implications for the way people are used to working. Even though these implications should be positive, if the employees do not understand the project goals or how these will be achieved, then there is a real potential for problems or even failure.

  • Graham SpicerGraham Spicer
    Graham has been with SolStonePlus, an independent business intelligence consulting and solutions company since its foundation in 1983. During this time, Graham has undertaken a variety of roles from technical consultant, pre-sales consultant, project manager and sales manager. As CEO for SolStonePlus, Graham is a strong believer in a hands-on management approach and is especially keen on being involved in business development and the closing of large complex sales involving leading-edge business intelligence technologies and multi-skilled delivery teams. 

    With strong personal and communication skills, Graham also takes pride in his ability to generate staff loyalty and strong, long-lasting customer relationships. He has a commercial approach to business with strong entrepreneurial instincts and would like to believe that he has made an impact in some very challenging and high profile roles. Today, Graham specialises in business planning, business development and business intelligence and is highly regarded within the wider based business intelligence community. He may be contacted by email at



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