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Cloud analytics lets small and medium-sized companies think smarter
The convenience and lower cost of IBM
Cognos in the IBM SmartCloud is allowing SMEs to replace spreadsheets and business
information silos with powerful business analytics, for the first time
No organization would disagree that in
the data-driven world, business intelligence is key. The trouble is, the
barriers to entry can appear high and so can the cost and commitment levels seemingly
It is for these reasons that business
analytics, or business intelligence, has traditionally been the preserve of forward-thinking
large enterprises. While they have been able to take data out of silos and
interrogate it to get a clearer view of the entire organization and the markets
it operates in, SMEs have looked up from piles of spreadsheets with envy as
they struggle to get the most out of inferior reporting systems.
However, the IBM SmartCloud, is changing
this and empowering SMEs to think and act like larger enterprises, according to
Stijn Vermeulen, Managing Director of the leading Business Intelligence consultancy
company, element61. The company specialises in setting up business intelligence
systems for organizations keen to get better insights and make shrewder,
According to Vermeulen the combination
of the powerful and comprehensive business intelligence tools within the latest
release of IBM Cognos and the model of delivering them ‘as a service’ through
the public IBM SmartCloud, is truly revolutionary.
For the first time, he reveals, SME can
now received an affordable, scalable and flexible business intelligence service
without having to lift a finger internally to set up or maintain it.
than cost savings
The associated cost and convenience
benefits are major advantages of providing business intelligence through the
cloud but Vermeulen insists it is only half the story.
"There are major savings involved in
using the IBM Smart Cloud to deliver a service to our clients but you really
need to look at the bigger picture to see the entire set of benefits,” he says.
"The major reason why organizations of
all sizes, but particularly SMEs, do not use business intelligence applications
is the investment levels seem too high. That’s not just investing in the tools
and setting up and maintaining the hardware, it’s also the cost of training up
staff internally to understand BI and data warehousing concepts and to run
everything. Companies can do this at an important cost and then the person
leaves and the skills go with them; that has always been a huge concern in our
experience. Often SMEs are simply too small and understaffed to invest in
building up the required skillset. A lot of SMEs also operate internationally,
across multiple times zones, making it very hard to support users accessing the
results of business analytics at any time of day or night.
"That’s where the ‘as a service’ adds
real value. It’s not just the ability to rent for a monthly fee, instead of putting
up all the money in advance, it’s in just switching on the computer and having
the service appear for you. There’s no need to train people, no need to invest
in new equipment and no need for systems to be turned off so they can be
maintained; everything just runs for you every time you open up the web
browser. This allows SMEs to benefit from the advantages of IBM Cognos Business
Analytics, just like large companies.”
tools on a smart cloud
Vermeulen has been in business analytics
for 18 years and worked for the past two years with his team at element61 (which
has more than 250 years worth in business intelligence) to develop a solution
based around IBM’s Cognos business analytics suite operating on the IBM
SmartCloud. He was convinced it would revolutionize business intelligence and
early indications are that he was right. His company is currently working on
projects to rollout the solution to many clients and has already turned around
the way one a packaging and logistics company, Europal, runs its business.
While IT commentators talk about ‘hidden
gems’ which surprise a business once they start to look at the data they hold
and learn to process it better, Vermeulen believes most companies’ experience
is a little more down to earth. They do not expect to mine data for a massive
diamond they never knew existed, he believes, they just want to climb above
their information silos to get a better overall view.
"The problem with nearly all companies
who aren’t switched on to business analytics is that they end up using an ERP
system which holds data in a series of unrelated silos,” he says.
"It makes it very difficult for the
company, as a whole, to get answers to what may appear relatively
straightforward questions. They just want to know things like how many products
they sold, who sold them, where and to whom and what margin was made on them.
From that they want to find out which are their most profitable products and
services are, who their best customers are and who is performing well within
"Companies of all sizes, and especially
SMEs are buried in individual, manually-generated Excel; they spend more time gathering
data than analysing it. This often leads to mistakes in reports or discussions
over who has ‘the right’ and ‘the latest’ set of figures, with no ‘single
version of the truth’ in terms of management information.
"This is what we’ve helped Europal with.
Like many companies, their ERP couldn’t build up relationships between
different sets of data so there was not a complete picture. If a person moved
from sales in one region to another, their data didn’t follow them, for example.
ERP systems just do not provide historical views on data. BI can act as ‘corporate
The combination of Cognos operating
through the IBM SmartCloud has empowered the SME for the first time to compile
separate reports on sales of products, where they have come from, to which
clients and with what margins. This can be done at the touch of a button rather
than through compiling disparate sets of Excel spreadsheets and the process has
also provided an opportunity to improve and unify data entry standards so every
department can make sense of one another’s figures.
The project has been greatly helped by
the latest release of Cognos which Vermeulen believes offers the most flexible,
yet comprehensive suite of tools available to companies.
"Of all the analytics tools available in
the latest release of Cognos is the most suited to operating over the internet,
which makes it ideal for a cloud-based ‘as a service’ package, even including
mobile Business Intelligence” he says.
"It also has very broad modules where it
can look for information to compile reports and it’s very good at displaying
these concisely as a score card or a dashboard – it’s very good at hiding all
the clever, hard work it does and giving business people a very simple
Vermeulen predicts these attributes are
going to become increasingly sought after by organisations of all sizes, but
particularly SMEs, as they discover the power of an external partner setting
up, hosting and maintaining powerful suites of tools. With the complications
and much of the cost taken away from them, organizations are left to simply log
in and start making better informed decisions based on clearly displayed
evidence rather than gut feeling and a pile of spreadsheets.
To provide effective, powerful
easy-to-use business intelligence with no upfront software, hardware or
IBM Cognos running on the IBM SmartCloud
provides Business Intelligence ‘as a service’ through employees’ web browsers.
Companies of any size can think big and take
data out of silos to get a complete picture of the organization and its markets
without large upfront investment in hardware, software, training or
Download the original article on "Business Analytics in the Cloud" from the IBM Inspire magazine here.