6 Reasons Why Small and Midsize Businesses Need Business Intelligence
Businesses Need Business Intelligence Tools, Which is Now Very Affordable for Midsize Business Owners
Recent changes in the business intelligence market place have greatly reduced the cost of these tools. One of the more cost effective solutions for business intelligence and business analytics is Microsoft’s Power BI application. Power BI incorporates a number of technologies that simplify the process used to generate analytics, dashboards and data visualizations that just a few years ago required significant cost and IT capability. As a CFO services consulting firm, we have this to be an ideal solution for our small and midsize business clients.
Microsoft’s goal for Power BI was to release a product that enabled self-service business intelligence tools that did not require IT resources. A byproduct of this goal was to create an easier path for small and midsize business to begin taking advantage of this technology as well. What follows are our 6 reasons why business owners should take a hard look at implementing a Power BI-based business intelligence solution that supports their revenue and profitability growth.
Reason #1: Business Owners Have More Data Than They Realize
As consultants providing CFO services to privately held business owners, we have noted that many of our clients do not completely grasp the amount of information being generated inside their businesses and how to use that information more fully. Whether they are using only QuickBooks or QuickBooks and some third-party application, there is large amount of information being generated through invoicing, bill paying, job costing transactions, newsletter systems such as MailChimp, CRM systems such as SalesForce, that can provide critical insights.
For example, we have a client that provides nursing services. The business owner has a custom Access database application that her employees use to record their hours worked, by patient, date, customer, as well as how those hours are distributed between the following: 1) treating patient; 2) traveling to visit patient; 3) writing reports on patient’s progress; 4) conferring with patient’s doctor, etc. The billing information was solely being generated to support the invoicing process without much regard to other uses of the information.
Using Power BI, we created measures that leveraged the data in the Access database to compute the following measures: 1) total billable hours; 2) total billed $s; 3) total patients serviced; 4) total nurses billing (or nursing working in that period); 5) average billable hours and $s per patient (#1÷#3 & #2÷#3); 6) average billable hours and $s per nurse ( #1÷#4 & #2÷#4); 7) number of insurers; 8) average billable hours and $s per insurer (#1÷#7). With these measures, we then able to slice the data by dimension. We could now filter on a single nurse or customer or patient or group of them. We could also filter on the service provided, which means we could view the average billable time for travel by nurse to see if there were ways to optimize travel time with different nurse-to-patient assignments, etc. By leveraging Microsoft’s Power BI self-service technology, this was accomplished at a very low cost to the client while helping the business owner make better decisions regarding their business model.
Reason #2: Business Intelligence Can Improve Profitability
Because many of our clients use QuickBooks for invoicing, bill paying, and general accounting, drilling down into product level profitability is not easy. Though QuickBooks is an excellent accounting platform, it does not produce much in the way of analytics. With our product-based clients, we will setup processes for downloading their transactional data, which typically consists of invoicing detail, and transform that data using Access or some other database tool. The goal is to format the invoice line item transactions into the following format: 1) invoice #; 2) Item or SKU; 3) ship date; 4) units shipped; 5) invoiced amount for line item; 6) cost amount for line item; 7) Customer; and 8) Sales Rep. (Note: there are third-party applications, such as QQube, that will perform this transform step for you, eliminating the need for Access. More on QQube in a future post.).
Similar to the previous example, we created measures for the following: 1) total sales; 2) total units; 3) total cost; 4) total gross margin ( #1 – #3); 5) average sales price or ASP (#1÷#2); 6) gross margin (#4÷#1). Then using these measures in relation to dimensions (customers, locations, sales reps, shipment dates, etc.) the business owner was able to gain insights into differences between sales reps, customer purchasing changes, opportunities for mix changes and the like. These insights enable the business owner to fine tune their pricing strategy and increase profitability.
Reason #3: BI Enables Better Forecasting and Predictive Capabilities
Again, because most business owners depend on QuickBooks they have access to very limited forecasting capability. Product-based businesses are highly dependent on the efficient use of working capital to purchase inventory and finance customer receivables. By using Power BI, we were able to compute basic metrics by product, such days inventory on hand (DIOH), to easily see where the business was holding excess inventory. Taking metrics to the next level, we determined the service level desired for each product and given historical product shipment trends computed the safety stock required to achieve the desired service level. Adjusting service levels and safety stock, lowered overall inventory levels and improved working capital.
Reason #4: Business intelligence can reveal important insights
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a dashboard is worth a couple of million words! Most accounting (think QuickBooks) and inventory management systems are not known for their ability to display transactional data graphically. Because of this limitation, most accounting and inventory management systems allow you to connect to the transactional data through an ODBC-connection type. Frequently, transactional data can reside in CSV files, Excel workbooks and/or websites. Power BI allows you to simultaneously link these disparate data sources into an integrated data model with defined relationships between data sources.
For example, using a third-party app such as QQube you can connect to your QuickBooks financial data and also connect to your FishBowl inventory transactions. All this information can be integrated into a single dashboard to view inventory levels, customer activity, changes in product pricing, changes to geography shipment activity, and whatever else you want to analyze.
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Reason #5: Business intelligence enhances ability to identify emerging trends
The self-service nature of Power BI combined with interactive data visualization will accelerate your organization’s ability to wade through transactional data and take action using new insights. Data visualizations can be created from both the data you have imported to Power BI as well as linking to preexisting Excel PowerPivot models. In addition to connecting your business’ data sources to Power BI, Microsoft has a growing list of content packs that link to various third party data sources and automatically create a reporting template. For example, if you use MailChimp as an email marketing platform, in about one minute you can connect Power BI to your MailChimp account and start leveraging Power BI’s analytics capability on your marketing data using a curated dashboard. This way half the work of creating a dashboard for your marketing data is already done for you.
Reason #6: Business intelligence Can Foster Organizational Alignment
If cash is king, then culture must be queen. Do not underestimate the importance of business culture because it is one of the keys to your success. One aspect of culture is goal alignment, which can be greatly fostered through communication. A component of your communication strategy should include BI metrics that closely correlate with your success factors. For example, if customer retention metrics are something you measure, then establishing a goal and measuring progress toward that goal would be something communicated to the greater company. With that knowledge, employees are better able align their activities around that objective.
If you want to add steroids to your goal alignment strategy, then add a bonus program to the achievement of those goals and get out of the way. It is always exciting to observe the positive impact that even modest financial rewards have on employee motivation and progress toward company objectives.
It is an entirely new world with respect to small and midsize businesses gaining access to the same business intelligence tools used by larger companies. The tools continue to get better and cost continues to decrease. Many of the tools referenced above would have cost many thousands of dollars just a few years ago and now some are free. Profitwyse can help you implement a cost effective BI solution for your business. Contact us today.