Improving Business Insight

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1 Improving Business Insight A GUIDE FOR SMALL AND MID-SIZED BUSINESSES Why Does Understanding Business Data Matter for Your Company? You know your business better than anyone else, and making decisions about how to run your business is part of your everyday life. No matter what the size of your organization, the data you capture and share on a daily basis through various business systems, customer relationships, partner and supplier interactions, Web-based experiences, and more is becoming ubiquitous. Finding ways to tap into and analyze that data can help you make better decisions that support business success. This can mean being able to: Produce accurate and up-to-date revenue statements when applying for a new loan. Understand sales by geography or by individual sales representative. Develop a list of your top customers in minutes. Create daily updates to a sales by product against target report to motivate the sales team. Compare data from your accounting system with your sales records to highlight discrepancies between invoices and orders or analyze customer payment status prior to accepting new orders. Business intelligence? No thanks, we re just a small company we don t need complicated, expensive technology that s just going to tell us what we already know... Regardless of the type of business you run, datadriven actions can quickly and directly impact the profitability of your operations. So how do you regularly and automatically access and compile this data? Perhaps your sales team has certain spreadsheets and reports to review; your bookkeeper has other profit/loss information; your money management software has aggregated your bank statements and credit card expenses. The challenge with this do-it-yourself approach to business decision-making is that everyone in your company has their own way of gathering and interpreting information. The result is that there s no single version of truth, and insight gained is often not transferable or sharable. Housing or managing all this data in a way that allows you to easily compile, analyze, and share reports is key to making sense of business data across the organization. But the reality is that if you re a small business, you likely don t have an internal IT department to do this. Sometimes it seems it s just easier to work with what you already know a couple of spreadsheets and a whiteboard, maybe some Web metrics from your hosting service than to pay for an outside IT consultant and learn to use all the seemingly complex technology. 1

2 While large enterprises have increasingly embraced incorporating business intelligence into their operations, smaller businesses have often been slower to embrace the practice. The reasons? Historically, adding this functionality meant additional costs for licenses and training, as well as dealing with the complexity of installing, maintaining, and incorporating yet another application into everyday activities. Your business can take advantage of the Microsoft products you may already own and use to explore a business intelligence solution that fits you. Cost is no longer a barrier since you likely already have the licenses you need; and by getting more out of the tools you use every day, you make it easy for everyone to take a closer look at the data they need to make the best decisions for the business. Today you don t need to make a significant IT investment to get a better picture of your operations. Throughout this paper, we ll follow Steve, a fictional business owner who oversees sales and operations for AdventureWorks Cycles. For the past few years, Steve has tracked sales manually as his operations have expanded. Keeping his information top of mind is important, so he writes down everything on whiteboards and in ad hoc spreadsheets. That s a tactic that has sufficed through his start-up phase as he tries to stay on track with the day-to-day business operations. But as the company has picked up momentum over the last few years, this approach has become more difficult to manage and increasingly error-prone. No one else in the company knows the logic he s used or where he s stored the spreadsheets on his computer. If Steve goes on vacation for a week, operations could shut down because the other employees can t access his data and even if they could, they wouldn t know how to work with it. Steve, like so many other business owners, needs to get accurate, consistent data, in as close to real time as possible, so he can have a realistic view of the state of the business and make the best decisions to keep costs low and profits high. Throughout this paper, we ll see how he uses existing products and licenses to compile and understand his data for increased business insight. Steve Owner, AdventureWorks Cycles 2

3 Unlocking Data to Support Better Decisions Every business process generates metrics that, with basic analysis, can help you make better decisions. By analyzing your data, you can begin to connect the dots around key data points and answer questions that have an impact on how you approach various activities: Which work streams or business offerings are truly profitable? Which offerings appear profitable but aren t? Where do you (or your projects) stand in reaching critical milestones? When is the best time to launch a marketing campaign? What was the best performing product or service last quarter? Does everyone in the company, whether in the office or mobile, have access to the same dependable data? As a result, you can gain a better overall view of the business. Unprofitable product lines can be eliminated, and resources can be used more efficiently or perhaps moved to more profitable areas of the business. Your company becomes smarter, leaner, more effective, and better positioned to face challenges successfully. Database 3

4 Finding the Right Solution for Your Business Timely, relevant, accurate information is what can drive wise and profitable decisions. Your business can benefit from a solution that gets you the right information at the right time. Here s how to start and how you can expand your solution over time as your needs change. Getting Started with Reporting and Data Visualization Using the familiar Microsoft Office system and SQL Server, you can track and improve your business performance to make better-informed decisions and stay competitive. SQL Server includes standard reports that can give you a consistent view of business operations (including financial, inventory, and cost data), and these reports can be easily published and shared. You can also use Microsoft Excel to add easily recognizable data visualization, rich sorting and filtering capabilities, and more ways to interact with and act on the data you ve collected. That s exactly what Steve from AdventureWorks Cycles did. Steve has recently begun using standard SQL Server reports to get an accurate, consistent view of sales data for the whole company. Business operations have branched out into several regions, and each regional sales manager is keeping track of that area s performance. Steve wants to make sure he can keep each regional sales manager aware of the overall company performance, and develop a useful way for everyone to collaborate and see into the specific sales and profit margins of each region so they can collectively make better decisions across the whole organization. A basic SQL Server reporting solution helps him quickly generate and build intuitive reports, analyze data, easily create charts, and get a snapshot of information such as bank account balances, important reminders, and accounts receivable and payable all on one screen. Finally, using Microsoft Office Excel and other familiar Microsoft Office tools, Steve makes this data analysis easier and more intuitive by adding simple data visualization for quicker and more informed business decisions. With PowerPivot for Excel 2010, he s able to speedily transform very large quantities of data into meaningful information, getting the answers he needs in seconds. Sharing Reports and Adding Richer Data 4

5 Visualization When your business applications run on SQL Server, you have access to standard reports using Reporting Services and Report Builder that can give you more visibility into your data. You can easily work with and view these reports using familiar Office tools, and you can share them with others in your organization to help everyone understand business performance. Once you have set up access to the database from within Reporting Services, you can start creating, modifying, and sharing reports. Reports can be published to a central location such as the Web, your SharePoint site, or another shared location and automatically updated so you and your team can make decisions based on current information. Taking his quest for business insight further, Steve builds and manages SQL Server reports to gather and share sales performance data with his regional managers. The SQL Server reports he creates are customizable and automated, and give him an improved view into AdventureWorks Cycles financial and business performance. Next, Steve turns the data from his business applications into actionable items by making reports available to all employees using familiar formats such as Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and even the Web. He also posts the reports to the company s Microsoft Share- Point collaboration portal to keep the latest data available in a central location for anyone to access. 5

6 Holistic Reporting, Rich Scorecards, and Dashboards A more in-depth solution can take data from your existing systems and consolidate it into a single holistic view. This gives you the flexibility to run what s known as ad hoc reports which allow you to create specific, customized queries. You can also create automatically updated, intuitive scorecards that track your company s key performance indicators with rich data visualization, including embedded graphs and charts. A scorecard is an at-a-glance way for you to look at the all-up performance of your business across various criteria for your company s success. Your scorecard may include some of the following metrics: Frequency of in-person customer visits Web site visitor rates Percentage of sales on first contact Stock deliveries Number of leads Call center sales Just as scorecards can help you see whether you re meeting specific objectives, dashboards can give you a visual display of the most important information you need to achieve one or more objectives. Dashboards display holistic business data, consolidated and arranged on a single screen so you can view information as a snapshot and drill deeper to uncover the underlying triggers for various results. These visually-based presentations of business metrics can be used to quickly inform management decision-making. Let s take a look at Steve s example once more. While his current reports are helpful for gaining perspective, he d like to combine data from various systems to more accurately map actual performance numbers to sales goals, and to display it in an easyto-understand way. Steve also wants to give every employee access to accurate, actionable information so they can understand the key drivers for the business and make appropriate, timely decisions that support increased profits. Using familiar Microsoft products, he s able to create interactive reports and visually present the data in scorecards and dashboards that users can explore for more information. Together, Office Excel, Share- Point Server, and SQL Server enable Steve to create a solution that combines data from different business applications and data sources to create a single, holistic view of overall company operations. And he easily publishes these reports to a central location, thus helping everyone in the company access the data they need to stay focused on the business priorities. 6

7 Get More Out of the Microsoft Products You Already Own Why look to Microsoft products and technologies to fuel your efforts? The main reasons: Cost, familiarity, and the peace of mind that Microsoft technology can scale as your business grows. Using the capabilities built into the Microsoft products you may already own, you can compile the raw data you have quickly and affordably, and start getting more relevant insight from your data. The Microsoft platform provides better value for your money because it allows you to maximize your existing investments in software and licenses. It also has lower support, training, and maintenance costs, and is supported by trusted partners. And finally, it is simple, intuitive, and interoperable with the systems you already know and use. Here s how familiar Microsoft products can help you gain more insight into your business data: Data storage and reporting SQL Server is the foundation that fast, smart, efficient businesses are built on. It s an optimal way to store and analyze your data and run a wide variety of standard and custom reports with built-in reporting features. Sharing and collaboration As companies grow, it s often difficult to keep track of the multiplying documents and their locations. SharePoint enables you to store and share all your files in a central site, manage dashboards and scorecards, and collaborate on documents and processes anytime, anywhere. Visualization and Analysis Microsoft Excel helps you visualize your data, navigate it quickly, query the most relevant information, and conduct what-if analysis so can you confidently plan the best course of action. You can do this from just a simple spreadsheet or you can build professional-looking charts and apply rich visual enhancements such as 3-D effects, soft shadowing, and transparency. PowerPivot for Excel 2010 is a data analysis tool that delivers even more computational power directly within Excel. And if you re already using SharePoint, you can gain added efficiency through SharePoint-based management tools. With the full suite of Microsoft Office products you already use, you can easily and effectively create, analyze, and share reports. Build charts in Excel, share your info with SharePoint, explore richer data visualization with Microsoft Office Visio, and create reports and presentations with your findings in Microsoft Office Word and Microsoft Office PowerPoint. Sharing data across multiple applications is easy, so you can use the tools you re most familiar with to increase your business insight. 7

8 Checklist: Finding the Right Partner While you re the expert in running your own business, where you may need support is comprehensive IT knowledge. This is why it s important to engage an experienced partner to help shape your data analysis efforts, cost-effectively leverage your existing technology, and keep you from reinventing the wheel by pointing out best practices from others. Here s what to look for in considering an IT partner to help you get started with data analysis: 1. Is the partner certified on Microsoft products? Certified Microsoft partners, with proven expertise, are available worldwide to help companies of all sizes and industries select and implement the right business technology and to provide support through future business changes. 2. Will the partner provide references? Make sure the partner will supply you with a list of customers in your industry who will answer questions and provide written references to you. If not, the partner is not for you. If the partner does supply a client list, you may want to ask them these remaining questions. 3. Is the partner s business stable? Find out if the partner is a stable business organization with the technical infrastructure and staff to deploy a solution for your business within your timeframe. After the partner implements the business solution, you want to make sure the organization supports your staff by helping to fine-tune the system and address any problems that might arise. 4. Is the partner an expert in your industry? You need a partner who demonstrates a clear understanding of your business concerns and your industry, a partner who can draw from extensive expertise with multiple businesses. Your partner should suggest strategies and develop your business solution with you. 5. Does the partner clearly consider the features and components you need? The software solution proposed by the partner should be the right one to address your business requirements. If it isn t, the partner needs to be willing to rework the proposal until you have exactly what you need. For example, does the partner have expertise in working with the database, portal, and data analysis solutions you intend to use? Find out ahead of time about any hidden fees related to revising your solution. 6. Are the partner s consultants technologically proficient? Make sure the partner uses a proven implementation methodology and configuration tools that speed implementation, configuration, and upgrades. Ask the partner if the consultants who will implement your solution have been certified by the software vendor on that solution. What kinds of certifications do they have? We can help you find a partner that has completed the Microsoft Business Intelligence competency at 8

9 What Your Data Looks Like in the Future Now that you ve started to look at your data in new ways and create reporting solutions for more insight, what s next? How can you be sure that the technology investments you make now for better business insight will be good for both the short and the long term? Microsoft is committed to helping small and midsized businesses to maximize their technology benefits while reducing their overall costs. One way is by leveraging the power of the cloud. The term cloud has become a bit of a buzzword essentially it refers to infrastructure that resides in and uses the simplicity, accessibility, and flexibility of the Internet. When you have your servers and applications in the cloud instead of on-premises, you can access your data from virtually anywhere, and you can save a significant amount of money and IT burden by not needing to invest in managing and maintaining your own servers. Moving forward, Microsoft is continuing to invest in development of new technologies like cloud-based Windows Azure and SQL Azure to help you use the products you have now to make it even easier to access and analyze data. Azure and other cloud services can give your business flexibility and scale with the ability to pay as you grow, they can reduce database procurement and management needs, and can enable anywhere access to key business data. Learn more at Your Cloud-based Data and Applications Windows Azure Platform Windows Azure TM AppFabric platform Your Users 9

10 Summary: How to Gain Insight to Strengthen Your Business Today it is critical to know what is really happening in your business and to know it fast enough so that you can make the right decisions when it counts. Taking full advantage of the technology investment you ve already made, you can make business insight work for you. Here s how: Have a process in place for determining what you want your data to tell you. Otherwise, you won t be able to use it to its fullest extent. Find a Microsoft partner at com/en-us/ to help you explore cost-effective business intelligence solutions that can help you make better-informed decisions. To learn more about business intelligence for small and mid-sized companies, visit com/businessinsight. Create and nurture a culture of data at your business. A few extra minutes spent on reporting and analysis can result in direct and tangible business gains. Understand that the process is dynamic. It s not something that you implement and forget. Regularly review the use of your data analysis tools. Because you already own many Microsoft products, gaining new insight into your business can be very cost-effective. A solution based on Microsoft technologies can offer your company these compelling benefits: Lower total costs. Leverage your existing investments in SQL Server, SharePoint technologies, and the Office system. Empower your employees to make better business decisions. Give them visibility into data and enable them to perform analysis with minimal hand-holding, so they can then make fast, accurate decisions. Enjoy rapid deployment and faster timeto-benefits. Promote widespread adoption with intuitive yet powerful business analysis capabilities embedded within the everyday productivity tools your employees already use. 10

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