Software that speeds up number crunching
BUSINESS intelligence is one of the buzz phrases among top executives with good reason - it allows them to cut down on the time is takes to make critical decisions. Most important of all, business intelligence lets them create future scenarios based on manipulation of company figures.
Business intelligence is derived from the turning masses of raw data that exists on computers within an organisation into information that can be acted on. Sounds simple, but the software tools needed to extract, organise and present information are incredibly sophisticated.
Getting month-end figures for large organisations is a good example of how long it can take to collate data and juggle it into a useful format. A large SA mining house takes 40 days to do its month-end closing. It is an extreme example, but illustrates how out of date the company's information is by the time it is ready.
The average in SA is around 10 days, with five days being considered good. The current optimum worldwide is technology company Motorola, which can do its month-end closing across the globe in two days.
Hyperion, a division of Global Technology Business Intelligence, produces software that is focused on the closing of books, whether it be by month, quarter or year-end, across multiple currencies. The software also analyses finances and budgeting processes.
Internationally, Hyperion Software was recently merged with Arbor Software, a world leader in Olap (online analytical processing) software, which business can use to analyse data on their systems.
Johan Cloete, divisional head of Hyperion, says: "These days it is possible to do a little forward planning using software that models a company's business processes. Historically, businesses have only been able to analyse business results retrospectively - now software can help them think ahead."
Mark Williams, head of Global Technology Business Intelligence, says: "Analytical software helps business decision makers think ahead. It gathers data from a variety of computer-based sources and shows results.
"For example, if a shoe manufacturer wants to analyse his business across a number of dimensions, this could be done at the speed of thought using this technology."
That is a simple example but the same principle can be applied to any facet of a company's operations. Virtual soothsayers allow executives to test scenarios without having to live with the results.
"There are productivity gains, too," says Williams. "Instead of having an army of accountants wading through sets of figures to generate a report, the software can do it automatically. Accountants can put their time to better use."
Williams says technology gives companies options.
"By having all the details of operations at their fingertips, executives are able to act quickly. At an instant they can tell, for example, which of their shops have stock of a particular item and then balance stocks between stores. All of this happens, literally at the click of a mouse.
"People used to run their businesses on gut feel and thumb-sucks. Then they used computers but got bogged down with analysis paralysis - over-analysing the numbers.
"These days software pulls out the numbers that matter automatically and present them in a format that's easy to act upon quickly. It's a huge growth area," he says.