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July 2007
Executive opinion

Get to know to decide: getting the most from your information capital to improve competitiveness
Julio del Valle, General Manager, Bull Spain

Increasingly in the information Society, success is going to be directly proportional to the knowledge that an organization is able to apply in real time, and also to the speed and security it can devote to managing business processes. With globalization, the growth of the Internet and mobility, the amount of information being produced and data being exchanged is exploding. Selecting, managing and using that data, has never been so important to public and private sector decision-makers. The challenge is to convert raw data into real value – in the form of innovative products or services – using powerful business intelligence tools. Only then can information capital become a real source of competitive advantage and business agility.

A strategic challenge
What really keeps today’s decision-makers awake at night? Their ability to anticipate the future: so they can act and react ahead of the rest. Their real challenges are to gather relevant information, transform it into knowledge, and understand how best to use it; whether to support day-to-day activities or future plans. The Internet, which represents both a new business channel and a worldwide database, has expanded opportunities in a globalized and hyper-competitive economic environment in which we are all evolving. And it is fuelling a 40% annual growth rate in the amount of data being processed!

Managing the inherent complexity in these data flows, help to understand customers or citizens better, to pinpoint rapidly behavioral changes or shifting market trends, to seize opportunities for growth and continually optimize performance. Which is why so-called Business Intelligence (BI) tools are now gaining ground so rapidly. Today they are at the top of IT Directors and CIOs’ lists of priorities, whereas back in 2004 they were only in 10th place, according to Gartner’s annual EXP survey. To make the most of the business or public sector body’s knowledge capital, the IT Department can now implement extremely powerful analysis tools, and coupled with Customer Relationshsip Management (CRM) applications, these not only provide information for top-level business ‘dashboards’, but also help managers on the ground in their day-to-day decision-making.

With the advent of Web 2.0, the avalanche of data will only increase, and processing it will be even more complex. So a new generation of tools is appearing, designed to improve the quality and relevance of searches. Just like the automatic semantic analyses that use artificial intelligence engines for non-structured information. It’s also worth pointing out that the barrier that exists today between BI/search engines and economic intelligence solutions looks set to disappear in the next few years: because when it comes to decision-making, ever bit of information counts!

A stimulus that activates all business processes
Anything that helps understand more about ‘buyer behavior’ is a useful asset and has potential value. Because of it’s predictive nature, cross-fertilized information can help to identify an opportunity to make revenues or initiate an activity designed to stimulate customer loyalty, before a competitor can take similar action. It is like a stimulus that activates all the organization’s internal business processes: a contact with a customer– coupled with other variables – may trigger the submission of a proposal, the tracking of an order, a manufacturing event, a delivery, an invoice… This item of information in turn produces others that circulate not only internally but also outside the organization among suppliers and partners.

Information transformed into knowledge – delivering value and being a source of competitiveness – is a strategic challenge for public and private sector bodies of all sizes and in all areas of the economy, with the increasing democratization of Business Intelligence tools. From the senior management team to the marketing department, from sales and finance to the HR function, everyone needs access to advanced analysis and decision support systems in a world that is moving faster and faster all the time. BI not only enables senior management to be alerted in real time according to their chosen indicators, but also allows financial managers to run budget simulations based on real data, store managers to react to current sales data in retail environments, auditors to detect possible fraud, elected representatives to track subsidies precisely thanks to links with geographic information systems, on-line retailers to get an immediate view of a customer or prospect’s profile or potential…

Business benchmarks are essential. Both for central and local government, this involves measuring the impact of public services and developing scenarios for future policies... In areas such as social protection and healthcare, BI tools help organizations undergoing fundamental transformation to have much more personalized relationships with those in receipt of their services, to improve service quality, work more as part of a network, control their costs, combat fraud and develop effective preventive measures. Banks and insurance companies have their own challenges to face: conforming to general financial regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley and LSF in France, as well as to the specific regulatory codes of their own professions, for example. This leads to the implementation of new kinds of BI solutions that enable organizations to capitalize on different types of information and restructure their data to meet the needs of new accounting regulations. In the world of manufacturing, and in retail, the need to optimize production and distribution costs, while at the same time improving logistics capabilities, is a major challenge if a business is to remain competitive in the face of international competition. Behavioral analysis and a good understanding of your customers are vital to ensure continued growth and foster innovation.

The real challenge: transforming information into knowledge in an unified way
The benefits are significant, but so are the resulting challenges. The most important of these is to carry out consistent analyses. Because, faced with the explosion in the amount of data, each department within an organization is often geared up to put in place its own business intelligence systems, often resulting in the implementation of a whole raft of disparate, tactical BI projects or isolated ‘datamarts’, sometimes well-adapted to the needs of specific functions, but with little cross-correlation. The result may well be effective solutions for specific needs, enabling rapid decision-making in each department; but serious difficulties when it comes to compatibility between databases, data and analysis tools, which hinders overall attempts to correlate data or take a global view.

This is clearly the biggest challenge for the years to come: implementing unified BI solutions, rather than a series of little systems in their own functional silos, where people only take into account one aspect of a wider reality. The real challenge is to avoid the anarchic spread of heterogeneous BI applications throughout each business function or geographic location. This involves defining a shared customer database that provides a unified, but also function-specific view to the business. A good understanding of your customers must be a fundamental building block of the system.

Of course, this also involves effective integration of data and tools, in order to ensure consistency, cleansing and qualification of data from disparate sources, as well as good integration of the BI system with the organization’s other business applications.
Finally, it also involves establishing a business intelligence ‘center of expertise’, using a mix of internal or external resources to help mobilize the various functional management teams and the IT Department, and adapt people’s skills as a result.

Whether in Europe (Unédic in France, INSS in Spain, etc.), Latin America or some of the largest States in the USA (particularly in the fight against fraud in the Medicaid program), Bull is closely working with leading BI software companies and offers an innovative approach to supporting our customers in this highly strategic area.

And BI is at the heart of Initiative 3 of our 7i program.

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