Analytics set to change the face of business

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Big data. Analytics. Business intelligence. No matter how one packages it up, the next wave in IT looks to revolve around the collection and leveraging of data to benefit an organization. And hearing from various presenters and customers at the Asia Pacific leg of the SAP Insider 2013 conference, analytics is clearly delivering real benefits to businesses.

Some obvious benefits are in areas such as sales and customer service reporting. Indeed, an analytics-centric environment could see crucial reports being readied in a day or less, compared to the 10-14 days in a traditional non-data-driven environment.

"Big data provides incredible insight," says Lestor Meadows at a media panel session. Meadows is the business partner of business intelligence at Kimberly-Clark Services Asia-Pacific. "Understand your business, the strategy. These are very competitive times, so tap into your business strategies and align it with [your needs]."

Meadows also offered the suggestion that as the business realizes more profits from the use of analytics, this increased revenue could be injected back into the IT department.

The role of mobile devices

One aspect that caught our attention would be the unexpected role that mobile devices here. This is not in the area that you would expect though, such as in mobile productivity.

"Today we're using analytics on the shop floor with iPads," says Fredrik Ohlsson, technical programme manager of business intelligence at Tetra Pak South East Asia. "It is very easy to consume data on a mobile device," he explained, though he did concede that the laptop and desktop is good when it comes to producing data.

To illustrate how things have changed, Ohlsson contrasted the current reality with just a few years ago, when analytics was essentially the domain of geeks.

One item that kept entering the conversation was the use of iOS devices for consuming the business intelligence. This could be due to the sheer prevalence of the iPad in the region, though support for Android devices is apparently currently in the works – at Tetra Pak at least.

Challenges to good BI

As with every technology, though, do expect challenges to implementing BI. For one, wrong data can result in major wrong decisions being made, warns Ohlsson. Another scenario that was mooted is about how some workers may have surreptitiously changed numbers to reflect better work performance than reality. As you can imagine, this flawed data can culminate in unrealistic projections by decision makers.

Given the "Garbage in, garbage out" scenario here, the implementation of proper data governance is clearly not optional. Care should be taken not to take this to extremes, however. Specifically, keeping all data highly privileged can lead to other problems such as easily recognizable mistakes in data not being detected – since employees "on the ground" never get to see it.

Finally, expect to maintain a certain level of investment for a good BI system. This is necessary to integrate legacy systems that may result from acquiring other companies, or even to keep existing systems up-to-date. - Paul Mah  (Twitter @paulmah)