In today's fast-moving and complex business environment, the winning companies are those that can make quick decisions and act on them immediately. But this kind of flexibility can only be successful when decisions are based on detailed, up to date knowledge.
The evolution of specialised enterprise applications which continually record data means that modern businesses are awash with information related to profitability, relationships with suppliers, financial health, competitor activity, shifts in the market, fluctuations in the cost or availability of resources.
Unfortunately, many managers cannot get at this information without filing requests for reports that may take days or even weeks to arrive, and by that time it is often too late to act for the best. These days, sophisticated databases and business applications are not enough to manage an enterprise - they must be used in tandem with a set of tools and applications collectively known as "business intelligence" software.
Business intelligence tools, which sift and analyse data according to specific parameters, can make previously fragmented or inaccessible corporate information instantly available to anyone who needs it. A marketing manager, for example, can define a set of parameters to measure the success of a marketing campaign, and see the results on his or her desktop at the click of a mouse. He or she can then drill down into the data to examine any anomalies or unexpected results, compare these with related data from other areas of the enterprise, perform "what-if" queries to assess the significance of the anomaly, and make a decision to alter the campaign in view of this information. All of this can take place in the space of a day, rather than a week or month.
At the highest levels in the enterprise, business intelligence plays an important role in defining and re-assessing strategic direction. Up to date information from various parts of the business - financials, HR, sales, manufacturing, customer service - can be pooled along with pertinent internal and external data, to provide a snapshot of how the company is doing at any given moment.
This ability to make quick, informed decisions is invaluable at every point throughout the enterprise. If you know which customers are in danger of defecting, a rescue strategy can be launched immediately. Knowing which products are most in demand at any one time means that supply chain and production can be rapidly realigned to cope with any increase or decrease in demand. Knowing when a competitor is about to withdraw from one of your markets means that you can quickly capitalise on the opportunity. Forewarned is forearmed, and business intelligence tools provide the real-time access to data needed to spot trends, changes, anomalies, opportunities, risks and danger areas, often before they happen.
This column was prepared by Oracle Corporation. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org