Business Intelligence applications have been around for some time but, sadly, numerous organizations still see this as a luxury and prefer to follow the old traditional ways of reporting. Please don't misunderstand me, these reports may vary in presentation, format, shape, etc. but are still valuable and still have the same use and purpose as any other report; to ultimately provide information in order to improve business. One of their biggest downfalls are that they do take up time and resources that can be used better and more optimally somewhere else. Presentation of data is critical though and decision making mistakes can be made due to incorrect data or poor presentation.

Lets focus on the logistics/transport industry as Business Intelligence can make a huge and positive difference to owners/managers in this industry. Why? Reporting is utilized in this industry as well as any other industry and the importance crucial to the success of the business. I can think, offhand, about a couple reports they look at daily, e.g. tracking movement and driving behavior reports, utilization reports, turnaround times, routing and scheduling, financial reports, fuel analysis reports, etc. to name but a few. Imagine these can be combined and made available in one centralized Business Intelligence platform that is easily accessible on a tablet, smartphone or PC?

Lets start by looking at some examples. I have put together two very simplistic example dashboards and made them available to view in the links below. These dashboards provide an idea how data from different sources can be combined, made accessible and have interactive drill down functionality to drill into individual categories and are as follows:
  • Vehicle Crime Statistics – The recovery dashboard provide data from a recovery resource indicating where vehicles were stolen or hijacked since January 2014. The BI application allows the user to drill into incident type, vehicle make, vehicle type and time categories

  • Visual Fleet Dashboard - this is a simplistic example dashboard that combines tracking data from 3 different suppliers on different vehicles in combination with fuel information. The BI application allows the user to drill into depot, vehicle registration and driver
I am sure that you already identified benefits simply after viewing and playing around with these dashboard examples. There are however more than just visual benefits to business intelligence so what are those benefits that Business Intelligence applications can give to your business?

1. Labor costs are reduced – how many hours do you or your staff spent to extract data or even worse, record data in spreadsheets so that you can get some kind of report. The most tangible benefit of Business Intelligence is the ability to reduce human resources time and effort to produce various and several separate reports, daily, weekly or monthly. BI helps to reduce labor costs through:
  • The data collection process is automated
  • Reports are generated automatically
  • Training time is reduced as reports are no longer done in excel/word
  • Report designing in most BI tools are simplistic and allows for quick report designs
2. Information bottlenecks are reduced – it reduces the requirement to ask expert staff to extract data and prepare reports as any user, who has access/authorization to specific data, can build reports based on their own requirements. Business Intelligence reduces information bottlenecks through:
  • Users can build individualized operation specific dashboards relevant to their operational area
  • Users can run reports autonomously
  • Provide KPI and other related information
  • Data analysis can be done without IT assistance
  • Users can create new dashboards based on their specific needs if required
3. Actionable data – a huge amount of human resources are used by most businesses to put together reports in various formats, sometimes involving two or more resources to complete one report. These reports, once completed, are then distributed to everyone who needs the information. Sadly some of these only arrives or are looked at long after the time they were most relevant. Staff also tend to be overwhelmed by the amount of detail and eventually the reports are looked at without being used for the intended purposes. Information must be purposeful and useful and Business Intelligence tools allow for data to be more actionable, by:
  • Providing information through one data model to allow the prevention of conflicting definitions and incomparable report data
  • Reports and information can be provided real-time to show the state of the business at the moment and not as a reactive historical view
  • Users can design reports themselves based on how they need it and prevent reports being built by other staff who do not always understand the specific operational need
  • Data is showed in context, e.g. KPI actual achievements are showed against desired benchmarks
  • Data can become collaborative so that relevant and applicable information can be shared with other staff
  • Relevant data can be delivered to a specific user in a role-based environment
  • Trends allow users to spot issues and drill down to detail data in a top-down manner
4. Makes for better decision making – Everyone must make decisions, every day, that may vary in quality and seriousness and naturally the positive or negative impact it will have on the business. Business Intelligence systems allows for better decision making since:
  • Up to date real-time information allowing the user to react on anomalies or aspects that trend towards the negative now and not days later when the impact can be more severe
  • Drill down functionality allows for a more detailed investigation
  • Faster decision making – making decisions quickly and effectively is critical for any business so the faster information is available the faster decisions can be made. Business Intelligence systems allows for faster decision making since:
  • Several different data sources can and are combined in one dashboard saving users the time to combine data from different data sources
  • Users can design different data dashboards quickly without having to ask various other parties to provide the data and/or reports
  • It provides for reduced system response times
5. Business Objective alignment – businesses that make everyone in the business towards a common goal are far more successful. Business Intelligence systems help you to align all areas towards business objectives, by:
  • KPI’s are centralized and a single source of information is provided
  • KPI’s are presented intelligently so that benchmarks, actual achievement and related trends can be viewed in one view
  • Employees see critical information that allow them to concentrate on their key areas of responsibility
  • KPI targets can be assigned to each business unit to measure the progress towards achieving/not achieving goals
There are many affordable and excellent business intelligence solutions available in the market now. They should be evaluated properly and owners/managers need to plan their Business Intelligence strategy in line with and according to their specific business needs. BI is here to stay and will become an integral part of business as we know it. Business owners/managers should therefore embrace it to stay competitive and to ensure customer satisfaction and a positive bottom line.