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Does Business Intelligence Matter?

  • Written by Sam Edens

edens samMost agencies have data scattered amid many different systems. The standard setup likely includes some combination of the collection software, a sales or CRM system, an accounting system, a payment portal, a client access website and a reporting factory. The technology for accessing data across many systems has grown tremendously in recent years. Business intelligence (BI) is everywhere right now, yet many agencies are not interested or they are somewhat interested but not enough to jump in. I have witnessed agencies lose clients solely due to lacking BI. I have also witnessed agencies win clients, they had no business signing, only because they displayed top-tier BI with excellent reporting and dashboarding.

It is not difficult to get started with BI and if your company is not doing anything, you are missing out on some quick productivity gains. Top performing companies are 5% more productive and 6% more profitable with data-driven business intelligence.

It is imperative to note that I am specifically referencing datadriven BI. This is where you want to be as a company because self-reliance is achieved and insight into the real business performance and trends is quickly accessible. The truth is only 8% of companies are benefiting from data-driven BI. The rest are making critical business decisions using opinion-based BI. This is the traditional method of BI where the same critical business decisions are made using outdated data, uncompromising reports, or nothing other than how you believe the business is performing.

Great, so how can the regular credit card collection agency move from opinion-based BI to data-driven BI?

The excellent news is that you already have the data! The rest is primarily intangible. The one tangible piece includes the introduction of BI technology and data standardization. There are hundreds of BI tools available. For many of them, it is merely a matter of due diligence in selecting a tool to move forward with because a hosted or cloud instance is almost always an option. Some BI tools I like and have seen a lot of are Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and IBM Cognos.

Obtaining a new BI tool does not have to, and probably should not, include standing up a new environment with servers, firewalls, switches, and so on. During the BI technology due diligence process, you should be thinking about data standardization as well. Data standardization is the art of getting all your data, regardless of systems or where the data originates, into an accessible and workable format. In the case of BI, it usually means achieving integration with all data sources and capturing all or most of the business critical data in a central repository, such as a data warehouse.

The intangibles for adopting BI are arguably more important than the tangibles. Even with the best BI technology and data standards in place, a successful adoption of BI must include a change in people and the way people think about data. The conventional experience involves a request for a report, usually a ticket is created, the ticket is assigned to IT, and IT builds the report. This takes both time and resources. Even when the report gets in the hands of the requestor, there is often a question about the data or a change to the way the data is presented. The request, ticketing and IT process repeats.

This experience is unpleasant for all involved because the business is not getting what they need, IT does not understand what the business wants and the speed for delivery on each iteration is too slow. The experience improves with a greater collaboration between business and IT. This naturally occurs when the two groups spend more time together going over requirements and presentation options. But what if the two groups were both working in the BI toolset? Let’s advance to BI and analytics that may be significant for agencies. Ask yourself the following sample questions to direct your thought process.

• In which state or geographic region is my agency the most successful?

• How much better am I compared to the next most successful state or region?

• Based on my historical numbers, can I forecast the next three months? Six months? Year?

• What is my level of certainty with those forecast numbers?

Now consider your staff, clients, and partners.
• Does my staff have the tools they need to answer the same four questions above?

• If my clients or partners saw my current BI and reporting process, they would think ________.

There are endless thought processes that can help you introduce a better BI practice at your agency. You must break through traditional thinking to be successful. Agencies that promote self-reliance and empower users at all levels by giving them access to work with the data will be successful moving from an opinion-based organization to a data-driven organization.


Sam Edens has been with Emprise Technologies since 2006 and is currently serving as Vice President. Prior to his time with Emprise, Sam designed and developed performance and flow management software for UPS.