Making sense of data, being able to detect trends and develop insights into underlying data, has been an important benefit of investing in modern business management systems. As companies capture an increasing amount of transactional data, quotations, orders, purchase preferences, costs, etc., making sense of such data to come up with more effective marketing campaigns, product bundling decisions, and operational improvement arrangements to name a few, has become an invaluable business capability.
Traditional business intelligence (BI) tools were expensive and needed an army of specialists, versed in IT and financial/mathematical modeling, to make sense of stored data within corporate information systems. Larger organizations in industries such as retail and pharmaceuticals have long had such teams on staff to harvest their data assets. Targeted consumer direct mailing campaigns and physician prescription practices are examples of such capabilities.
Increased utilization of web and e-commerce systems have also contributed to an exponential availability of data, capturing every single eyeball, click or customer experience. As transactional data has mushroomed, data analysis tools have also become more widely available without the need for highly specialized resources to slice and dice all this data. Tools offered by companies such as Google and Microsoft, available either for free or built-in popular applications such as Excel can literally perform many of the functions that could only be handled by specialized applications few years back.
Managers can leverage many such off the shelf tools to gain a deeper insight into their business issues. To get the most out of such tools, one starts with developing a better understanding of key data elements needed and whether such data is being captured, and if so where does it reside. If such data is not being captured, then processes need to be changed to accommodate capture and storage of such data. After having developed a good understanding of the relevant underlying data, with a little bit of homework, managers can choose the right tools to assist them in accessing, aggregating and analyzing the data to transform it into useful information and increased insight.