One of the hardest issues we face at bi5 is explaining what we do. Not because we don’t know what we do, but because it can be difficult to keep it short and explain it in a way that most people would understand.
At different times, and depending on the person we’re speaking to, our explanation will include;
While they all seem like different things, there is one common element to all of them, and that is data, data warehousing and data mining.
While none of my responses mentioned data warehousing and data mining, without them we wouldn’t be able to deliver the required solutions and provide the benefits we do to our clients.
So what do Data Warehousing and Data Mining mean, and why are they important to businesses and CFO’s when they sound like something that would fall under the CIO’s realm?
Data warehousing is essentially the integration of data from disparate sources (generally transactional systems such as ERP, CRM, sales, inventory management, payroll) into a single ‘warehouse’, or database schema. The design of this schema/warehouse is important as it provides the basis for your query and analysis functions.
Data mining on the other hand is the utilisation of this data, the mining of the data within the data warehouse. Through Data mining businesses try to find hidden information, to recognise patterns in their data coming from different systems they weren’t aware of, or which perhaps they were aware of but did not fully realise the financial impact. Data mining can take many forms and use different methods such as AI and machine learning, but they still just provide a choice. The ultimate decision must still be made by a person.
You would have a good idea about how your business operates, and what the correlations are between different areas within your business, and between your business and macro economic conditions. But how do you quantify these. As useful as a gut feel is, sometimes it helps to have data to underpin your assertions and estimations. That is where data warehousing and data mining can help.
Through integrating your data within a warehouse, and then mining it you can see how performance in one area impacts another. If you don’t have enough stock then you know you will have difficulty in filling orders, but what is the impact of that? Does it just delay payment as delivery is pushed out, or does it actually result in lost or cancelled sales? Through tracking individual customers you could also see if there is any impact on the value of future orders for those who have experienced a delay in delivery arising from poor stock management.
We’ve had discussion with several engineering and construction businesses where their ability to get a consolidated view of performance across all their projects is limited. With the use of a data warehouse to integrate their data they can start to get a better whole of business picture. Rather than only getting a consolidated bottom line, or each project individually, they can start look at consolidated performance by other dimensions. That could be by project scale, project type, or activity type. Perhaps on a consolidated level everything looks fine, but if you had the ability to look at individual activities on a consolidated basis you would notice that there is a consistent overspend on a particular activity, or to a particular contractor or supplier, which would warrant further investigation.
The word warehouse would have many people thinking of a physical warehouse, maybe at a data centre, but it can be as simple as a new piece of software or database.
At bi5 we use a few different technologies to provide our clients with the benefits of data warehousing and data mining. Products such as BOARD, Jedox, and to a lesser extent Power BI provide the data integration capabilities that are needed in a data warehouse. The allow you to integrate data from multiple sources and integrate it together into your own database. They also provide business intelligence functionality within the same platform to provide you with the ability to mine this data to notice patterns that exist within your business.
Products like BOARD and Jedox also take this one step further and allow you to ‘play’ with these patterns through some what-ifs analysis. This is where you can use scenario planning and sensitivity analysis on the patterns/relationships you’ve noticed to help you make the right decision for your business.
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