New Group Promotes Processes Based
On Business Intelligence

November 9, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The West Michigan Business Intelligence Community, which has been invitation only since its inception last January, is opening its membership to the public with an inaugural luncheon Dec. 10.

"When you get an organization to think about doing things differently in a process format and applying business intelligence principles behind it, it can really change an organization," said Nancy Boese, regional director of the MichiganSmallBusinessDevelopmentCenter. "It can change their culture in a very dynamic way."

The MSBDC is currently in the midst of adopting its own business intelligence program. arlier this month, a set of reports known as dashboards and balanced scorecards were rolled out through the statewide organization to track metrics important to the organization's mission: capital formation, jobs created, jobs sustained, new business start-ups, and related ratios. Using this information, regional directors can make immediate adjustments to improve efficiency and general performance.

very business — small, medium, large — is gathering a lot of data," said Boese. "Just in their QuickBooks is a lot of data. The issue is knowing what is important to pull out of it. What are the important metrics to measure?"

A practice more commonly known as data mining, business intelligence is the use of aggregated company information to make strategic and operational decisions. Most often connected to large retailers and manufacturers, the same principles can be just as valuable to service organizations and small businesses.

"I think it's actually better for an organization like ours," said Boese. "As a service organization, it's harder to see the output of our work on a daily basis."

The balanced scorecards provide an easily understandable set of metrics for an organization. Service xpress President Ron Alvestaffer, an early adopter of balanced scorecards and the keynote speaker at the December luncheon, was able to increase his company's annual revenue by 15-20 percent several years in a row by using the scorecards to better align employees' activities with the company's core objectives.

"Most people get caught up in the technology and the price tag," said Barry Nowak of Gordon Food Service, an active WMBIC member. "The process is hard to do, but there is a misconception that it is about technology. It's more about embracing a different way of doing things — going from a gut-based company to a fact-based company."

With that said, the West Michigan Business Intelligence Community has two core markets: technology providers and decision-makers for company operations, finances and sales. The organization was created to share best practices in the use and aggregation of business intelligence across the region. No actual internal information is shared among the members.

"Helping other businesses do this is not a competitive issue," said Nowak, who spoke on a similar subject at last week's Great Lakes Software xcellence Conference.

"You're not trading information, just ways to use it. From a community standpoint, we have a desire to make West Michigan a better place. One way to do that is to make businesses smarter, and this will allow them to do that."

According to Nowak and Boese, it is easier for a small organization to find value in business intelligence than larger ones. Although the technology used to aggregate the data may be more sophisticated at a larger organization, that data — which may be sullied because of different nomenclatures across departments, regions and countries — is more likely to be corrupted, and leaders are generally not able to immediately implement decisions.

"When I was in New York, whenever you would see a Fortune 1,000 company starting to do business intelligence, it was usually because someone else was doing it," said Andy Catlin, principal of Metrics Reporting and a WMBIC co-founder. "They spend the money and just put it on the shelf."

Catlin reiterated that the primary challenge in business intelligence is not in gathering data but in choosing what data to gather and deciding how to react to it.

"Many times people use these metrics punitively," said Boese. "But this is meant to be supportive. You want to help people improve; it makes no sense to wait until the end of the year to tell them they're doing a bad job."

A venue for the luncheon had yet to be determined at press time. For more information, contact Nancy Boese at 331-7373 or boesen@gvsu.edu, or visit www.wmbic.com.     

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