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Everyone in almost every industry is talking about BI (business intelligence). It has become quite the buzzword over the past two decades. However, ask 10 different people to describe or define BI and you will get 10 very different answers. Even more confusing, ask 10 people from different departments within your own company and you will also get 10 different answers. BI has its own meaning for every position and at every level of an organization. So, when you are contemplating a BI system for your company, how do you know what to look for and where do you even start to look?

If any vendor tells you that their BI solution can be all things to all people, run in the opposite direction. At best they are stretching the truth in a big way and at worst, they are outright fabricating their answer. Beware of these vendors. Their solution will most likely do some things very well but will fall way short of expectations with other functions.

What will be the purpose of your BI? What do you plan to use it for? Are you looking for better reporting, dashboarding, summary data, detail data, financial analysis? Are you looking for market analysis: what is going on in your local or macro-market? Are you looking for Sales BI, something that demonstrates your sources of business or how your sales team is performing? Defining your goals and objectives therefore should be the first step, long before you start looking at vendors or their solutions. I once presented to two groups from a company, one group from sales and the other from accounting, where unsurprisingly, the two groups had very different goals and needs in mind, and the request for proposal that we had responded to only addressed one of these groups. Needless to say, the meeting did not go well!

Where to start? Look within your industry first. What are your competitors using? Is there a vendor that specializes in your industry? Does the vendor have experience with the particular type of data you wish to analyze or report? Be sure to ask the vendor if they specialize in a specific solution, data or function. Going with a vendor that doesn’t know your industry but claims to be able to “build” the solution/application for you, may be very costly and time consuming. The solution may turn out well in the end, but at what cost in terms of time and resources? All too often, we have come in behind these kinds of projects only to spend most of the time overcoming the “once bitten, twice shy” syndrome.

Other questions to ask a potential vendor:

• Can they integrate seamlessly with your disparate systems?
• What is the average length of time for installation and training?
• What are ALL upfront and ongoing costs?
• Are there any hidden costs from third party vendors (contractors, hosting fees, interface fees, etc.)?
• What level of support will you receive post installation? Do they offer training, a Knowledge base, personal support or ticket system?
• What is the length of the agreement? Is there an “out” clause if the solution doesn’t work?
• Ask about hardware requirements both for the platform and for users.
• Ask about any business they have lost and never forget to ask for references!

These sorts of inquiries should be considered standard and cover just the tip of the iceberg. Prior to meeting with any vendor, be sure to also prepare additional questions that relate to the specific needs of your organization.

Once you’ve chosen a vendor, go all-in! You’ve made the selection, stand behind it. Make your team believe it is the best thing for the organization, and that it will help them be more effective and efficient. Nothing will kill a project faster than a lack of support for a new initiative. Designate a champion of the system and give him or her the support they need to make your new BI solution a successful part of company culture!

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