Plenty of smart businesses are building great operational systems using the latest cloud apps. But it can become very difficult to see information about your business when it is contained within multiple interfaces.

How can you analyse the information hiding inside? The good news is that with most cloud apps, you actually can. With a little work you can have all the data you need to run your operations in one screen.


Not reporting, it’s business intelligence

They used to be called reporting tools. Now they are called business intelligence services or BI tools. They are simply databases with interactive tools to prepare charts and tables, clickable drill-down menus and exports.

Very much like Microsoft Excel spreadsheets but online, and where the data can be stored in tables linked to each other.

When you link tables it shows you the relationship between the information. For example, linking invoices to a job or timesheets to a staff member. This lets you ask more detailed questions and get very useful answers.


What you can do with BI

What can you do when your data is in an online BI tool? First, you would look at your data in interesting charts:

For example, you may see that 50% of your income came from compliance work, 40% from advisory work, and 30% from one off projects. Up 15% from the same month last year. Interesting.

Then, you could drill in to make sense of a figure. Like clicking that bar that shows $27,000 of non-billable work, to find that 60% of it comes from one of your teams (are they entering their timesheets wrong?). Or that the $27,000 is disproportionately related to a certain client group (are some of the tasks are misclassified in the job setup?).

When you get excited, you may want to export all the costs and timesheets related to a certain department and have a field day with them in Excel.

You may realise your team sometimes forget to mark jobs as completed which delays invoicing. You could add an automated weekly report highlighting jobs with billable time that have not been invoiced for more than 14 days.

These are some of the typical ways businesses use of these nifty online BI tools.

View, drill down, identify, figure out, make informed decisions.


How BI collects data

You may be thinking, I love playing around in Excel like the next guy, but my job management app doesn’t let me extract all the data for reporting and querying like this.

Or maybe you have sent a request for a particular report and received the all too typical ‘we love your feature request, we will forward it to the development team, vote for it here’. And then what?

You can sit and wait for them to develop what you need or you could just make things happen now.

How? You just need to connect your cloud systems to a BI tool, and voila! All your data is reportable, exportable and playable to your delight.


Sounds techy – can I do it myself?

Depends. Some systems have a pre-built link to BI tools. Like Xero and QuickBooks Online do with Microsoft’s Power BI and Zoho Reports. With these, the setup is relatively straight-forward.

You may want to get a technical person to help you configure it at first.

Other systems will most likely need someone to develop the link for you. The link is a small program that pulls the data from the cloud app and pushes it into the BI tool.

Then you can can prepare your dashboards, reports, drill downs, queries and exports to your heart’s content.


Real-life examples

In this series of articles I will share with you stories of Australian businesses that use this type of technology.

I will tell you about their wins and the technology they used. And of course, I will tell you about some of the hurdles and limitations. Just to keep it real.

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Filed Under: Retailers

This article was first published on DigitalFirst