The Benefits of Linking Data

John Pugh, CTO of Nathean Technologies, discusses the business value of linking and cross-analysing data from multiple sources and applications.

Information is increasing at a rapid rate across the average organisation.  A recently published report by The Bloor Group found that 71 percent of company executives, the majority of whom IT specialists, polled consider information silos “a significant issue.”

However, an overwhelming number of companies are operating with blind spots and are struggling to get the right information. This has driven the need for advancements in business processes and information management.  No longer is data analysis and reporting isolated activities – business leaders are recognising the need to integrate processes across functions into a single point.

Five Step Approach to Data Integration
The process of bridging data silos needs to be managed very carefully or else data can become dispersed across departments leading to an inconsistent and inaccurate picture of the business performance.  Companies are now looking to universal data to determine future plans and improve their operations but firstly, they must decide how they will go about bringing data sources together in the most cost-effective, productive way.

The first step an organisation should take when approaching any BI project is to clearly outline their key goals and objectives. These should be communicated clearly to business users and measured against regularly. Common objectives include; improved speed of access to data, empowerment of end users, addressing data related to other business areas and achieving cost savings.

The second step is to nominate a “data ambassador” who will act as the main driver behind the project.  Their role is to assist other users and address potential barriers along the way. Regardless of a BI strategy, every company should look to appoint a data leader who is responsible for data management in the business.

Thirdly, the organisation should decide what external data needs to be brought in to be analysed alongside internal data. This may include website statistics and social media metrics such as brand mentions, customer queries etc.  This will provide a complete 360 degree view of how the business is performing.

The fourth step is to seek a data discovery solution that encourages user empowerment, offers real-time access to information held in their systems and can effectively adapt to meeting changing business needs. It should also complement existing systems and tools as this tends to lead to a higher user adoption rate.

Finally, the company should use the solution to build a cross-functional bridge of communication and monitor results closely to make sure the original goals and objectives have been achieved.

Key Benefits of Bringing Data Together
Joining internal and external data together provides companies with a more complete picture of how their functions are performing and equips business users with the intelligence they need to make better decisions. It eliminates any guess work or intuition which may have been used previously.

The long term benefits of implementing an integrated BI solution far outweigh the cost of investment. In a highly competitive and fast paced market, having access to the right information at the right time can be a key factor in a company’s ability to respond to any changes.

Another positive effect is that it helps to eliminate internal data silos, making communication between functions more consistent and aligned. It is generally acknowledged that companies that provide their employees with up to date, real-time metrics outperform those that don’t.  This is because they are able to link actions with results more accurately and adjust their operations and processes accordingly.

Case Examples
According to a 2011 study conducted by IDC, the amount of data being stored by enterprises is doubling every two years. Today, all universities and local councils are sitting on vast quantities of data in their systems and applications. The volume and complexity of the data that grows across Finance, HR, Procurement and Payroll can be a real challenge. Yet achieving transparency and visibility is no longer simply a lofty goal, but a necessity of the modern world.

The consequence of not delivering these capabilities is often the heavy reliance that executives and managers have on spreadsheets and custom reports. Almost every resource planning system now has the ability to create reports and export them to spreadsheets for distribution. While this approach certainly has a place in an organisation, the best BI deployments relegate spreadsheets to a supporting role with the real intelligence being delivered in a validated BI environment that combines the agility of spreadsheets with the security of a central solution.

Fingal County Council, for example, implemented Nathean’s Enterprise analytics software to link and analyse data across collections, purchasing practices, resource planning and attendance management. They can now access and analyse their data at a more granular level allowing more detailed management reports to be produced. As a result, they are able to make better informed decisions, negotiate competitive terms with their suppliers and achieve cost savings.

Given the rapid growth in data and increasing number of incongruent systems, databases and applications, there is a clear need among organisations to bring data together and organise it for meaningful analysis. Technologies that deliver this can have a huge amount to offer customers over the next decade and beyond. We are living in an Era where Big Data and Web 3.0 are very much influencing the way we want to see information.

What are your thoughts on data integration? Please leave your comments below.

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