Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

BI for SMBs: Top Considerations for Deploying BI in 2012


There is evidence SMBs are ahead of the curve when it comes to performance management. A 2010 Aberdeen Group study found that mid-sized companies outperformed their larger counterparts during the most recent economic slow-down and are more likely to use performance metrics pervasively throughout the organization. If you’re one of these businesses – or would like to be – you can cultivate a culture of fact-based decision-making by making the move from manual tracking of KPIs to the widespread use of business intelligence. BI is not just for large enterprises anymore!

Deploying BI is a big decision for any company, but especially for SMBs with limited resources and budget constraints. These are the top 3 considerations for SMBs starting BI projects in the next 12 months:

1) Spreadsheets – continue using Excel or stop? Excel is still the most pervasive analytics tool in the world and also the most commonly used database – especially for planners – because it is relatively easy to use and inexpensive. The good news is that there is a way to marry the best part of Excel into a BI infrastructure. In such a system, Excel is used for analysis and is directly connected to the reporting database so you can automate your reporting in a familiar environment. (Want to learn more? Click here.)

2) Your vendor approach – best of breed or single vendor? In the best of breed approach, you would plug the best product for your specific task into your BI stack. Smaller niche vendors are eager to provide the best products and services at a more affordable price than megavendors. Going with a single stack can be expensive and locks you in, but it does offer you access to a suite of products that should work together if your needs change/grow in the future.

3) Deployment strategy – SaaS or hosted?

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Mobile BI’s Hype vs. True Adoption Rates


Is mobile BI more than just hype? We think so.There’s no denying the hype around mobile BI. But how much of this talk is actually put into action? According to The BI Survey 10, the world’s largest independent survey of BI users published this week by the Business Application Research Center (BARC), only 8% of companies using BI software access reports on mobile devices! That’s a surprisingly low number considering how much BI vendors (including arcplan) have been promoting it as the next big thing, how many analyst reports and surveys have been devoted to it, and, of course, how many companies seem to be clamoring for it. Let’s consider the factors that contribute to this low adoption rate and evaluate whether there’s any redemption for mobile BI adoption in the future.

It should come as no surprise that the heaviest consumers of BI are the folks behind the desk. In a recent post on mobile BI, we called out these users specifically to include account managers, research analysts and finance managers – the “first to arrive and last to leave” crowd. Because their work is best accomplished behind a desk, there’s less likelihood that they’ll need to rely on a smartphone or tablet PC for reporting or analysis. So this huge subset of BI users can’t be relied upon to be the first adopters.

Who else isn’t adopting mobile BI right now? Apparently the executive set. A major reason for low adoption rates, according to BARC, is that the prime candidates for mobile BI usage – namely executives and high-level managers – are too busy to even run reports and would actually prefer to be fed information by someone else. In other words, they’d rather trust someone else to quickly tell them what they need to know.

Even with these two major factors, 8% still seems like quite a low adoption rate, so what else could be going on here?

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Have You Outgrown Your Old Budgeting, Planning, and Forecasting Process?


Is your budgeting, planning, and forecasting process no longer useful to your organization? Does it take too long, involve cumbersome spreadsheets, and result in obsolete information? You’re not alone. Many of our clients came to us with these same complaints. In fact, we work with a hospital in New Jersey that used to collect 200 spreadsheets at the beginning of every budget cycle, then ended up with multiple versions of each spreadsheet by the end of the process…though now that I think about it, I’m not sure their budget cycle ever actually ended. It just merged into next year’s!

That is an obvious example of a company that had outgrown its budgeting and planning process. But some situations aren’t so obvious. You know you and your planners suffer at the end of every fiscal year, but is it so much that you should consider graduating to the next level of planning?

Here’s 5 ways to know if you’re ready to move on to a more sophisticated method of budgeting and planning:

1) You’re beyond the 6/6 spreadsheet rule.
Spreadsheets are excellent tools for individual tasks and ad-hoc reporting, but are poorly suited to repetitive, collaborative, enterprise-wide functions such as budgeting and planning. One rule of thumb that says, “If more than 6 people will use it more than 6 times, you should consider an alternative.”

2) Time constraints are limiting the amount of re-planning you can accomplish.
The best time to gain an advantage in the market is during a downturn. While your competitors may have been cutting costs during the recent economic crisis, if you had more agile planning processes in place, you would have anticipated change better and been more nimble in adjusting your business.

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Teradata PARTNERS User Group Conference 2011 Recap


If you follow arcplan news, you’ve probably heard about our new partnership with Teradata. We just got back from exhibiting at the Teradata PARTNERS User Group Conference (TDPUG) in San Diego late last week and we’re blown away by how well we were received at the show.

Overall, the show was positive and encouraging, with Teradata’s customers really looking to partners for ways to extend the reach of their existing infrastructure and drive utilization and data storage within Teradata.

We met with so many data architects, DBAs, BI managers, and analysts who were excited over arcplan’s status as the only partner to support Teradata’s new OLAP connector without the need for a semantic layer. We talked to many Teradata customers who have already installed (or are in the final stages of installing) the OLAP connector in order to directly integrate a BI solution into their Teradata Warehouse. That’s what arcplan does, and it saves developers time – time to value, time to build reports, dashboards, and other analytic applications…and it also saves money since it requires less resources and less infrastructure.

We demo’d arcplan’s support for the Teradata OLAP connector and heard a lot of interest in the fact that arcplan takes the power of Excel (the only other way to access the OLAP interface directly) and broadens it to the casual business user of BI – those who need intuitive access to their reports and dashboards either on their desktop browser or on any mobile device. In fact, I spent most of the show walking around with my iPad out, showing arcplan + Teradata everywhere I went (as you can see in the picture).

We also spoke with attendees in the finance function, or IT managers responsible for budgeting and planning support, whose interest was piqued by our integrated platform, which combines reporting with budgeting and planning capabilities (allowing Teradata customers to leverage their existing infrastructure and expertise to address this additional organizational need!).

We’ll definitely be back next year. In the meantime, if you have questions about how arcplan works with Teradata, or if you’re a Teradata customer who is exploring the OLAP connector, email us or leave us a comment!


Dashboard Chart Fouls: Do Your Charts Pass This 3-Step Test?


If I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase ‘Rules are meant to be broken,’ I’d be rich. However, this cliché has no place in BI dashboard design. Having the right dashboard charts and graphs are essential to making your dashboard a useful resource. Your users may not be able to articulate it – since they may not know better – but your dashboard may be the victim of what we call a “chart foul.” Chart fouls can be detrimental to the usefulness of your dashboard because they indicate that data isn’t being presented the right way, or they mean that your chart type or data labels are confusing your users.

We’ve been building BI dashboards for the last 18 years for large and small companies. You can probably imagine the number of chart fouls we’ve come across. Today we’ve pooled our knowledge and present to you some pointers on major chart fouls to avoid:

1. Choosing the wrong chart type.
Have you ever seen a bar chart with more than 15 data sets? That’s a considerable amount of information to display horizontally, so chances are that the graph appeared very cluttered and was difficult to read. You’re better off displaying such information as a simple line graph. How about a radar graph showing the qualitative scores of potential hires? It’s just as confusing as it sounds (see below), and is probably not a good idea either. So in order to show ranking among candidates, a good old-fashioned table of numbers will do. Choosing the right graph or chart for your data is an art. You should select a graph that is easy to understand and is an appropriate representation of your data. In a previous post on Dashboard Charts & Graphs, we reviewed how to choose the best chart type for your BI dashboard.

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