The Friday Interview: John Farrelly, SAS Group

7 Mar 2008

Business intelligence (BI) give MDs a digital dashboard on every aspect of their firm’s performance, from sales to shipping. SAS Group client director John Farrelly (pictured) is spearheading this trend in Ireland.

Is it fair to say firms are failing to get the value of their IT investment and that business intelligence software could be an expensive luxury?
I would argue that anyone investing in software, particularly BI, needs to be doing it for a very good reason rather than just for the sake of it.

The application of BI can give businesses very quantifiable returns. But you need a good business case for it. In some respects, a downturn in the economy will mean people will need to be more fiscally aware than ever and that’s a good case for BI.

What is BI and what does it give executives?
One way of describing it is as performance management technology. Another analogy is it’s a virtual dashboard keeping business owners informed of every aspect of their company’s performance.

But you need to be careful that what you are deploying is not just a set of pretty dials but real-time, useful information.

Effectively, BI is a way of disseminating useful information from financial, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

If sales are dropping, an MD should immediately be able to figure out what’s going on, drill down into the firm’s knowledge and make real-time decisions. BI provides a snapshot of how the business is doing at any point in time.

Is the onset of an economic downturn driving demand for BI?
In some cases, yes. More and more people are starting to sharpen the pencil. The only way to make fast, effective decisions is to have information at your fingertips.

Knowing what’s going on internally is crucial to gaining competitive advantage in markets and finding efficiencies in your business.

In the commercial sector, Tesco has seen phenomenal growth. The company drove its entire business by having real-time analysis of its performance at its fingertips.

Is BI only for large businesses or can it be deployed in SMEs?
It is just as relevant for SMEs as it is for large organisations. The amount of complex data is different for smaller companies but the need for accurate BI is just as vital.

A small firm can tie together multiple systems such as Sage accounts or a SAP system and get all the information in one place in a format that can be easily consumed.

Is the amount of data a business needs to manage getting too vast and too complex?
For smaller companies, managing information may become tougher but for larger firms with vaster amounts of information, the job will not only be tough but infinitely complex. Instant access to information in the right context will be vital.

Our research estimates that the amounts of data contained in a business will double every 11 days by 2010.

By John Kennedy