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5 Ways To Help SMBs Successfully Adopt Business Intelligence (BI)

Working with customers on their ERP initiatives over the years, I’ve discovered that most companies don’t have a Business Intelligence (BI) strategy. For a number of reasons, including perceived cost and complexity, lack of time and/or generally being overwhelmed, most small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) have yet to enter the world of in-depth analytics.

Our engagements focus on SMBs, where we witness our customers businesses evolve rapidly, literally overnight. Most of these organizations are playing constant ‘catch-up’ in aligning business processes to changing business needs which leaves BI and reporting on the backburner.

Business Intelligence

The matrix above, from SAP Objects, illustrates the various benefits of BI. Most of our clients don’t even get close to BI because they are trying to maintain strategic alignment due to rapid growth or evolution. “Keeping it all together” is absolutely a priority, but if businesses don’t invest into the processes and tools that can accurately predict performance and impact how confident decisions are made then they’re flying blind.

Every client I’ve talked to totally understands the value of having a BI strategy, however I feel that the real barrier is knowing how to get started. I thought it would be useful to put together 5 ways to help any customer that’s looking to successfully adopt BI.

1. Identify your measures of success and failure

Metrics matter. As a leader in business, deciding on the important metrics to measure your business is hard. Everyone in the organization needs to be on the same page about what success and what failures mean to your business.

Every sector has common KPI’s, so my recommendation is to select the 5 that are important to your business and adopt them. Some likely candidates are industry-specific, so you can pick some metrics by which your industry measures success and failure. Hospitality providers, such as restaurants, have a few that are well known and include various different dimensions for front of house, back of house, kitchen management and bar, etc. Distributors usually measure inventory value and carrying costs, sales order fill rates, vendor performance, lost sales and returns/lost shipment.

The key here is to pick and start measuring against those measures so you can start to see how you’re stacking up on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.

2. Categorize leading and lagging indicators

Leading indicators are defined as a set of metrics that are predictive of financial or other outcomes. They can be used as an early warning sign of process performance.
Lagging indicators, on the other hand, are the output or the metrics that measure end-state outcomes. In sales, a leading indicator would be the number of prospects called, while your lagging indicator is the amount of sales made.

By setting a mix of Leading and Lagging indicators, you can look at historical performance but also those activities that drive future activities and results. Sales notes and activities are always a leading indicator of revenue, but they also forecast raw materials purchases, cash flow and potential hires. Production delays for certain products will cause customer delays. The best practice to surface these types of activities is to adopt the appropriate forums, such as weekly operations meetings with your business leaders to surface and measure these types of activities.

3. Practice regular KPI reporting

Make KPI reporting part of your regular business rhythms by adopting meetings or weekly/monthly status reports to talk about your KPI’s and their impact on business processes. Below we have 2 examples of sales dashboards that you can create in Microsoft’s Power BI. As a Sales Manager, these dashboards are easy to digest and can immediately start the conversation going on the current state of productivity and what strategies need to be implemented in order to continue moving forward.

Power BI Dashboard for a Sales Manager

Power BI Dashboard for a Sales Manager

Regular reporting and check-ins with your team really make a difference in mitigating the risks of emerging issues or minimizing the impact for any issues that have occurred. With the help of operational dashboards, you and your team will really start to understand how different KPIs or success metrics have an impact on the business and each individual department as well.

Power BI Sales Performance Dashboard

Power BI Sales Performance Dashboard

4. Record and measure your results

Recording and measuring results will help you align your business goals and prepare for BI. Even if you have to start with a basic spreadsheet, ensure that each person or people are accountable for specific measures in the organization. When you record the measures you can eventually make a recommendation on how to proceed based on the results. This will show the trend and also help each of your leadership team understand the impact they have on the organization as a whole. It will also help to streamline decision-making based on results versus “gut feel” or notions.

5. Decide on a BI tool that fits your business

There a lot of options to choose from so it’s best to select a BI tool with a specific business need in mind. The decision to implement BI should not be about the technology, it’s about strategic alignment of your business goals and having the right KPIs and other measures in place to make better decisions. The tool you choose should be able to create visibility of your data, measure your performance, and deliver the results that you are looking for. Remember, software can enable BI and can certainly make it visually appealing, but the real magic is aligning your business to ensure that the necessary components for BI are in place.


Understanding your business, customers, trends, and making informed decisions depends greatly upon analytics.  In terms of product recommendations, we ourselves, run on Microsoft Dynamics, so we chose to implement Jet Reports, a BI and reporting solution built for Dynamics NAV. This tool helped us strategically align our Dynamics NAV system with our people and processes, allowing us to share valuable live data like current planning jobs and utilization numbers in weekly operations meetings.

If you’re interested in getting started, we recommend trying a demo of Microsoft’s Power BI Solution – which we also use and where the dashboards above came from! Power BI is a suite of applications and functionality that leverages Microsoft Excel. This solution brings together data from numerous sources, transforms that data through querying tools and data visualization tools, and quickly designs, shares and collaborates on the analysis in the Power BI portal. Like other software organizations, Microsoft is continuously investing in its analytic tools so they are easier to consume, cost effective and more functionally robust.

So if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, it might help to start a conversation about BI and what it would mean for your business. We can help you in your search for a new solution or just give you some good old fashioned advice on if your business is ready for BI or not.

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