Using embedded devices as part of an intelligent system can enable any organization to collect valuable data in new ways. But once the information is available, how do you make sense of it all? The world of intelligent systems is, after all, about using that data to make better decisions.
Although business intelligence software has progressed mightily from a decade ago when running reports required the help of the IT department, turning raw data into something useful for analysis is still often a team effort that can require a lot of legwork for administrators. Companies such as large retailers, manufacturers and logistics organizations are especially interested in finding a more elegant way to track business performance across complex networks of transactions and interactions.
According to Bryan Colyer of Redmond-based Extended Results — part BI consulting practice and part software developer — as more companies connect embedded devices and enterprise IT within intelligent systems, the need for applications that can turn that information into something usable is exploding.
“We’ve seen a strong need in retail, because so much of their information is in silos,” Colyer says. “But companies across industries are craving a way to help their corporate offices collaborate with stores and warehouses, to monitor the rhythm of the business and provide insight for better decisions.”
To help its clients solve this problem, Extended Results has developed an application called PushBI that is able to tap into almost any data source, from SQL Server and other databases to Excel spreadsheets and Web services. With business intelligence logic built on top and real-time operational data underneath, PushBI is able to deliver up-to-the-minute metrics on almost any type of data stream and deliver those reports to almost any device — meaning an executive can track performance by region, store or even by item or salesperson, right from a phone or Tablet PC.
“PushBI provides immediate reporting,” he says. “Before, someone would have to get the information and do analysis. With this, I can see my key metrics anywhere, anytime — and so can my store manager, my warehouse managers, my purchasers.”
With PushBI, data is presented in a graphical format that is easy to understand. Color coding draws immediate attention to problem areas such as stock-outs or lagging sales. For executives, Colyer says the ability to parse information and dial into specifics can really help in keeping tabs on a large organization.
“If I’m visiting stores in New York, I can dial into specific metrics for those stores,” he says. “I can see whether sales are trending up or down. Who are my top salespeople. I can see what’s selling, what’s not, and how that differs from store to store.”
At the store level, Colyer says, this capability can help with replenishment and optimizing shelf space. Store managers can easily communicate with the warehouse, ensuring inventory is available on time. Managers and executives can also track the effects of changes such as special promotions or new signage.
The PushBI application also features integrated IM chat functionality through Microsoft Lync. This allows executives, managers and subject experts such as accountants to discuss issues directly in the context of the application.
“As a senior exec, I can’t be an expert in every single number,” says Colyer. “But I can be connected to experts using Lync. With Lync’s presence information, I can see that my store manager in New York is present and have a quick IM or even start a videoconference.”
Colyer says the emerging market for intelligent systems has created the need for applications such as PushBI that can help companies put new data streams to work. As the market matures, Extended Results is seeing its customers around the world become more creative with the technology. One major global shipping company, for example, is using the product to optimize the offloading of containers at an Australian port.
“This market is still so new, most of our customers have an early adopter mindset and are looking for a competitive edge,” Colyer says. “We can’t wait to see what happens as more customers find new ways to leverage this technology. The ones who are doing this now are definitely getting ahead of the competition.”
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