Monday, 17 January 2011

Work with your hands, and all you get is dirty hands

Until very recently, increasing efficiency meant creating a software system to store relevant information about part of your business. Instead of doing the job manually, or on spreadsheets, it went into a database system. Software systems improve productivity and efficiency, whether it is linked to other aspects of a company’s work (ERP) or stand-alone.

It is a hugely successful approach that all businesses have embraced.

The focus on these projects is the data that needs to be stored in the system. If you put the right information in, we thought, you will get the right information out. The only problem is that all the emphasis went on putting information in, and hardly any focus was on understanding the data.

As the big system trends, such as accounting, CRM and ERP, are becoming more mature, we are now turning our attention to what all this information means. And increasingly we are finding that it is not as self-explanatory as we thought.

Firstly, data isn’t neatly together in one place. Rather, it is in a number of different systems that were created at different times for different reasons.

Secondly, traditional system reports are geared towards efficient systems, not business insight.

Thankfully, a new generation of software tools is coming to the rescue. They are focussed entirely on finding meaning from existing data and are priced to be attractive to businesses of all sizes. For example, Microsoft’s SQL Server Integration Service, Analysis Services and Reporting Services are included in all versions of SQL Server from 2005 at no extra cost.

This changes the nature of business competition. As well as having products and services that customers value, which you can produce cost effectively, visionary businesses are looking at their systems to find new insights and meaning within customer information. And they are using those insights to improve the value they provide to customers.

It is a logical next step. We’ve all spent 25 years creating software systems; now it’s time to use that information profitably. As my father is fond of saying, if you work with your hands, all you get is dirty hands. But if you work with your head ....

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