One company’s road to simplifying business intelligence

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One company's road to simplifying business intelligence

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In an increasingly interconnected world, the possibilities for how we can process and analyze information have grown. Today's companies are expending considerable resources to be able to tap into data from multiple sources instantaneously. And for many of these companies, the first step to harnessing and analyzing the seemingly unending deluge of information lies in business intelligence, or BI, tools.

BI software collects data from multiple, disparate sources onto one platform and gives companies insight into current and future trends. For small and midsize businesses, however, implementing BI can be a daunting experience. Jeremy Jackson, CEO and co-founder of simpleBI, aims to change all that. ForwardView spoke with Jeremy about his company and how it meets the needs of smaller companies. Following are highlights from the interview.

Tell us a little bit about your company, simpleBI.

Jeremy Jackson:
Like any company that started with an idea, simpleBI came about because of a need or a want for us to do things simpler. We knew that the business intelligence industry was fairly complex. We knew that in order to build a solution that was designed for the small and medium-sized business market, we needed to remove some of that complexity.

Regardless of whether it's a BI implementation or just about anything that we do as a company, we are constantly asking ourselves: Is this making things simpler? Is it making it easier to use? So when we came up with the idea, that was the philosophy that we tried to take forward.

We also knew that there's a lot of value in an enterprise solution. Unfortunately, it was kind of out of reach for the SMB market. So we wanted to take the best parts of an enterprise solution and make those available to the small and medium-sized business market at a price point that was digestible. And we feel like we've achieved that.

When it comes to working with small and midsize businesses, what are you finding are their main concerns? What keeps them up at night?

Jeremy Jackson:
That's a tough question. What I can tell you is we try to build a solution that fits as many needs as possible. What we've discovered is that one size doesn't fit all. A lot of the boutique BI that's out there right now doesn't work for everybody.

Part of the process we've been going through with the small and medium-sized business market is to really understand what their problems are. Because our application is industry agnostic, each industry has its own set of unique challenges. So one of the things that we've really focused on is getting in touch with customers and figuring out what are the business problems that [they're] facing on a daily basis. And ranking those based on industry so that we can take that information collectively and leverage it across all potential customers.

I know that in terms of a solution there are a lot of questions around SaaS, there are a lot of questions around security, there are a lot of questions around the cloud – and I think that we've been really successful in addressing that. But in terms of actual business problems, I would say that the one consistency is that there is no consistency. Everybody has a unique set of deliverables or challenges that they are facing.

Let's talk about one of your clients: PODS Ottawa, a moving and storage franchise. This is a company that was looking to introduce more data-driven decision making into its business.

Jeremy Jackson:
PODS is a great example of a small business wanting to utilize the power and benefits of a solution like simpleBI. Peter [Hauderowicz, franchise owner of PODS Ottawa] came to us and had a very specific question that he wanted to answer. He was very focused on this one set of conversion rate metrics that he wanted to have answered. But once he got into it, he discovered that it was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the things that he was actually able to do. He owns franchises in Ottawa and Halifax [and] the business problems are very different based on location. So he is addressing all his business challenges based on region.

Let's shift gears a tiny bit and talk about the nuts and bolts of simpleBI. You're using IBM Cognos® as the backbone of the analytics system.

"So we chose to use IBM Cognos because we know it's an industry-leading tool"

Jeremy Jackson:
There were a lot of factors that went into [using Cognos.] I'm an ex-Cognos guy so it kind of swayed me slightly.

We really looked at all the big players in the market. What it came down to was us asking ourselves: Did we want to be a development shop that built a BI solution? Or did we want to be BI implementers? And realistically we wanted to be BI implementers and be able to offer the best possible solution without the constant need, worry, overhead and financial concerns and costs of constantly maintaining an application and development.

So we chose to use IBM Cognos because we know it's an industry-leading tool. We knew of its durability; we knew that it was one of the best products out there for our need. And we really wanted to bring that to a small and medium-sized business market simply because they may not have access to it otherwise. We knew that if we could put [IBM Cognos] into a SaaS model, it would change the price point and actually bring it into the realm of possibility [for SMBs].

What advice do you have for a small or midsize business that wants to implement a BI solution, whether it's traditional BI or cloud-based software as a service?

Jeremy Jackson:
That's a tough question. I'd say from a business perspective, it's so important to set clear goals and milestones prior to implementation, regardless [of whether] you're doing traditional or cloud or software as a service.

You hear stats all the time, unfortunately, about failed BI implementations. And I think it all started with [companies] biting off more than [they] can chew. The great thing about using a solution like simpleBI is that you can do kind of incremental development. We can take a subset of information, we can have clear objectives and then we can show how we quickly and easily achieve those. And then once we're comfortable with that, we can continue to move forward with the BI progression.

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