Intelligence, Redefined

Opinion: Good intelligence will help businesses meet goals.

Heres an example of business intelligence that BI vendors dont talk about too often. A person calls an 800-number at a telecommunications carrier for help on billing questions. Maybe the person has exceeded his or her allotted minutes, made calls outside the service network, or didnt realize that calls from Canada to the United States would be treated as international calls.

Whatever the case, the vendor representative on the other end of the line knows the caller is stuck in a really bad phone plan for the type of usage being conducted. When does the rep let the caller know the plan being used is going to cost a lot more money than expected? How does the rep gauge when the customers frustration level will hit critical mass and the person will switch plans at the first opportunity?

Measuring that type of customer interaction is the part of BI applications that doesnt get discussed in vendor-supplied case histories. But through blogs and social networks, those frustrated callers now have a voice, and the next stage of BI will have to become not only financially aware but also socially aware.

The story about the frustrated caller and the telecom BI system that seeks to maximize revenue and minimize risk came from an executive in the BI community who requested anonymity. Those same types of risk-and-reward equations are also taking place in the credit card industry, the mortgage industry and in other businesses such as transportation that need to match capacity with demand. Companies are always quick to say they are customer-oriented, but in this age of thin margins, increased foreign competition and the need to upsell everything, customers should be wary about the advice they are receiving.

On their side, customers are coming to both the physical and the digital worlds of transactions with a lot more information in hand. Using the Web allows customers to comparison-shop, obtain a good idea of the price a vendor is paying for a product, and negotiate the best price for the product or service they hope to secure. It all is prompting what Id argue is a need to redefine the idea of BI and what these systems are supposed to provide.

BI has really gone through three stages. The first stage comprised big, expensive and proprietary systems aimed at allowing major customers, such as airlines, to capacity-plan and adjust prices to meet inventory. The second step was a widget stage encompassing the idea of a corporate dashboard displaying all aspects of a companys operations to an executive sitting before a bank of monitors.

/zimages/3/28571.gifOrganizations can start making sense of all manner of corporate data with a range of tools that provide business intelligence capabilities. Click here for a slide show.

The third stage, which we are now entering, is a mix of the first two steps in which financial decisions will be based on real-time feedback involving not only in-company inventory and management systems but also a reading of the social network and blogging communities. Those real-time gauges of customer attitudes based on what consumers are saying about a company will be as important as the amount of inventory residing in a corporate warehouse.

Companies such as Visible Technologies are creating ways to help companies build and manage online brands. Those companies will eventually become part of broader BI networks.

This broader shift is a major change in how companies should think about BI. In many ways, it is putting the process in its proper perspective, by first understanding the mood and needs of the customer base and then creating products and services to fulfill those needs. What is different this time is the speed with which social and blogging networks can build up or tear down a companys brand.

While BI started from creating more precise financial and modeling information for company sales networks, the next stage of BI will help companies achieve their financial goals while also gauging how customers really feel about them.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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