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Business decision-making becomes more reliant upon Information Technology

More companies are investing in business intelligence software, recognising the key role IT can play in supporting business decision making.

Risk-taking is undoubtedly a key aspect of entrepreneurism, with many of the UK's top companies owing their success to bold and brave decision making. But confidence alone is not enough in the cut-throat world of modern business. With so much at stake, companies generally need to have some quantitative foundation to support the decisions they make. While boardroom hunches can turn out to be a stroke of genius, they can equally have unintended negative consequence for companies' futures if the gamble fails to pay off.

As such, statistics play an important role in guiding executive decision making. Where businesses have conducted broad market research, and fully investigated employee trends, they have the benefit of additional insight into particular segments of the market. While theory doesn't always translate into practice, companies can make key decisions with greater confidence if the numbers present a compelling case. Business intelligence (BI) software is playing an increasingly important role in supporting this process, with the ability to instantly analyse and cross-reference data offering the guidance company boards crave. And as the capacity and complexity of BI solutions increase, it is little wonder that the market is expanding so rapidly.

Research conducted by Gartner has pointed to 9.7 per cent growth in the global BI software market during 2011. With more companies seeking to make the most of their data, the analyst expects the industry to be worth £6.65 billion this year alone. It also expects industry growth to remain high through to 2014, as organisations "continue to turn to BI as a vital tool for smarter, more agile and efficient business". Gartner predicted that BI will remain one of the fastest growing software markets over the coming four years.

Back in January, BI was ranked as chief information officers' fifth-top priority for 2011 in the firm's Global CIO survey, in a chart headed by cloud computing and virtualisation. Ian Bertram, managing vice-president at Gartner, said this placing was a further sign of the strategic importance of BI in the modern enterprise. "This market segment has remained strong because the dominant vendors continued to put BI, analytics and performance management at the centre of their messaging," he stated. "Meanwhile end-user organisations largely continued their BI projects, hoping that resulting transparency and insight will enable them to cut costs and improve productivity and agility down the line."

Mr Bertram claimed that the BI platform market in 2010 was "defined by an intensified struggle between business users' need for ease of use and flexibility on the one hand, and IT's need for standards and control on the other". And, with ease of use surpassing functionality as the dominant criterion for BI investment, he suggested that users are increasingly driving investment decisions themselves. Clearly, where statistical analysis enables employees to work faster, more efficiently and with greater accuracy, sentiment towards BI is very positive.

According to Gartner, companies need to have access to simple, mobile BI tools in order to have the greatest benefit on business decision making. The analyst noted that employees are demanding the same experience from BI software that they have come to enjoy with their personal IT tools. "The need for more intuitive and interactive BI tools and applications extends to users on the go, but the vast majority of organisations have yet to embrace mobile BI," it stated.

Lyndsay Wise, founder and president of WiseAnalytics, recently claimed that the options available to BI users – including mobile solutions – are continuing to increase. She noted that the increasing flexibility of licensing models, and diversity of best-of-breed applications means both large and small organisations have greater choice when investing in IT. "With the increasing use of social media, unstructured data, and operational analytics, general BI use will continue to become more dynamic," Ms Wise told the b-eye network. But deciding which tools are most appropriate for an individual company is not always straightforward, and this is potentially where the IT department should be making its voice heard.

"For organisations to identify what would work best within their company and whether to go with a full BI suite or smaller best-of-breed solutions requires a lot of knowledge that is not always easily available," Ms Wise stated. "In addition to understanding implications related to implementation times, resources required to develop and to maintain a solution, and potential for growth, firms also need to match these aspects to their current environment and future business needs."

As with any capital investment, businesses certainly need to do their research before committing to any particular BI solution. Forward planning is essential for companies looking to make the most of such investments, and companies should remain wary of diving in head-first. That said, those who delay too long before upgrading their intelligence infrastructure risk being left behind the curve, as their competitors pull away into the distance. Undoubtedly, the choices made now over BI deployments can have a major impact on the quality of decision making across the enterprise in the future.