How Smart Is Business Intelligence?

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A little more than four years ago, a columnist on Web CPA speculated, "So what should we make of BI?" BI is business intelligence, and certainly one of those terms that can be abused and often has been in the software world. Business intelligence was looking like a trend that was not quite as hot as CRM was at the time. But there are indications that as CRM is more mature, BI is likely to become the next great thing for resellers that handle financial software.

The columnist, of course, was me, in an article titled "Business Intelligence: The Next Buzz Word?"

Since then, a lot of reporting and analytical tools have hit the market. But strictly speaking, BI is a reporting methodology that draws information together from any source within the company. It's a technological way of saying that just about anything a company knows can be analyzed to draw conclusions that can be used in running the business.

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With regulatory issues and demand for accounting software contributing to a high demand for skills, how are firms addressing the need to find and keep talent?

Carly Lombardo looks at the search for talent in "Ramping Up." Lombardo also examines trends in the tax research market in "One-stop Tax Research."

Also in this issue, Associate Editor Riccardo A. Davis discusses the issues facing resellers that address the distribution market, one of the bread-and-butter markets for software VARs, in "Reading the Distribution Code." This issue also features the third annual "VAR 100," Accounting Technology's selection of the top reselling organizations.

BI is increasingly showing up on vendor and reseller plates. Late in 2005, Exact Software acquired Vanguard Business Systems, which makes a BI product that Exact was already marketing. Sage began selling its version of the eAnalytics Portal authored by Dynamic Software Systems International, and NexVue, a Hartford, Conn., reseller of Dynamics SL, formed a separate division to handle Bio, an analytics and business information optimization product.

The subject was quite noticeable as we collected information for this month's VAR 100 feature. Some companies with good reputations were talking more actively about BI.

Businessintelligence and analytics is one of those areas that has seemed to be on the verge of a break-out for several years now. There were a series of less complicated packages introduced - CCH's Profit Driver, Sage's Comprehensive Financial Organizer, CaseWare Scenarios, and Creative Solutions Financial Analysis Solution. And while these products seem like they should be valuable to practitioners, as they say in the Westerns, "It's quiet out there. Too quiet."

In the early days, some of the packages were just too much for the technology. Online Analytical Processing techniques, when they first emerged, were too much for computers to handle. And perhaps some of these products are still too much for smaller businesses to handle mentally. Their owners don't have the cultural background or skills for analysis that are the norm in larger organizations. And many of them can't cut the spreadsheet umbilical cord.

But it seems likely that as software, coupled with the powerful hardware and networking now available, grows more sophisticated it will be able to deliver on the promise by being able to access and manipulate data held by organizations. And competitive pressures are likely to make the ability to analyze data something that pushes even small players ahead of those who don't.

This stuff ought to catch on.

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