2 ways to expand business intelligence to the outside world

By opening business intelligence to the outside world, you will be able to collect more useful data, but also to increase the engagement of customers and partners.

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Credit: Lauri Väin

Most organizations have implemented some type of business intelligence: data collection and aggregation, reporting, dashboards, analytics, etc. These projects have reached various states of maturity as far as the type of outcome and insight they provide, but most share one commonality: they primarily deal with information and serve consumers inside the four (virtual) walls of the enterprise.

How can you open and expand your business intelligence projects to the outside world? How can you expand the horizon of the data you analyze? How can you get partners, clients, consumers involved, and provide more value to them?

Let's look at some of the ways to do this.

Include data that does not belong to you

Let's be clear, I am not advocating that you steal data from your competition to enrich your market analysis! But rather, that you learn to leverage the wealth of open, publicly available data that's out there, and that you identify other external sources of data -- some of which you may have to buy or subscribe to, others you may be able to access in return for insight or a service.

Why would you do this? You already have too much data inside your organization, that you are unable to process. But it's not about quantity, really -- it's about quality. For example, accessing open data sets on population demographics, provided by a government agency, may help you better understand your regional sales rep performance. Or maybe syndicating a social media feed will be useful to predict consumption patterns.

The grail of external data is to get your potential consumers to spontaneously provide data about their habits and patterns. This is actually the primary business model of connected objects companies, but can also be achieved through gamification and other challenges. You sometimes have to think outside the box to get this data, but the rewards can be immense.

Provide insight to the outside world

Long gone are the days where only a happy few -- usually in executive management -- would have access to the insight produced by business intelligence. Today, the trend is definitely set on using such tools and techniques to provide useful information to anyone in a position to make a decision, no matter how tactical or strategic this decision is. Modern analytics platforms provide real-time dashboards with advanced drill-down capabilities, to all information workers.

The next logical step in this democratization of business intelligence, is to open it to the outside world. Once again, it's not about publishing your sales numbers for competitors or clients to view, but it's about being open and collaborative with clients and partners.

For example, online footwear retailer Zappos chose to open its sales dashboards to its suppliers, instead of using the information as a negotiation weapon for its buyers. The result has been more streamlined communication and greatly improved supplier relationship.

Beyond your suppliers and business partners, you should also look at providing insight to your customers and users. If they know how they use your service or product, in which areas there is room for improvement, if they can compare their usage patterns with other users, they are much more likely to increase their consumption and/or renew their subscription.

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