Bruno Aziza, Worldwide Strategy Lead for Business Intelligence at Microsoft recently drew my attention to his article on The Official Microsoft Blog entitled Use Business Intelligence To Compete More Effectively.
My blog attempts to stay vendor-neutral, but much of Bruno’s article is also in the same vein; aside from the banner appearing at the top of course. It is noteworthy how many of the big players are realising that engaging with the on-line community in a sotto voce manner is probably worth much more than a fortissimo sales pitch. This approach was also notable in another output from the BI stable at Microsoft; Nic Smith’s “History of Business Intelligence” , which I reviewed in March 2009. However, aside from these comments I’ll focus more on what Bruno says than on who he works for; and what he says is interesting.
His main thesis is that good BI can “sharpen competitive skills […] turning competitive insights into new ways to do business”. I think that it is intriguing how some organisations, ideally having already got their internal BI working well, are now looking to squeeze even further value out of their BI platform by incorporating more outward-looking information; information relating to their markets, their customers and their competitors. This was the tenth BI trend I predicted in another article from March 2009. However, I can’t really claim to be all that prescient as this development seems pretty common-sensical to me.
Setting the bar higher
Competition between companies is generally seen as a positive thing – one reason that there is so much focus on anti-trust laws at present. Competition makes the companies involved in it (or at least those that survive) healthier, their products more attuned to customer needs, their services more apt. It also tends to deliver better value and choice to customers and thus in aggregate drives overall economic well-being (though of course it can also generate losers).
In one of my my earliest blog articles, Business Intelligence and Transparency, I argued that good BI could also drive healthy internal competition by making the performance of different teams and individuals more accessible and comparable (not least to the teams and individuals themselves). My suggestion was that this would in turn drive a focus on relative performance, rather than settling for absolute performance. The latter can lead to complacency, the former ensures that the bar is always reset a little higher. Although this might seem potentially divisive at first, my experience of it in operation was that it led to a very positive corporate culture.
Although organisations in competition with each other are unlikely to share benchmarks in the same way as sub-sections of a single organisation, it is often possible to glean information from customers, industry associations, market research companies, or even the published accounts of other firms. Blended with internal data, this type of information can form a powerful combination; though accuracy is something that needs to be born in mind even more than with data that is subject to internal governance.
A new source of competitive advantage
Bruno’s suggestion is that the way that companies leverage commonly available information (say Governmental statistics) and combine this with their own numbers is in itself a source of competitive advantage. I think that there is something important here. One of the plaudits laid at the feet of retail behemonth Wal Mart is that it is great at leveraging the masses of data collected in its stores and using this in creative ways; ways that some of its competition cannot master to the same degree.
In recent decades a lot of organisations have attempted to define their core competencies and then stick to these. Maybe a competency in generating meaningful information from both internal and external sources and then – crucially – using this to drive different behaviours, is something that no self-respecting company should be without in the 2010s.
You can follow Bruno on twitter.com at @brunoaziza