With technology changing the way business operates in the market today, companies are now more than ever relying on fast, accurate and up to date information processing to deliver on time and perform competitively in order to stay ahead. One field in the industry is making a big stride in terms of helping businesses process and evaluate data in a way that translates to greater efficiency and return on investment.
Business intelligence is a rapidly expanding field of technology that seeks to translate raw data into a more manageable and understandable form for businesses to incorporate when engaging in business planning and financial projections.
South Africa is taking the lead with this trend as we find more companies extending their approach to data management. Industry leader BussinessIntelligent has taken charge of the emerging trend and is currently one of the largest business intelligence providers in Africa.
Nicholas Bell, managing director of BussinessIntelligent, says business intelligence has a lot to offer companies in terms of how to process and understand data. “It’s about helping people make better decisions. Our industry is about providing users in businesses with data and can help them improve the quality and the accuracy of their decision making,” he says.
This process further entails taking data from different systems in the business, having a look at the way they work and are performing and comparing this to their budget.
This also links to targeting as well as assisting businesses in connecting and planning where they want to go and to give them assistance in accessing data in an easier, simpler manner without them needing to spend a lot of time on preparing reports.
“I find it even more critical in the downturned economy because of the fact that you need to make the right decisions and make more sense of your data the first time around. The dynamics of the global environment makes it change constantly. Now you need to have access to the data so much quicker otherwise you’ll miss the boat, you’ll miss your customer, you’ll miss a change in the market and users need to know what is going on as this can be expensive. You’d want to monitor profit. So it is really about helping people make better decisions,” says Bell.
The early days
Born in Bloemfontein where he lived for the first three years of his life, Bell describes his family as a close-knit group. His parents were both school teachers and at the age of three his father accepted a position at Metro Cash and Carry which entailed a move to Johannesburg. Here he completed his schooling at Randpark High and afterwards went on to obtain an honours degree in accounting from the University of Johannesburg.
Sport has also been a big part of Bell’s life and he recalls his time playing cricket at school and varsity playing for the Strikers among others. These days when he has time spare, he can be found on the golf course or engaging in cycling. His family has also been quite musical with both him and his brother having played in bands.
His current family life is contented and he has been happily married to his wife, who he met during matric break, for over two years now with their first child on the way.
With the business booming at its current tempo, Bell describes himself as someone who can certainly learn to relax a bit. “I can be impatient at times so I need to calm down a bit from time to time. They say the child will change that so I am going to have to learn a lot more patience, calmness and understanding.”
He started the business about six years ago and while finishing his honours degree at the University of Johannesburg, he was involved in building merchandising systems for companies such as Messaris and Johnson & Johnson’s among others.
During his honours year he was approached by SAB to build mobile capture tools. From here he decided to take a gap year from articles and started up the business in his parents’ garage.
“I worked from my parents’ house for the first eight months. At the time it was just a developer and myself. I had good skills with technology and I could build the goods and I was good at it. But I understood the business context better.
“I understood what users were trying to get out, what type of data and info they needed to process in order to make decisions and so forth. Then SAB started to see this as well and I started to do more and more work for them. For me it was more about what I can do with data. We can understand it better than other companies and how to use the data and that part of the process was what gave us the catalyst to grow,” Bell told Leadership.
Today his company is standing strong, valued at an estimated R25 million. As one of the leading business intelligence companies in South Africa, they provide businesses with one of the most crucial services relevant to the current market. Being quite young to have achieved this much, Bell ascribes his success to a strong and conscientious work ethic.
“I think I have quite a strong work ethic, a lot of drive to achieve. It is important for me to add value to customers. This means that being an entrepreneur, you might have do more or play every role in the business. You can’t shy away from work because you don’t want to do it or it’s an inconvenient time. You’ve got to do the work, so that’s key. I also understood the business context quite well and I can relate well to customers and understand their needs. That builds a better bond, they can see I care about their business and they get my time as well. It is a partnership where they realise that we want to help them make it simpler and that’s really very important,” says Bell.
Intelligence in Africa
When asked how on par South Africa is compared to the rest of the world regarding our technology and implementation, he says that we are doing quite well. “If I look at our customer base that we’re working with, they are doing well with the big implementation of their technology, and I think they are doing a very good job,” Bell says.
In terms of business intelligence, expanding these kind of services to the rest of Africa will also prove highly beneficial to both parties. He feels the company has a good working model that could easily be translated to other countries given an accurate and contextualised interpretation of the country’s business environment and infrastructure.
“The core implications and procurement remains the same in SA or for instance in Kenya. The principles around managing feet and logistics are the same in Australia as they are in SA, with minor nuances here and there, but the terms remains the same. So that means that the product we’re delivering is not just unique to SA and we can scale globally.”
The company is also working with foreign businesses, two in Africa and one in the United States. Besides the dealings with overseas companies, Bell’s company has done some work for a couple of big names in the South Africa business environment. Their biggest clients at the moment include esteemed enterprises such as SAB, Arcelor Mittal and Pepsi Cola. He feels strongly that their approach to customers is what has given them access to dealings on this scale.
“I think what they are looking at is our ability and how much we’re focussed on their companies. In our industry we have to work in a far more partner-centric way with our clients and customers. They continue to come back to us because they understand us and see our passion and intensity in helping them understand their business, in helping them make much better decisions.
“It’s not just a case of dropping an invoice, we really take their business very seriously and help them be better. Certainly an example would be SAB. I was sitting on New Year’s Day and helped analyse data because they had to transfer year-end changes. It’s really a partnership where both parties are working together to help solve the challenge,” Bell says.
He feels quite strongly about being able to collaborate and have partnered with other related companies in the industry before. His company was awarded the 2010 Exceptional Achievement Award and has been in partnership with Qlikview South Africa among others for a while now. There is also a much anticipated merger which includes two other business intelligence related companies which will expand the horizons for the company quite significantly. This fits in perfectly with Bell’s view on collaboration.
“I think collaboration is becoming more and more important. We are focussed on doing a merge with two other businesses to provide a broader spectrum of custom technology to our customers. So rather than just focussing on your three main technologies, the partnerships becomes critical as there are different technologies used in different businesses that can solve different challenges in different way.
“You would want to partner with other people who can bring another skill to the table. There are different strengths in different areas, so it’s about those you can work with to the benefit of the customers,” he says.
Looking towards the future, business intelligence will certainly revolutionize the way companies work, according to Bell.
He says that it is indeed a massive step change and that it will change the way companies approach their data along with reaping the return benefits this entails.
“It is a change in your approach to doing work and your approach in delivering to your business and shareholders. Our six most suc-cessful customers had a 100, 200 to 300 return on investment in a very short space of time, giving them a competitive edge they never had before. It is about the visibility, it’s about the current user and the technology component is very important, but in my mind it can also enable you to do more.
“Furthermore it is about the decisions we can help you to make. That’s the focus here as opposed to applying the technology, as opposed to just giving you the latest and flashiest product on the market.” Bell says.
Understanding the business
Bell’s advice to other business leaders with regard to this would be, “they need to understand their business numbers and data better. There is a deeper need to go into the detail of your business and really know how it ticks and how it works.
“Using business intelligence technology can really allow you to understand the whole space of the company and thereby add better value to your customers. Your customers are evolving every day, you always need to be able to keep up with that”.
Technology has certainly had a huge impact on our everyday lives, and business has been no exception regarding the transition to a more digital era. The need to stay ahead of your competition, while being able to work collaboratively and at the same time adapt to the changing market needs — and modern-day demands can be quite a challenge in the current economic environment.
One area that definitely seems to be improving the efficiency of businesses as they strive towards increased profitability is business intelligence. As we move beyond the technological entry point towards a digitally based frontier, businesses of the future will be looking to these fields more often.