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BI/ERP Integration: Benefits For Exporters

Software can help companies involved in shipments of export cargo and import cargo in international trade.

BI/ERP Integration: Benefits For Exporters

The challenge facing most exporters is being able to manage all of their business processes and ever-growing number of operational systems. This is when they would usually begin implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool, integrating the many different operational areas of the company to provide a much more intelligent, streamlined and automated approach to their operations.

With the competition surrounding every business in the global market today, it is important to strive to achieve every margin of competitive advantage possible. This is especially true of exporters who are often operating in extremely competitive marketplaces with various tariffs and regulations making trade more challenging. Any action resulting in a fraction more efficiency will provide significant competitive advantage to these organizations.

Implementing a good ERP system will certainly help streamline operational processes but the issue for many exporters is that ERP is already a widely used technology by other exporters to monitor operational processes such as the supply chain.

To achieve a true competitive advantage, a good ERP system is not enough in today’s world. An integrated business intelligence and ERP solution is necessary in order to unlock the goldmine of insights lying dormant in various siloed systems of an exporter.

While most modern ERP solutions have a reporting module, it’s not as comprehensive as a dedicated business intelligence system. Typically, the reporting module in ERP systems tend to just provide a visual, at-a-glance snapshot of performance at that point in time and cannot be used for more advanced analysis. Additionally, it cannot pull in information from other systems to provide a complete view of organization data.

For example, a logistics company may want to identify negative trends in their expenditure and performance. With an ERP solution, they are most likely able to perform this type of analysis but the next question is often the more difficult to answer, What is the root cause? While not impossible to solve without a business intelligence solution, it would certainly be far more challenging and time-consuming to do so.

In addition, exporters would be able to better tap into their historical data and make further use out of it by developing pattern/trend analysis through predictive analytics, the goal being to yield clues to future risks and opportunities.

As transport analyst Adrian Gonzalez explains, “companies want more granular visibility to their transportation spend so they can manage and control it more effectively.” With a full business intelligence and ERP integration, other data sources become available to be used in conjunction with the ERP system.

Full visibility of the organization can therefore be achieved. With access to all of the granular data it makes it easy for analysts to identify areas of interest on a report, such as a negative anomaly, and then drill down to the underlying data to find potential root causes.

In one example, a shipper with a 92-percent on-time delivery rate wanted to understand why it was not achieving a 100-percent record. By using a business intelligence solution they managed to identify a number of potential delay-causing variables and found that the most likely reason for the eight percent late deliveries was geography.

This may not have an obvious solution, but by identifying the root-cause of the underlying issue of delivery time the company was able to analyze risk factors and decide what actions to apply in order to mitigate risk, such as adding extra lead time, for example. The point is, these organizations are able to obtain actionable information to make important operational decisions faster, quicker and more accurate than their competitors.

Integration projects like this brings with it inherent risks and challenges that must be overcome despite the huge rewards it can reap. Critical to the success of any project like this is ensuring the plan has been well formulated with deliverables scoped well in advance.

Desired outputs, and the key performance indicators that must accompany them, need to be envisaged at the start with the strategy providing a solid foundation to achieving them. Maintaining some flexibility is crucial to ensure the strategy can become adaptable over time, especially in today’s global market where the most successful companies are agile.

As the amount of global data generated continues to increase at an exponential rate year on year, it seems that organizations that are able to take advantage of the wealth of data available stand to gain competitive advantage over competing organizations. For exporters, the logical step appears to be a business intelligence and ERP integration providing full visibility of their organization, resulting in more informed decision-making, improving performance and reducing costs.

Ben Edge is Digital Executive at Connexica, a provider of search powered business analytics. His interests are focused around to extract insight from available information more effectively and efficiently.

Data strategies are applicable to companies involved in shipments of export cargo and import cargo in international trade.

Essential Steps in Building a Data Driven Culture

Data is the key to unlocking business insights and improving our decision-making, but how many of us can actually say that our business is pulling useful insights from the data it has available?

Not many: more than 35 percent of the top 5,000 global companies failed to make insightful decisions about significant changes in their business and markets.

How many of us can say that we are satisfied with the outputs of our data and analytics strategies in saving or making money for our businesses? Again – not many as you would imagine: in a report by Eckerson, only 36 percent of respondents gave their BI program a grade of good or excellent.

It’s a shame, because never before have we had so much data available to us. Today, the global production of data is set to continue to grow year on year at a seemingly unstoppable rate and it’s important that senior information and analytics managers prepare today for the data challenges of tomorrow.

The growing surge of big data and the wealth of new software solutions is promising to act like a virtual Swiss-army knife that has added an extra-layer of complexity in building a data-driven culture.

It’s important to bear in mind that building a data-driven culture is more than just having access to the right data and technologies. Involving your workforce, especially the front-line and business users – the ones who have a direct involvement with the data, analysis, insights and decision-making is absolutely essential to achieve success in breeding a data-driven culture.

Setting Realistic Expectations

To get the most out of your analytics strategy, the first step should be to properly plan how you are going to transform your data first into insight, then into outcomes.

Understanding the key challenges the organization is facing, what insight is needed, and then finally what data sources are available will help solve these challenges.

Strategy leaders need to get creative with the data available to them; the growing wave of big data has brought with it an influx of unstructured data that has yet to be utilized. If applicable to your organization, the potentially unprecedented benefits achieved by tapping into the large volumes of unstructured data such photos, videos, and audio clips cannot be understated.

Other factors are also important. Determining access speeds to certain data sets is required to ensure the data still has value when analyzed. The ‘best before date’ on data is constantly shortening thanks to the constant stream of new data being generated across the world. This means that strategy leaders need to understand what data sets are vulnerable to this shortened shelf-life and take the appropriate measures to get timely or real-time access to this data.

It’s not uncommon to see organizations who have deployed analytics solutions across their organization become disappointed and disillusioned with the results achieved. Putting in the groundwork to properly plan the scope of your analytics project will go a long way to managing these expectation and ensure that key performance indicators and targets set at the start of the project are realistic.

Infrastructure and Resources

So, expectations have been set and potential outcomes formulated. Now it’s time to look at the IT infrastructure and resources within your organization to understand whether they align with the strategy put in place.

Legacy technologies that aren’t capable to cope with the demands of big data are simply no good and are becoming obsolete. Ensuring your IT infrastructure is built with modern technologies, capable of bringing in data from any source, storing it in a quickly accessible format (real time), and integrating all organizational data (structured and unstructured) into one centralized repository is critical.

Further, without the right mentality ingrained into the heart of the organization, any analytics project is destined to fail. Employees’ skill sets and mind sets need to be reviewed so that necessary changes can be made. For example, you may discover that a number of your employees don’t have the analytical mind-set required to contribute to a data-driven culture. In this instance, your option would be to look at hiring new staff or training existing ones so that they have the right mind-set and necessary skills to contribute to the overall success of the strategy.

Enabling front-line employees and business users

Once you’ve built the necessary infrastructure and ensured staff have the correct mind-set in achieving a data-driven culture, the last step is the execution of the strategy.

An underpinning factor contributing to successful outcomes is ensuring that the analytics platforms chosen are able to be used by all of the relevant front-line employees and business users. Often these types of users aren’t the most technical and the strategy can thus fail if you haven’t taken this into account

Providing them with a self-service solution that is both easy-to-use and intuitive to prevent them relying on the IT department for support or the organization investing in expensive consultancy days enabling them to complete their jobs quicker and easier is essential.

Finally, and most importantly, strong leadership from the decision-makers responsible for pushing forward the organization is needed to convert the insight garnered from the analysis into deliverable action.

Ben Edge is Digital Executive at Connexica, a provider of search powered business analytics. His interests are focused around to extract insight from available information more effectively and efficiently.