Locked within the vast, disparate banks of data that have been accumulated by organisations lies information that could empower every employee – from the chief executive to the sales assistant.
But all too often companies lack the means to access that data and turn it into job-enriching information.
The business intelligence (BI) vendors have for years been enthusing about the possibilities of bring information to everyone – the so called ‘democratisation of information'. Historically, access to information relating to performance has been held by just a few key employees.
"The top three people in a large enterprise often have all the information and all the influence," explains Ad Voogt, vice president for EMEA of business intelligence vendor Cognos. "If the whole workforce can check how they are doing against key performance indicators, that influence is spread around them all."
The democratic analogy neatly expresses the need to distribute information to every level of employee – an informed workforce is an empowered one – but it wrongly implies that the reason workers do not have access to all the salient information is that it is hoarded by senior management.
Perhaps in exceptional cases executives do want to keep performance indicators from their staff. More commonly, the inequality in information is a result of the difficulty in turning data into information. BI tools have traditionally been complicated to use, making generating reports that can be distributed throughout the workforce a laborious process.
The key to ‘democratic' distribution of information throughout an organisation is establishing a business intelligence competency centre, says Bill Hostmann research director at industry analyst Gartner. "Organisations achieve information democracy when they have fully absorbed BI into their work," he says.
Proper implementation of business intelligence requires a combination of business skills, IT skills and analytical skills, and so a BI project with the goal of liberating the organisations' information must employ dedicated staff with expertise in each area.
Once the capability to properly manage it is there, though, a business intelligence implementation can not only inform employees of short- and long-term goals, it can also help communicate the crucial role each member of staff plays in achieving those goals.
"The way to achieve your company strategy is to assert accountability," says David Cook, director of new business development at BI provider Information Builders. "Let everyone, from the executive to the man on the shop floor, know where they stand, their level of accountability and how they contribute to the company strategy."
With new ease-of-use capabilities and familiar presentation techniques – such as portals and corporate dashboards – delivering business information extracted from complex and isolated data stores to all employees is at last a viable option.