Bright ideas

Business intelligence solutions allow users to gather, store, analyse and more easily access data. In turn, this allows them to make better informed business decisions and plan for the future more accurately. In an increasingly competitive market, such capabilities are making business intelligence tools an attractive proposition for companies throughout the Middle East

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  April 30, 2003

I|~||~||~|Business intelligence (BI) covers a wide range of applications and technologies, ranging from decision support systems, query and reporting tools to online analytical processing (OLAP), statistical analysis, forecasting, and data mining.

And, while each has its own nuances, they are all designed to help users gather, store, analyse and more easily access data that can help them make better business decisions. As such, the Middle East is showing an increasing amount of interest in BI, as its companies strive to know their customers better, consolidate disparate data and become more effective operators.

In the region’s telecommunications sector, both Batelco and Etisalat are using BI to target their customers more effectively, while a number of private sector companies are also trying to boost their business smarts.

“BI is being used by an increasing number of companies and even more users are beginning to investigate it. This interest is across the board and is coming from organisations from a whole range of industries,” says Peter Winspur, solutions consultant, JD Edwards.

“Data warehouse solutions and BI are increasingly being requested by various organisations in the area. This trend is mainly seen in financial institutions, telecommunications companies and airlines, [as these] organisations are starting to realise the value that [these solutions] could bring to their enterprises,” adds Jamil Jeitani, Teradata leader, Lower Gulf.

||**||II|~||~||~|Oman Trading Establishment (OTE) Group, for example, is planning to implement the BI module of SAP’s R/3 solution to better analyse its internal information and develop more accurate business plans. “You can spend a lot of money to implement an ERP, but unless you have an analytical system that lets the management see all of the information, you don’t get the real benefit of the implementation,” says Dileep Somani, group manager for IT, OTE Group.

This growing interest is reflected in the investments specialised BI vendors have made in the region. Three years ago, the likes of Crystal Decisions, SAS Institute and Hyperion were either not present or poorly represented in the local market. Today, however, they are all here in some form or another.

“We are definitely seeing investment in the local BI market now, especially from the dedicated BI vendors,” comments Torben Pedersen, IDC’s MENA software & services analyst.

Furthermore, these vendors are seeing a return on their investment with the region offering growing revenues and many potential clients.

“When I arrived in the Middle East, there was a perception that BI was just reporting tools. In the past 15 months, we have seen a change and people can now see that BI technology improves their business. As a result, we are seeing an increased interest in independent BI tools,” says Trevor Caddy, regional director for EMEA at Crystal Decisions.

“The future looks good for the BI market and we [Crystal Decisions] are looking at a US$2-3 million revenue stream for ourselves in the next 12 months,” he adds.

||**||III|~||~||~|SAS Institute is equally upbeat about the local market and predicts that the UAE and Saudi Arabia will generate approximately US$15 million worth of BI sales during 2003.

“This is just the start because it is primarily extraction tools and reports. The market will continue to bubble and grow for the next two years,” adds Basel Tutunji, Middle East country manager for SAS Institute. “As soon as the Fortune 100 companies within the Middle East start implementing BI solutions… the concept will trickle down to the rest of the region’s businesses and the market will grow yet further,” he continues.

The enthusiasm of the independent BI vendors is matched by the region’s ERP players, which typically offer BI as part of an extended ERP suite. For instance, SAP Arabia suggests that sales of its data warehouse and BI tools will soar in the coming 12 months, as users look to make the most of their initial ERP implementations.

“Between 60 and 70% of SAP users in the Middle East are planning to use the data warehousing module of R/3 because they already have mature installations,” says Khaled Moussa, senior consultant at SAP Arabia. “This will really take off in the next twelve months as maturity increases and people realise that it is a key issue for their business and that they need business intelligence tools,” he adds. IFS Arabia also sees a potential market for BI solutions among its top customers. “There is interest in BI among the 5% of companies that have mature implementations,” says Khalid Suleiman, managing director of IFS Arabia.

Although the region’s growing interest in BI can be attributed to a number of factors, the need to be more competitive in the face of increased market liberalisation is perhaps the most important one.

“Entrance to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the arrival of competition in existing markets will make companies need to understand who their customers are, who their suppliers are and what their businesses are really about,” says Phillip Morris, business manager for the Middle East’s telecommunications market, SAS Institute.

||**||IV|~||~||~|“Local market competition is very important in inducing organisations to adopt enterprise data warehousing and BI solutions as it will become easier for organisations to justify the investment needed and to calculate the risk of not having such solutions in place. In most advanced nations, such solutions are becoming a necessity for competitive advantage and even survival. We believe the same understanding will become more evident in the Middle East area soon,” adds Jeitani.

BI solutions facilitate this knowledge by allowing users to gather and then mine the data held within an organisation, whether that be sales information, employee performance records or financial reports.

“Organisations have a lot of data within their businesses. For example, they have supplier intelligence, customer intelligence and enterprise intelligence. BI allows them to bring this information together and analyse it,” says SAS’s Tutunji.

In fact, the ability to bring together data from disparate systems is currently one of BI’s biggest selling points, as an increasing number of companies are struggling to master the burgeoning amount of data held within their ERP suites, customer relationship management (CRM) applications and supply chain management (SCM) solutions.

NCR’s Jeitani says the information silos that such disparate applications create is the result of years of investment in OLTP systems and the creation of different transactional systems that do not interact or integrate with each other.

“A number of companies in the Middle East are running ERP, CRM or legacy systems. This means there are lots of islands of information and users are unable to obtain a huge return on their investment (ROI) because they cannot get to the information on those systems,” adds Crystal Decisions’ Caddy. “However, BI allows users to access this information as they can consolidate data from multiple environments into one applications.”

This was certainly the case at Doha Bank. Before it implemented Business Objects’ e-business intelligence tool, the bank’s data sat unused in its disparate systems and subsystems. This, in turn, meant users were unable to base their business decisions on all of the information available.

“However, by deploying Business Objects we have given our users the ability to look at any information they want, whether it is internal data, such as finance, or external data that comes from customers,” explains R. Seetharaman, assistant general manager, support group at Doha Bank.

“BI is one of the simplest ways to draw information together when you don’t have a data warehouse,” he adds.||**||

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