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Five questions for Farhana Alarakhiya
Delaney Turner 270002T14M firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  cognos ibmsoftware analytic_applications farhana_alarakhiya spss
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Farhana Alarakhiya is Director of Analytic Applications for IBM Business Analytics software. Smart, focused and impeccably dressed, she took time to answer five questions from me about IBM Cognos Analytic Applications - What they do, who they're for and how they're different from our other business analytics software.
“Analytics” are a core element of the IBM software vision. How do you see IBM Cognos Analytic Applications supporting this? Where do they fit in the organization’s overall value to customers?
The distinction reflects the underpinnings of how we design, market and sell our applications. First and foremost, our approach to analytics consists of a business-centric versus data-centric approach. And we do this by reflecting upon the business drivers of a specific function or department and then design analytic applications around cost-effectively and quickly measuring and assessing line-of-business (LOB) performance – whether that’s for workforce, finance, supply chain or customer domains.
We can do this successfully because our analytic applications consist of packaged or ready-made reporting and analysis that provide actionable insight into a specific domain or business problem. We’ve distilled and simplified the way organizations extract data, analyze it and generate reports. This, in turn, establishes a consistent decision-making continuum across a business that helps measure LOB performance against corporately driven strategic goals. It’s about taking data and transforming it into insight to drive actionable informed decisions linked to business outcomes and strategic goals.
With greater analytic control over their operations, customers can more proactively respond to performance issues, consistently measure functional business objectives, align decision making with strategic imperatives and explore new opportunities to gain competitive advantage.
Can’t organizations build these kinds of applications? Why buy a packaged application? Why buy from IBM?
It boils down to scope, expertise and cost. For example: if I have an isolated HR reporting requirement; say, I want to know what my company’s headcount is, then building and creating a single report makes sense. But is that the way organizations manage and optimize their performance? I hope not.
That brings up a some important points. First, the leadership of functional domains such as HR and sales are increasingly taking a wider of view of their departments’ strategic value to their organization. This means creating a reporting and analytic environment that’s comprehensive, built on best practices and highly adaptable – one that creates a consistent decision-making continuum across their department and organization. The VP of sales, for example, needs to know how efficient his sales cycle is at generating revenue. This means creating greater analytic visibility and transparency in customer orders, sales rep performance, pipeline and programs, as well as understanding their relationship to improving sales performance and growing revenue.
Second, what’s the expertise required to build this kind of LOB reporting environment? Do IT departments know which metrics HR needs to measure human capital performance? Do HR professionals know how to build and manage a data warehouse that can draw data from multiple sources? In most cases, the answer is no. So why not mitigate the risk associated with building an analytic application with a packaged solution that uses KPIs built on best practices?
Lastly, few IT and LOB departments can afford to build. The average data warehousing project costs $1.1 million and takes 10 months to deliver. A a data mart project costs $544,000 and takes six months to deliver. The time and energy required to manage changing business requirements takes not only expertise but can take up to 10% of your budget.
Organizations can no longer afford to assess their performance in isolation. LOB and IT professionals need to view a much wider performance landscape to ensure they can compete more effectively, respond to new opportunities and assess risk. Analytic applications allow them to do just that far more cost-effectively than if they were to build it on their own.
What makes our approach unique is our ability to provide our customers with a highly adaptable solution that synchronizes business requirement changes to allow for continuously relevant content, eliminating much of the coding and interpretation of data involved with competitor and custom-built applications. The greatly reduces costs associated with managing and sustaining the value of our analytic applications.
Who typically uses these applications?
That depends. We have five analytic applications for sales, workforce and talent management, procurement, finance and banking risk. Users will likely have operational titles in these groups, such as sales operations, HR managers, buyers and procurement directors, accountants and credit officers – front-line staff that need to make decisions at the point of business impact quickly and accurately.
That’s the value of the apps: Information in the right hands, with the right people at the right time. And the applications’ self-serve easy-to-use, drop down reporting prompts allow organizations to review information quickly and through different points of analysis.
But let’s not forget departmental executives, too. They need to produce rolling forecasts, and identify variances and gaps in performance. Fundamentally, they need to validate the premise of their decisions with cold, hard facts, which analytic applications enable them to do.
Who leads an analytic application deployment? To what extent do analytic applications integrate with other IT investments?
Every successful implementation depends on business and IT working together. If that doesn’t happen, then it simply takes longer to implement and gain value.
This dovetails nicely with the second question. Our ability to source data for analysis from heterogeneous systems means that different users need to be involved in the deployment of our applications. Whether that’s from salesforce.com, SuccessFactors, Maximo, Oracle or SAP, among others, we provide comprehensive reporting and analytics, so that organizations can view their performance deeply and broadly. Because of this ability, those that deploy our solution need to engage multiple stakeholders.
What’s next for our analytic applications?
Well, we’ve done a great job capturing the past and the present. But we need to create a window into the future. And that’s why we are extending the underlying value of analytic applications to other areas of analysis by leveraging existing Business Analytic assets, such as IBM Cognos TM1 and SPSS.
By year’s end, customers will have a basis from which to evolve their reporting and analysis to create a common decision-making continuum that delivers not just insight, but foresight into operational performance into competitive opportunities and risks. It means more synchronized operational forecasting using TM1 and analytic applications, more effectively linking operational insight to forecasting and helping organizations anticipate volatility and chart a fact-based course of action. And it also means a greater capacity to peer into the future. Here, we’ll integrate SPSS and our sales analytics solution around cross- and upsell, so that customers can better capitalize on future revenue opportunities. This will allow our customers to create a decision-making culture that’s more agile, transparent and aligned to the execution of business strategy.
We believe analytic applications are the beating pulse of an organization’s performance – operational insight that guides the rhythm of decision making, a better way to get insight now and prepare for tomorrow. In our view, the new frontier is not more analytic reporting; it’s how we can extend our value to a richer, deeper and more predictive process of decision-making. It's what will differentiate our vision from the other players in our market.