Business intelligence (BI) is becoming essential to competing in today’s market. Data and analytics have gone mainstream, with nearly half of IT professionals now implementing new data and analytics projects, a Gartner study says. Consequently, business intelligence data is starting to drive business rather than merely reflect performance, a trend that will accelerate as the global BI market grows from $17.09 billion in 2016 to $26.88 billion by 2021, Markets and Markets projects. Companies that aren’t using business intelligence will increasingly lag behind competitors who are, making effective BI crucial for maintaining a market edge.
But using business intelligence effectively requires integrating data into a functional workflow, which can be challenging. Raw data is useless unless it can be harnessed toward practical applications, but all too often, collected data resides in separate software programs that don’t communicate well with each other, making applications unwieldy. Additionally, data needs to be kept secure at each stage in the process, which can also be challenging. Here are three steps for integrating your BI and business software systems into a single, smooth, secure workflow.
Start With Your System
The foundation of effective business software system integration is mapping the software information flow to the underlying business processes the information represents. This is done through business process mapping, a method of documenting business processes through tools such as flowcharts. Business process mapping begins by identifying existing processes at your company and the personnel involved. You can then gather information from individuals involved in order to create a process map. After creating the map, the next task is to analyze each step in the process. This enables you to optimize and streamline processes by eliminating unnecessary steps, adding new steps, combining steps, and rearranging sequences. You will then have a documented sequence you can monitor, adjust and improve.
To assist you with business process mapping, a number of software tools are available in both free and premium varieties. Popular free business process mapping tools include Gliffy, Lucidchart and Open ModelSphere.
Chart Your Information Flow
After you’ve mapped your business processes, you can use this as a starting point for mapping the flow of information. This can be done using a data flow diagram. A data flow diagram uses symbols to map the flow of data input, processing, storage and output.
For instance, you might map out the process by which data from a customer order gets entered into your billing and shipping processes and passed on into your customer relationship management, inventory and accounting databases. Make sure to include information entering into your system both from software sources as well as other sources such as your virtual phone system. Software tools such as Lucidchart can assist you with creating a data flow diagram.
Review Security Vulnerabilities
You can use a data flow diagram to identify potential security vulnerabilities in your company’s software system, explains TechTarget. Review your data flow diagram and identify where input and output devices and processes that handle sensitive information reside on your system. Your review should include all user endpoints, including smartphones, laptops and PCs. It should also include infrastructure devices such as routers, modems, security gateways for email and websites, file servers, database servers and backup servers. It should further include output devices such as printers, fax machines and backup drives.
Note any points in the flow of information where data encryption status changes. You should also include notes on information lifecycles to identify where data is created and destroyed. Going through this process will enable you to identify potential vulnerabilities that need to be protected through appropriate procedures.