• Strategy
  • CFO Europe Magazine

Connecting the Dots

Companies have done a good job figuring out how technology can help them capture and crunch data. Now comes the hard part.

Synthesis is a subject that’s discussed a lot around Novasep. With good reason. A big part of its €400 million ($491 million) business depends on the ability of biochemists to synthesize organic molecules for customers in industries like pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. But it’s the synthesis taking place outside of Novasep’s laboratories that’s been the centre of CFO Olivier LeGrand’s attention lately.

Until a few months ago, information and knowledge management at Novasep was anything but synthesized. Having grown rapidly via acquisitions, the Loire valley-based company was struggling to get hold of crucial sales and marketing data scattered throughout its new units.

Single Source

Enter business intelligence (BI) technology. Sitting on top of two different ERP systems, a BI application from Hyperion is now being used by LeGrand and his finance team in Pompey, to gather and consolidate data for faster, more efficient reporting and control. Rolled out throughout Novasep, including units in Germany, Switzerland and other parts of Europe, the tool has been pivotal in helping the company not only monitor past performance, but also drive strategy and new growth initiatives. One way that’s happening is by uniting sales and marketing information via a data warehouse so that sales teams have a single, robust source that they can use to keep track of all of Novasep’s product lines-valuable insight for winning new customers and avoiding the duplication of sales efforts. “Now, instead of having someone from each of our entities talk to the customer about a specific technology, one person can talk to them about all the technologies,” says LeGrand. “Before, it would have been just too difficult.”

Novasep is onto something that’s causing a stir in enterprise software circles. While BI technology certainly isn’t new, companies like Novasep are pushing the traditional boundaries of the software. They’re aiming to spread the use of BI across their entire organizations and enhance the technologies with powerful analytical and predictive functionalities.

That’s much easier said than done. Above all, it means challenging the whole way business strategists have become accustomed to exploiting data. According to Seán Kelly, an Ireland-based consultant specializing in data warehousing and other aspects of BI, companies rarely use information as a strategic business resource. “In such circumstances,” he writes in his latest book, Customer Intelligence: From Data to Dialogue (John Wiley & Sons, 2005), “information is a comfort blanket to which the organization clings in times of crisis. It is used to report against performance rather than to determine direction….It is perceived as a series of snapshots rather than a continuous flow. And it is treated as a defensive asset rather than an offensive capability.”

Traditionally, BI has been used primarily as a tactical, rather than strategic, tool. “We’re a long way off from what properly deployed enterprise BI can achieve,” asserts Andrew Kellett, a senior research analyst at Butler Group. In a March report assessing BI usage, Kellett grouses that while vendors have been talking about “integrated BI” for the past few years, “little has been done to move the technology from a tactical data and information manipulation tool.” He adds that “the issue with extending the use of BI is not necessarily about more BI, but about making better use of it.” (See chart below.)

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